Utopian Communities in America - list from Yale

Putting this here for future reference; utopian communities that popped up in history. Often it was all the 'fad' of the time to start a new one.  I find all this topic fascinating.  Maybe some of my readers do too.  This list is from Yale.  Two more (The Mormons - or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Oneida Community I've wrote about more in depth already and will probably continue to do so.)

John Davenport and Theophilis Eaton, joint leaders of a company of colonists who had arrived at Boston from England in 1637, searched in vain for a suitable place to settle near Massachusetts Bay. They turned to the land of the Quinnipiac in Connecticut. The colonists arrived at their new home on April 14, 1638. The next day, Davenport preached on “the temptation in the wilderness” from Matthew 4:1 and the new colony took its place on the shores of New Haven harbor.
Two months later, the planters met to lay the foundations of their civil government. They agreed that “the Scriptures do hold forth a perfect rule for the direction and government of men in their duties” and the theocratic community took shape.
Davenport next gathered the new church, aspiring to an even greater purity of worship than that found in the other colonies. Alone in the wilderness, the colonists sought a “church compact within itself, without subordination under or dependence upon any other but Jesus Christ.” In designing their ideal town, they created a grid of nine squares with the church in the central green, the common pasture. In such utopian dreams was America born. 

 In the early 1700’s, a series of German Second Adventists (pilgrims who believed in the imminent second coming of the Christ) moved to Pennsylvania and founded two important Utopian communes, Ephrata Cloister and The Woman in the Wilderness. Both believed that America would be the land of the Second Coming. Woman in the Wilderness derived its name from the woman in Revelation 12:6 who fled to the wilderness to escape a fiery dragon and wait for the return of Christ. Through their piety, creativity, learning, and work ethic, both communes heavily influenced the formation of the Pennsylvania Colony.

1. Society of the Woman in the Wilderness A group of scholars, led by Johannes Kelpius, arrived in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1694, the year their founder, Johann Zimmermann expected the dawn of a new millennium. They took their name from The Book of Revelation 12:6: “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.” Mystics, philosophers, musicians, and artists, they developed a school for neighborhood children, held public worship services, and practiced medicine—out-going activities for men who otherwise lived as hermits in caves along the Wissahikon River.

2. Ephrata Cloister
The members of the Ephrata Cloister were an internationally famous group of scholars who gathered under the leadership of the mystical Conrad Beissel. Believing that the highest spiritual attainment was possible only to celibates, Solitary Sisters and Solitary Brethren lived in separate monastic buildings. A third group, Householders, lived in family groups.

Adherents took new names, lived in great austerity, and adopted a Capuchin-style habit. Their cultural accomplishments included calligraphy and choral music. Their Fraktur, printed documents with stunning hand illuminations, gained wide acclaim.

The Shakers are the quintessential American utopian commune to which all others are compared. With one small Shaker community still in existence in Maine, the Shakers are by far the longest-lived American utopian experiment. The Shaker version of utopia – often encapsulated in the word “simplicity” is part of the American popular imagination: Shaker influence can be found in fashion, furniture design, textiles, and music.

In 1774, a Scottish woman named Ann Lee, who had received visions from God declaring the supremacy of a celibate life, brought her followers to America. “I knew by revelation that God had a chosen people in America. I saw some of them in a vision and I met them in America. I knew that I had a vision of America, I saw a large tree, every leaf of which shown with such brightness as made it appear like a burning torch representing the Church of Christ which will yet be established in this land.”

While the Shakers are known for their simplicity, their devotion is by no means simple-minded. The Shaker credo demands duty to god, duty to man, separation from the world, simplicity of language, right use of property, and a celibate life.

At their height in 1830, there were over 18 Shaker communities from Kentucky to Maine, including one in Enfield, Connecticut.

George Rapp (1757-1845) was a German Evangelical Lutheran who came to America to escape persecution for his unique brand of Pietism, a strain of Christianity that called for heartfelt conversion from sin, personal communication with God, and the pursuit of perfection. At its height in Germany, Rapp’s following numbered about 12,000 people, although his commune never exceeded 800 members.

Rapp’s view of America was not unlike that of the German Communitarians who had come before him – America was the land of millennial promise—and Rapp also compared his commune to the woman in the wilderness from Revelation. He founded his communes in Harmony, Indiana, and later, in Economy, Pennsylvania on the principles of millennialism, chastity, and community of goods.

