The Historical Spectator

From Pittsburgh to Harmony in the Early 1800s

John Melish, a traveler in the United States, wrote a detailed and enthusiastic description of the Harmonist settlement at Harmony in Pennsylvania. It is certainly worth reading. What interests us here, however, is the trip to Harmony from Pittsburgh. Today it would be a short drive out into the suburbs. In the early 1800s, it was an all-day ordeal, made possible only by stopping for beer or whiskey at least three times. The route taken by our travelers is probably close to the route of the Perry Highway (U.S. 19) today.

I shall now introduce by name a fellow-traveller, Dr. Isaac Cleaver, of Philadelphia. This gentleman travelled in the stage with me from Bedford; we lodged together at Pittsburg, and we now agreed to travel together to visit the Harmonist Society. With this view we procured a couple of hacks, very sorry ones indeed, and set out from Pittsburg on Monday the 19th August, at six o’clock in the morning. We crossed the Allegany by a boat: it is here about 400 yards broad, and the deepest part of it seven feet; the current is gentle, and the water remarkably pure. On the opposite side of the river there is a narrow bottom of very rich land; after passing which, we ascended pretty steep hills, and by a rough road reached a tavern eight miles from the river. The day was now very hot; but we could only stop a few minutes, and moved on six miles to Dixon’s tavern, where we found the landlord completely drunk. The day continuing uncommonly hot, we rested here about half an hour; and after travelling about a mile, we reached the Plains, so called from being a sort of meadow and destitute of trees. Here we were entirely without shade, and the force of the sun nearly overpowered us. I never recollect to have suffered so much from the heat; and we got no relief till after travelling four miles, when we reached another tavern at the further end of the Plains, where we found a sober industrious family busily employed in domestic manufactures. The whole country from Pittsburg to this place is rather rough and uncultivated; and land sells at from two to three dollars per acre. Beyond this as we continued our journey we found the country to improve; and approaching the precincts of the Harmonist Society, we passed some of their well-cultivated farms. Here the road passes over a considerable hill; and on reaching the top we saw at a little distance the town of Harmony, elegantly situated amid flourishing and well-cultivated fields. We reached the town at three o'clock, and proceeded to the tavern, an excellent stone building, where we found good accommodations.

——John Melish, “Account of a Society at Harmony, (Twenty-five miles from Pittsburg) Pennsylvania, United States of America.” Taken from Travels in the United States of America, in the Years 1806 and 1807, 1809, 1810, and 1811. From The Philanthropist, No. XX.