The Rapp-Owen Granary: A Stately Fortress

Rapp-Owen Granary Image

Today, the Rapp-Owen Granary stands proud as a site for both simple and significant events; its doors open to people from all walks of life.  Its stone walls absorb laughter, music, and the knowledge shared, while its giant windows reflect what is perfect about New Harmony during all of its seasons.  

Visitors from all over the world study the Granary's lofty spaces, admire its solid beams, and are in awe of its restored grandeur.  They find it hard to believe that slightly more than a decade ago, this majestic structure stood in disrepair, its facade shrouded in mystery and its beauty hidden beneath broken decay.  Recognition for its transformation can be attributed to a small group of tenacious men and one remarkable woman.

In 1992, the Rapp Granary-Owen Foundation was established as a 501(c)(3) to become the owner, restorer and operator of the Rappite Granary.  To its credit, members of the Board of Directors had a long list of completed special projects that bore significant value to the history, culture and enhancement of communities.  Included on the Foundation Board were the late Kenneth Dale Owen, president; and the late Jane Blaffer Owen, vice president.  Also serving were David L. Rice, treasurer and project coordinator; James A. Sanders, director and associate project coordinator; Gary Gerard, secretary; and Robert Guenther, director. Today, the Rapp Granary-Owen Foundation trustees also include Erik Arneberg, William Muller and Douglas Guenther. 

When a mammoth restoration project was completed in 1999, the Granary had been returned to a form and shape that reflects its German Rappite heritage, as adapted by David Dale Owen in the 1840s for his third geologic laboratory, lecture hall and cultural center.

In a congratulatory letter to the Granary Foundation trustees, Bill Goodwin, then vice president for Community Development for the Lilly Endowment, Inc., noted, “I am astounded at the huge success you have had with the Rapp-Owen Granary project.  In all of my years at the Endowment, this project has to be recognized as the leading example of a community’s dedication, perseverance and effectiveness in realizing the fulfillment of a dream . . .” 

The following information describes the building’s nearly 200-year history:

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.

Today, the Rapp-Owen Granary is the site of weddings, receptions, rehearsal dinners, bridal showers, anniversary celebrations, business meetings, university symposiums, musical presentations, seminars, and professional workshops.   For information about tours or rental availability, please call Chris Laughbaum at 1-812-682-3050 or use our Contact Form.