Wise family preserves Harmonist home

Living in Zelienople with two small children at the time, they had been thinking about building a house with enough land to garden and raise chickens but couldn't find a lot and plans that would work.

"I'm not sure how serious she was," Mr. Wise said, laughing. "But it ended up being the best possible scenario for us."

The nearly 1-acre property in Jackson, which encompasses Harmony, contains an 1836 stone barn with later additions and an 1810 post-and-beam building first used as a drovers inn, a resting place for farmers driving their livestock to market.

The Harmony Society, a German religious sect that settled there in 1804, built the inn along with many brick and woodframe homes, a tannery, warehouses, brewery, stables, barns and mills to produce textiles. In 1814-15, the society sold 9,000 acres to area residents, including Israel Wise, Ryan's great-great grandfather.

In 1815, the Harmonists moved and settled what became New Harmony, Indiana, where they continued to prosper. In 1824, they moved back, turning a rural Ohio River town into an economic powerhouse that produced oil, fine fabrics and many other items. Celibacy and difficulty winning new converts led to the society's decline and eventual dissolution in 1905. Old Economy Village, a national historic site consisting of several blocks of early 19th-century buildings in Ambridge, is all that remains.

Four generations of the Wise family lived in the inn, which was separated into two separate households. From the 1950s to the '70s, it was a dairy farm.

When Mr. Wise became the owner in 2010, he was inspired by an 1860s photo showing double porches on the front and back. He decided to put back those porches as part of a $400,000 renovation.

"What I wanted was to keep the idea of how it originally looked while still make it livable," he said. "We mimicked things rather than do a painstaking re-creation."

Inside, workers exposed an original wall of timbers and plaster and incorporated some of the original posts into the rustic kitchen, designed and built by Beahm & Son of Evans City. But much of the three-bedroom, three-bath house looks like any other.

"Everything is either 200 years old or brand new," Mr. Wise said.

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Kevin Kirkland: kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978. First Published September 22, 2012 4:00 AM


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