Utopia Britannica - British Utopian Experiments 1325 - 1945

Utopian Maze

Gazetter entry

 

"a most elegant flower garden with various hedgerows disposed in such a manner as to puzzle people to get into the little temple, emblematic of Harmony, in the middle. The Labyrinth represents the difficulty of arriving at harmony. The temple is rough on the exterior, showing that, at a distance, it has no allurements, but it is smooth and beautiful within to show the beauty of harmony when once attained."

Description of the Indiana Maze 1882

 

Plan of the 1939 maze at New Hamony
planted to commemorate the original 1814 maze

Neither private nor public mazes seem to have been popular in the early history of the United States. An exception is the maze that was planted in Indiana by a community of German immigrants - the Harmony Society. This group, which arrived in America in 1803-4, was a Protestant sect led by its founder George Rapp. They settled first at Harmonie (now Harmony) in Pennsylvania, and a decade later, moved to establish another settlement, named New Harmony, in Indiana. Here in 1814 they made a maze of vines and shrubs. European garden mazes at the time were becoming largely decorative amusements, but the Rappites maze was rooted in a symbolic purpose. It was intended to symbolize the spirit of their movement and the difficulty of achieving harmony.

In 1824 George Rapp sent his friend, Richard Flowers, to England to find a buyer for their lands and buildings.In August he called at the industrial community of New Lanark established by Robert Owen on the banks of the Clyde. Owen was looking for a way to apply his 'New View of Society' to a wider community and the offer of a fully equippedvillage for a quarter of the sum Owen had estimated for the establishment of minimum size community in the British Isles was too good to resist. Owen set off for America almost immediately. Over the next 4 years Owen spent over $150,000 trying to form his socialist utopia. The experiment fell apart in the end through a combination of internal dissension among the Harmonites and mounting financial troubles. A combination that would dog Owen's later attempt to establish a socialist community at Harmony Hall in Hampshire. What Owen thought of the Rappites maze and it supposed meditation on the difficulty of acheiving harmony is not known.

The orginal maze fell into disrepair in the mid-nineteenth century. The plan above is of the existing New Harmony Maze planted in 1939 to commemorate the original vine hedge maze. Although it looks deceptively like a simple unicursal labyrinth, it is not. You can choose any of the three paths to enter the maze. Paths can lead to the surrounding lawns or into two dead ends, and there is an extra trap for those trying to leave the centre. The Maze is open to the Public - Whether you will find the way to harmony any easier than Robert Owen did is another matter!

 

Links:
Historic New Harmony
Robert-Owen.com

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