In 1814, some 800 Harmonists led by Father Joseph Rapp cleared thousands of acres and built a remarkably well planned village of one hundred eighty buildings on the Indiana frontier. This deeply religious, communitarian group had come from Wurttenberg, Germany, to Pennsylvania in 1803 and relocated to the Indiana Territory, where they established the town of Harmony. In January 1825, they sold the entire town to Robert Owen of New Lanark, Scotland. By May all the Harmonists had returned to Pennsylvania where they established their third settlement; and subsequently, the Town of Harmony, Indiana, was renamed “New” Harmony by Owen and his followers.
Around 1818, the massive sandstone, brick and wood granary had been completed by the Rappites. In 1827, after the town was sold, the Granary became part of William Maclure’s holdings. Maclure, known as the Father of American Geology, used the granary for geologic laboratory investigations, specimen storage and display. In 1837, David Dale Owen, engaged by the Indiana General Assembly as the first state geologist, was granted use of the granary, its equipment, specimens and library. In 1843, he bought the granary and improved the “second” level of the building with large windows and developed a lecture room, laboratories and museums – his third geologic laboratory – “all open for the enjoyment and instruction of townspeople and visitors.” After David Dale Owen’s death in 1860, the building was used as a woolen mill, gutted by a fire in 1878, rebuilt as a granary in 1893, and remodeled as a wheat granary in 1905. In the 1990s, Kenneth D. Owen, also a geologist, initiated the granary’s historic preservation. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is located in the National Landmark Site of New Harmony.
The completion of the Rapp-Owen Foundation’s restoration of the Granary was celebrated on October 8–10, 1999, with the structure once again open “for the enjoyment and instruction of townspeople and awareness of visitors.” Noted Indiana University professors and co-chairs of the prestigious German Heritage Celebration, Eberhard and Ruth Reichmann, were special guests at the two-day opening event that included guests from Britain and Germany, as well as visitors from throughout the United States.