31 January 2020

Last Day Local: Harmonia-A Spiritualist Utopia

Harmonia, a now defunct village, was on the land where Fort Custer Training Center in Augusta, Michigan is. Harmonia's name emphasized the harmonious relationship between the physical and spiritual worlds. Harmonia was established, in 1850, by Quaker pioneers who believed in Spiritualism. 

Spiritualists believed one could communicate with spirits. They believed in health reform, education reform, women's rights, abolition of slavery, and the temperance movement. Sojourner Truth is the most well-known resident of Harmonia.

Sojourner Truth statue in Battle Creek, MI. Photograph taken by Brenda Leyndyke

Sojourner Truth can be found in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census in Harmonia with her daughter, Elizabeth Banks and grandsons, James Caldwell and Sammy Banks.[i] Harmonia was in Bedford Township, Calhoun County, Michigan. 

Sojourner Truth is best known for being an African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Her well known speech, “Ain’t I a Women?” was delivered at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, in 1851. Sojourner Truth lived in Harmonia and Battle Creek Michigan. She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, MI.

Land that would become Harmonia was purchased in June of 1835 by George Casey of Cayuga county, New York and William Carr of Wastenau(sic) Michigan.[ii] Neither man, Casey nor Carr, settled on this land. Carr sold his land to Casey, and in November 1842 Henry Hopkins and Charles Nichols paid $850 for 390 acres to George Casey's heirs.[iii] 

In 1850, Reynolds and his wife, Dorcas, Cornell paid $924 for 230 acres of land that became Harmonia. Other early landowners included Hiram and Abbie Cornell, E.T. Cornell, Rufus and Lucy Houghton, and Louis Houghton.

Hiram Cornell was Reynolds oldest son. Hiram and Reynolds established Bedford Harmonial Seminary or Bedford Harmonial Institute. It was established in 1852 and disbanded in 1860.

Other early residents of Harmonia included:
1.     Thomas E. Currier
2.     Nathaniel P. Tallmadge, a New York senator
3.     George H. Haskell, of Rockford, IL
4.     J.H. Roffee
5.     H. Sampson
6.     L.B. Beecher
7.     Melvin Terry
8.     Edmund Cox
9.     Mark H. Austin
10. James Watts
11. Johnny Lawler
12. Simon Lawler
13. Alice Clevenger
14. Frank Parmalee
15. Marion Mead
16. Mable Mead, Guy Mead
17. Fred Barr
18. Schuyler, Sojourner Truth’s grandson
19. George Swift
20. J.H. Bunnell
21. Chambers
22. Sophia Truth, Sojourner Truth’s daughter, who married Thomas Schulyer.

Harmonia was a community of like-minded people until 4 August 1862, when a tornado destroyed much of the village. J. H. Roffee was interviewed for the 22 July 1917 edition of the Battle Creek Enquirer and told of the tornado that destroyed his farm and killed his son.[iv] Roffee was 92 at the time and believed to be the oldest surviving person who had lived in Harmonia at the time.

The tornado, financial troubles, and the outbreak of WWI ended the village. In 1917, Camp Custer began building a training camp on the former Harmonia site.  What was once a utopian village became a place to train soldiers for war.

[i] Year: 1860; Census Place: Bedford, Calhoun, Michigan ; Roll: M653_539; Page: 308; Family History Library Film: 803539

[ii] Tract Book, Original Purchasers, U.S. Land Office, Kalamazoo, MI, 8th day of October 1847. p 305, 310 Office of County Clerk, Marshall, MI

[iii] Heritage Battle Creek 4(Spring 1993) “Harmonia: Memories of the Lost Village” by Frances Thornton p 16-23

[iv] Battle Creek (MI) Enquirer, “Settled in Harmonia 64 years ago; was there when cyclone struck”, 22 July 1917. p7

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