Life at Harmony was strict and difficult. Financial hardship made Rapp consider merging with a local Shaker group in 1816, but soon the commune developed a thriving agricultural economy trading grain and whiskey. After moving to Pennsylvania, the Rappites began dealing in oil and, ultimately, venture capital.
Over time, Rapp grew inconsistent and hypocritical in his decision making, causing several members to leave, until he made his 1st apocalyptic prophecy: on September 15, 1829, the three and one half years of the Sun Woman would end and the Christ would begin his reign on earth. In an extraordinary coincidence, a delusional German named Bernard Mueller had sent out letters to several communes in America about a month before declaring himself the Lion in Judah – the Second Coming – and his letter reached Rapp just in time to save his experiment at Harmony. Mueller was invited to Harmony, where Rapp preached that he was the Second Coming and the Great Alchemist. In 1831, Mueller arrived in Economy, but it became quickly apparent that he was not the man Rapp said he was. The community was so disgusted with Rapp that over a third left to start several notable communes.
The economic panic of 1837 and the doomsday-prophecy of William Miller (see The Great Disappointment) convinced Rapp that, once again, the end was near. Rapp’s faith proved premature and the “despot” died in 1847 at 89 years, leaving half a million dollars in gold and silver hidden under his bed, and a wealthy group of 288 members who, after reworking the government into a system of elders, pledged not to take any new members (most of whom were joining because of the economic success). They would await the Second Coming or die. Their ultimatum would ultimately destroy the Rappite movement.

NASHOBA A well-born English woman and close friend of General Lafayette, Frances Wright founded Nashoba in Shelby County, Tennessee, in 1825 to form a community in which slaves would be prepared for freedom through education in letters and farming. Wright enjoyed the friendship of Robert Owen and modeled her commune on New Harmony. When it failed, she arranged for the thirty-one Negroes still at Nashoba to move to Haiti and, with Lafayette’s assistance, to be assured of their freedom.

Robert Owen was the preeminent utopian thinker of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A factory owner, he was influenced by industrialization in his native Scotland and the utilitarian philosophy of his friend and business partner, Jeremy Bentham. He purchased the Harmony land and buildings from the Rappites to establish the first socialist commune organized on the principle of rational ethics and not religion.

Owen rebelled against the “trinity of evils:” private property, irrational systems of religion, and marriage founded on property and religion. He developed a plan of progressive paternalism in his commune at “New” Harmony– curfews, house inspections, and fines for drunkenness and illegitimate children. He equated happiness with docility, and as a result was criticized for condescending to the working class.

Owen introduced the trade school to the US, stressing practical training and character building rather than classical education. But Owen’s character indoctrination irked many parents who rarely saw their children during their years of schooling when Owen would “shield children from the unwanted negative influence of their parents and families.” And although Owen stressed gender equality, girls only studied home economics and had little influence in the politics of New Harmony.

Owen’s na├»ve belief in the power of rational humanism was eventually denigrated by Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels; but Engels once wrote of Owen that, in the early 18th century, all social movements and all real advance made in England in the interest of the working class were associated with Robert Owen’s name.

BROOK FARM The founder of Brook Farm, George Ripley (1802-1880), was one of Unitarianism’s most promising ministers, and the farm at West Roxbury, Massachusetts began as a product of the transcendentalist movement and a showplace for Christian socialism. The commune had more than 120 members at its highest point and was widely regarded as an intellectual center. After four years of existence, however, the members changed its purpose to that of a Fourierist phalanx.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Among Brook Farm’s visitors was Nathaniel Hawthorne, who drew on his brief experience there for his novel. Hawthorne left Brook Farm in great disillusionment, and his novel, a thinly disguised satire, recounts with some venom how some commune members were permitted to spend their time reading poetry while others had to tend the cows. The commune saw hundreds of short term visitors, among them Henry James, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Channing, Horace Greeley, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau.

The day Mormon founder Joseph Smith was murdered, a man named James Jesse Strang claimed he had been ordained by angels to assume the leadership of the church. He exhibited a letter to the Mormon community in Nauvoo, Illinois that was purportedly written by Smith instructing Strang to found a Wisconsin branch of the church. Joseph Smith’s brother, William, supported Strang, though Strang had only been a member of the church for five months.

James Strang led his followers to Wisconsin where he set up the Voree commune on the principles of a modified Mormon faith. By 1847 Strang claimed to have had a large number of revelations, and, like Joseph Smith, had found more golden tablets and translated them. In 1847 the group moved to Beaver Island, Michigan and founded the Kingdom of St. James. The membership reached a high of 2,500 at this time. After being elected to the Michigan legislature for two terms, Strang was murdered by a mob of ex-members in 1854. The Strangite branch of Mormonism still exists with no communal base and very small membership.

