By Lois Mittino Gray
I was cruising south down Interstate 15 in Utah when I saw it. Brushing Dorito crumbs off my road map, I blinked when I noticed one small speck wasn’t a crumb. It was a dot with the words “New Harmony” on it! Since I come from another small dot on a map with the same name, I knew I had to go see this one before leaving the Great Salt State.
It turns out the little burg was just a sharp right turn off the Interstate just south of Cedar City, Exit 42 The sign announced “New Harmony—3.9 miles ahead”. Interestingly, the town is in the southwest corner of Utah, almost at the junction of Arizona and Nevada. Here was another New Harmony nestled in a Tri-State area in the tip of the state’s toe.
Jagged mountain peaks were up ahead in the hazy distance. The altitude there is 5,363 feet high compared to our paltry 388 feet here in New Harmony. The iron in that mountain range led to the founding of the town in 1852 to mine and refine iron. There were issues in transporting the ore across the vastness so the plan was abandoned. Population declined and crashed and now for some reason, it was on the rise and I couldn’t wait to pull in to the place to see why.
I don’t think their weather is the draw. The climate data lists 36.5 inches of snowfall on average all year with 17.4 inches of rainfall. It’s snowy in winter and hot and dry in summer. Bouncing along the road, we looked around a wide-open vista of sagebrush and wild yellow butterweeds and scrubby little oaks looking hot and dry.
Wow! I was agape when we pulled in and onto Main Street. The town has gone from a population of 193 in 2000 to 207 in 2011 and all this on only .4 square miles of land. Yes, that’s .4 square miles of incorporated town, as in Point 4 is less than half a square mile. New Harmony, Indiana lists its population as 884 in 2011 according to Sperling’s Best Places. Now I felt like I was from a bustling metropolis compared to this town of tall grass and horses and lean-to sheds.
The welcome sign proclaims “Welcome to New Harmony Town Limit –Please Drive Carefully”. Sure, you have to drive slowly or you’ll blink and miss the town! It also had a sign that the water is approved and potable for drinking.
The lone eatery in town is called Jewel’s Place and it specializes in breakfast, sandwiches and hot plate lunches. It is only open Monday through Saturday from 7 am to 2pm and then it closes up in the afternoon, so I did not sample fare. Isn’t it remarkable how much it sounds like our own Main Café?
New Harmony, Utah has its own post office on North Main St.with zip code 84757 and many outdoor mail boxes. It has a City Hall and a really nice Fire Station that would make our Fire Chief Scott Miller proud to go out on a run.
The largest building is the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints on South Main Street. 75 percent of the townspeople claim to be religious. 68 percent of those belong to this Mormon religion which is no surprise as it is in Utah. The next highest religion is 4 percent are Catholics like me, but I can’t find any other churches around town if I wanted to say a prayer to St. Anthony to not get lost.
There’s not too much to do to get lost. One website lists its social life as zero. Crime is low. There is a trailer park 19.1 miles south called Virgin Territory. It has been stated that the town has walkability . That’s about it.
Speaking of that, the coolest thing I saw was the marker in town to the New Harmony Trailhead on Kelsey Lane. The trail winds miles through Dixie National Forest to places like Iron Mountain and Old Irontown and Hamilton’s Fort. Why is it called Dixie National Forest in a place out West I wondered? Just whistlin?????
Here’s the most interesting and puzzling thing we noticed. Some of the homes were tidy and neat bungalows, some rusty trailers, some ramshackle shacks, some modern ranches and some on the outskirts of town were huge estates with many outbuildings. And walls….lots of walls. Huge houses in the middle of nowhere! Sperling’s lists the average home price there as $240,500, while $71,800 is listed as average for our New Harmony. Sixty percent of the outlying population live in homes valued at between $150,000-250,000 dollars while in Indiana New Harmony 14 percent own in that range.
I think those big sprawling compounds may be large Mormon families living in polygamous groups like the “Big Love” television show. It might be a safe haven for them and that’s why the area draws people who mind their own business. The town’s numbers list 73 percent married when the national average is 58 percent to New Harmony’s 56 percent. It is a young white population with the median age in the 30’s as opposed to 50 for New Harmony, Indiana.
On a historical note, this windswept Utah town was incorporated in 1936 and named after Harmony,,,,,,Pennsylvania. Just like we were! So communal living may not be so foreign of an idea there after all. People living in a large group with similar religious beliefs goes with our town story, too.
That was my hourlong visit to the small New Harmony dot on the Utah map. It made my New Harmony dot at home look like a bowling ball.
By Lois Mittino Gray
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