An Open Letter To My New Harmony Friends

new harmony indiana

Last fall, my wife and I spent a weekend in New Harmony, Indiana. I address this Open Letter, respectfully, to the good people of that charming place (and to those folks in other historically based towns and villages).

We understood from conversations with merchants and residents that this little town in southwestern Indiana was in the midst of some rather severe change and challenges. It was our first visit there, so this information was news to us. It was a sad discovery.

Three points comprise the evidence. First, the local school was about to close. Not enough students attended the school to justify its continuance. Second, a nearby bridge over the Wabash River was in disrepair and in danger of not being restored to a level of operational safety. A closed bridge constituted a cut in an important road that connected the town to populations in southern Illinois. And third, perhaps most ominously of all, the town’s patron–the sole surviving member of the community’s founding wealthy family–had died a few years ago. No one in the extended family network had any real identification with the town.

Now, I don’t pretend to know the particulars. Maybe there is other information that points to an ever-brightening future for New Harmony. Maybe we simply talked to the wrong people, the naysayers. I certainly hope so. We loved our short stay there and would hate to see the community slide into oblivion. My gut tells me that the place has heard gloom-and-doom predictions before.

But history is my thing or, more precisely, using history to serve the present and future is my thing. I feel compelled to reflect more on what we saw and offer a few thoughts to the people who make New Harmony what it is.

Clearly, the past of New Harmony is cherished by the people who live there and who visit there. The past has been frozen into a specific type of history for the town. The understandable belief and assumption is that this history has drawn people to the place. I agree; I’m sure it has. My counsel, however, is to urge the people of New Harmony to thaw the past they’ve come to see and know and live in the town. The past of New Harmony is more than its history. There are many, many threads and elements that represent fresh resources in the future of the place. The previous life of the town contained a powerful impulse of change, innovation, boldness, risk, courage, and purpose. All of these qualities are vital to 21st century America and a 21st century earth. It is in these qualities–and more specifically, the stories that express them–that residents will find real solutions for improvement, advancement, and growth.

Thanks to the good people of New Harmony for a weekend well-spent. We look forward to our next visit.