Icaria was founded by Etienne Cabet, a French anti-monarchist who moved to England in 1834. There he wrote who wrote Voyage en Icarie, a novel which imitates More’s Utopia and reflects Rousseau’s French romanticism: return to a simpler, primitive economy where private property and the selfishness inherent in it never existed. His ideas mirrored those of the French Socialists in their plan of social progress through the leadership of a natural elite identified by equal education for both sexes. Cabet knew Robert Owen and borrowed his emphasis on the importance of a healthy physical environment as at New Lanark. He also subscribed to the golden rule: Love your neighbor as yourself; do not unto others the harm you would not have others do to you; do to others the good that you wish for yourself.

In 1849, in Nauvoo, Illinois, Cabet and his followers purchased land and buildings from Mormons who had left for Salt Lake, Utah. The group eschewed money and private property, preferring communal meals and apartment living. Children were moved from their parents’ environment at the age of four and housed in boarding-school buildings; they were allowed to visit home on Sundays, having been taught to love the community, not to have special affection for their parents. Every adult had a job in a workshop or on the farms.

The Icarians supported no religion but they met to discuss Christian morality and Cabet’s teachings. Men and women had equal voices in the weekly assembly which adopted a formal charter that prescribed the political structure described in Voyage-en-Icarie. Annually, they elected a president and four officers in charge of finance, farming, industry, education. Candidates who lived at the commune for four months became members upon election by a majority vote of the Icarian men and the payment of eighty dollars. Other sources of income were funds Cabet raised in Paris and royalties on his writings.

When Cabet proposed a four-year term for himself as president, the group suffered the first of its many splits. As splinter groups moved west, each community continued to cling to its original blueprint of life as put down in Cabet’s book, the dream of a community that would be “a truly second Promised Land, an Eden, an Elysium, a new Earthly Paradise.”

Fountaingrove was established in 1875 by Thomas Lake Harris, founder of the Brotherhood of the New Life and of three colonies in New York between 1861 and 1867. Fountaingrove, described by its founder as a Theo-Socialist community, was situated in Northern California on 700 acres two miles north of Santa Rosa, “the Eden of the West.” The charismatic Harris called himself the "primate," or "pivotal man" chosen by God, in whom the forces of good and evil fought on earth and from whom the announcement of Christ’s Second Coming would emerge. He identified himself with Christ and as a bi-sexual and divine man-woman.

His spiritualist doctrine included teachings such as Divine Respiration, which enabled the brotherhood to commune with God through rhythmic breathing. In 1891, Harris’s complex theories of Spiritual Counterparts—each person had a counterpart in heaven—and celibacy resulted in a widely publicized accusation of sexual license and immorality. Harris left Fountaingrove but not without having presided over a successful enterprise.

Inspired by Edward Bellamy's novel Looking Backward, 2000-1899, and the Nationalist movement, the Kaweah Cooperative Colony was organized in 1886. Located on the Kaweah River, Tulare County, California, it began as a tent settlement operated on the principle of equal work and equal compensation for men and women. The Beinecke holds most of the original papers from the formation and founding of Kaweah, allowing a rare, intimate look at the struggles and intrigue of forming a utopian commune.

Kaweah grew out of the International Workers Association (IWA) in San Francisco, a city that has spawned more utopian movements than any other location in America (especially during the 1960’s). The IWA was a Marxist/socialist progressive labor group, largely influenced by Das Kapital, the Communist Manifesto, and Looking Backward, 2000–1899. Although Bellamy distanced himself from Kaweah and, like Marx and Engels, believed that social revolution was only viable on a national level and not through small communes, he did direct his most zealous disciples to Kaweah.

Most of the original members were skilled laborers and trade union representatives. One visitor said of the membership: “They are all perhaps without exception, intelligent, thoughtful, earnest, readers of books and journals, alive to the great economic and social questions of the day.”

Kaweahans organized their economy on a time-check system with checks in denominations ranging from ten minutes to 20,000 minutes. They could be exchanged for money: five cents for ten minutes, 100 dollars for 20,000. All work was considered of equal value and healthcare was free.

The members set up a complicated system of government with hundreds of divisions to carefully divide work responsibilities. But it was this meticulous attention to rather inessential detail that proved to be Kaweah’s demise. The people of Kaweah spent more time debating the finer points of Marxism then building the buildings and roads that would allow Kaweah to prosper.

The founders of Kaweah, Burnette G. Haskell and James J. Martin, envisioned a commune that supported itself by logging the sequoia forests. But the Kaweah Colony never got a chance to take advantage of this certain capital – in 1890 the United States government declared Kaweah part of the Sequoia National Park in an abrupt eviction of dubious legality.

