OLD HAVENS

America’s history is filled with failed utopian societies

The utopian communities that sprouted across the United States in the 19th century were built in an era of experimentation and optimism. Founded by religious leaders, philosophers and even business owners, isolationist groups like the Perfectionists of Oneida, New York, and the Harmonites of Ambridge, Pennsylvania, hoped to create places of peace in a rapidly industrializing America.

Inspired by this history, Italian photographer Marta Giaccone decided to find out the fate of these communities. Her photo series “Systems of Harmony” reveals present-day life in these former utopian communities.

In many towns, there is scant history left of their founders’ original hopes. A commemorative plaque stands in the center of only a few. “This simply shows that an idealized, perfect and safe land cannot exist, and the more one tries to protect it and make it inaccessible to alleged enemies, the more one will not succeed,” says Giaccone.

Systems of Harmony
A boy gets a haircut at Madison Square Barber Shop in Oneida, New York. This small town was once home to the Perfectionists of the Oneida Community (1848-1880). Their founder John Humphrey Noyes thought the Second Coming had already happened back when Christ’s immediate disciples were still alive and what was left was for mankind to achieve a harmonious sort of perfect life on Earth. (Marta Giaccone)
Systems of Harmony
Utopia, Ohio, is made up of a few houses, and about 30 inhabitants, along the Ohio River. (Marta Giaccone)
Systems of Harmony
A wedding hall in Ambridge Pennsylvania. Ambridge, formerly Economy, was founded by George Rapp, a German Pietist preacher and founder of create the Harmony Society. The Harmonites believed Christ would return in their lifetime and so the purpose of the community was to be worthy of Him in preparation for this moment. (Marta Giaccone)
Systems of Harmony
Mother and son in Green Lake, Wisconsin, outside of Ripon. (Marta Giaccone)
Systems of Harmony
A sign along the Ohio River Scenic Byway between Utopia and Higginsport, Ohio. (Marta Giaccone)
Systems of Harmony
Ethan, a ten-year-old in Ripon, Wisconsin.
Systems of Harmony
Utopia neighborhood in Eastern Queens, New York City. originally founded by Orthodox Jews. (Marta Giaccone)
Systems of Harmony
Marcus Campus Cinema in Ripon, Wisconsin. Early in Ripon’s founding, the city absorbed followers of Wisconsin Phalanx, a communitarian socialist movement. (Marta Giaccone)
home our picks popular latest obsessions search