The Roycrofters are a small band of workers who make beautiful books and things—making them as good as they can. —Roycroft motto

The Roycroft community of East Aurora, New York, took William Morris and his Kelmscott press as its model in designing an Arts and Crafts workshop in 1894. Elbert Hubbard, the founder, had made money in the soap business but preferred to realize his dream as a writer and promoter of high quality goods beginning with a print shop and expanding to include leatherwork, copper wares, leaded glass lamps and a version of the popular Morris chair. His mission was to convince Americans that beauty belongs in the objects of everyday living, from books to table mats.

Of the people who joined Roycroft, Hubbard recalled the “boys who have been expelled from school, blind people, deaf people, old people, jail-birds and mental defectives” who all managed to do good work. He rejected the “remittance men” who were willing to do anything but work: “They offered to run things, to preach, to advise, to make love to the girls. We bought them tickets to Chicago and without violence conducted them to the Four-O‘Clock train.” Others, he said, look “for Utopia, when work is work, here as elsewhere.

Nonetheless, as Hubbard’s biographer says: “In the early years, Roycroft had much in common with the utopian communities that had dotted the country earlier in the century. Not economically, since the property was Hubbard’s. But Roycroft had common meals, meetings, sports, studies, and a library. Cash wages were small, but there wasn’t much need or opportunity to spend money. The work was still work, but there was an effort to make it humanly satisfying. There was a real—if informal and basically paternalistic—feeling of shared values, adventure, responsibility.”

Hubbard and his wife perished on the Lusitania but the community continued until 1938.


In 1897 Katherine Tingley founded the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society at Point Loma, a peninsula in San Diego. Tingley's beliefs mixed humanitarianism with the occult. Members received no wages, and worked at tasks assigned to them on a rotating basis. At its peak, Point Loma had approximately 500 members. The community was basically a school run according to Theosophist principles. The members were very educated – most were polyglots with a facility in an Eastern tongue. The East-West cultural center regularly read from Christian, Confucian, Hindu, and Buddhist texts and adopted a pseudo-League of Nations flag as their own. The movement appealed to a certain social/intellectual stratum of the world in their universal call to brotherhood. “An injury to one is an injury to all” was a favorite phrase of Tingley.

At Point Loma, children lived in bungalows and were educated in communal nurseries. They only saw their parents on Sundays. Tingley called these youth programs the Raja-Yoga or “Kingly-Union” school. At Tingley’s initiative, the commune adopted groups of Cuban children and orphans and cared for them at the Raja-Yoga school.

Tingley was a remarkable woman of keen intellect, demonstrative personality, and grandiose vision. After her death, the hugely successful example of progressive, upper-class utopian living at Point Loma could not survive.

In 1898, Dr. William H. Dower and Mrs. Francia LeDue of the Theosophical lodge in Syracuse, New York received mystical instructions to shun Tingley's teachings in favor of the original teachings of Blavatsky. In 1903 they moved to a valley near Pismo Beach, north of Santa Barbara, named it Halcyon, and instituted the Temple of the People. There they built a sanatorium, and a cooperative society named the Temple Home Association. The community experienced internal troubles throughout its existence, and in 1912 the cooperative society disbanded.

Albert Powell Warrington, an Adyar Theosophist, established a Hollywood, California outpost in 1912, named Krotona. It had few communitarian principles; instead the group shared a common Theosophist philosophy. When Hollywood became too crowded in 1924, Krotona sold their 15 acres of land and moved to the Ojai Valley, northeast of Los Angeles. Here they established a school of Theosophy.


A group of Theosophists from Syracuse, New York, moved to Oceana, California, in 1903 to form the Halcyon community. They rejected the teachings of Katherine Tingley, the head of the movement at the time, in favor of a return to the original work of Madame Blavatsky. They built a sanatorium for the treatment of liquor, morphine, and opium addiction. Socialism and communal property marked the group and drew the attention of reformers like novelist Upton Sinclair.

Set off from the highway in the Santa Cruz mountains of central California, Holy City (1918-1954) was founded by William Riker, a former confidence man and alleged bigamist, who ran four times for governor of California on an openly racist platform. Most of his doctrine was a white supremacist form of religion he called the Perfect Christian Divine Way.

The 30 members of this settlement lived communally, separated by sex. A cross between a tourist trap and a Christian haven, the commune in its heyday in the twenties and thirties boasted such unconventional luxuries as alcoholic soda pop, peep shows, an ornately decorated gas station, a radio station and a zoo, all to lure passing motorists to the commune. Messages throughout the settlement screamed of the “World’s Perfect Government.” Riker’s theological writings consisted of hundreds of almost incomprehensible and often contradictory pamphlets and manifestos, some written in crayon.

The problem of finding what is “utopian” in this commune remains daunting. However, Riker, while offensive, nevertheless represents an example of a single personality inspiring communalism and looking to change his society—as distasteful as his aims may have been.

The Peace Mission movement, led by the charismatic and controversial black preacher Father Divine, stands out among the communal utopias of America as an example of what might be called the “satellite utopia” phenomenon.

From 1919 to 1929, Father Divine quietly instructed a handful of disciples in a religion that blended Eastern mysticism, Christianity and communal ideals. Then in 1929 the widespread economic collapse stimulated wider interest in Divine’s communalism as a shield against both emotional and economic distress. The minister gained renown for presenting free Sunday banquets to all visitors and for helping needy guests find jobs. Crowds came regularly from Harlem and Newark, venerating this mysterious provider as a heaven-sent deliverer. Divine supported this notion; he insisted that he was God.

The Peace Mission was one of the earliest effective supporters of integration, stressing that black and white followers alike were loved by the Savior, Father Divine.

At its peak in the mid-30s, the movement had perhaps 10,000 hard-core followers who believed fervently in Father Divine’s deity, devoted all of their possessions to the Peace Mission, and lived in one of the more than 150 movement centers. A rapidly expanding bureaucracy oversaw a successful transition from a modest commune to a far-flung network that reportedly handled over $15 million in business annually by 1938.


Drop City, so named for Droppers, a group of friends who amused themselves by “throwing cans of garbage and water and balloons out the windows” in Kansas City, grew on a remote patch of southeastern Colorado beginning in May, 1965. Its credo states:
pixel.gif We are trying to be instruments of the cosmic forces working within the order of nature. We believe that earth, air, fire, and water belong to everyone and can’t be bought or sold, or owned. We are total revolutionaries; we are free men living equally with free creatures in a free universe.

The story of Drop City will never end. It’s the story of man on the road to be free.

Inspired and encouraged by Buckminster Fuller, the Droppers build geodesic domes from trashed automobile hoods and roofs.


Hog Farm began as a communal pig farm in California in 1966 but it moved to New Mexico, near Taos. Hugh Romney, known as the comic Wavy Gravy, a veteran of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and their psychedelic school bus, served as leader and guru. By 1969, Hog Farmers gave their attention to aiding freaked-out youngsters, raising money for relief efforts, and bringing their message to college students. As the Yale Daily News reported in February, 1969, Romney and friends entertained with “huge group games” trying to get the audience to understand that “we are not our brother’s keeper, we are our brothers.” The they repeated their hippie ideal a schools, hospitals, SDS meetings: “May all beings be peaceful!”


Twin Oaks, an intentional community near Louisa, Virginia, was founded in 1967 with 8 people, 123 acres, and $2,000 pooled dollars and a vision. By the late 1990s, it had 100 people and a sustainable farm and small business. The core of the commune is described on its home page.

Since Twin Oaks began in 1967, our lifestyle has reflected our values of equality and nonviolence. Our goals have been to sustain and expand a community which values cooperation; which is not sexist or racist; which treats people in a caring and fair manner; and which provides for the basic needs of our members. Although our original inspiration came from B.F. Skinner’s novel, Walden Two, it is now just one of the many influences which have helped shape Twin Oaks’ character. Our desire to be a model social system has broadened to include human-scale solutions to problems of land use, food production, energy conservation, and appropriate use of technology.

Twin Oaks supports itself primarily through the manufacture of handcrafted hammocks and other casual furniture items. We also have a book-indexing service, and a growing tofu and soy foods business.

A plot of woodland, 240 acres or rural Oregon, was chosen by Bob Carey, a one-time rider of Ken Kesey’s psychedelic bus, as the home of “The Family,” a religious back-to-nature commune established in 1968. Members, chiefly in their thirties or younger, came from such walks of life as computer programmer, welder, banker, and teacher. Most of the adults found their way to dropping out through dropping acid, but by the time of The Family’s foundation, they had turned to farming, meditating on Bible teachings, and fasting for mental cleansing.

A hexagonal lodge served as common room, kitchen, and refectory. Individual families (group marriage “hadn’t worked out”) lived in tents or tepees. The creations of potters and leather-crafters provided some income but a two-acre garden was the main source of food.

The commune’s credo: “Getting out of the cities isn’t hard, only concrete is. Get it together. This means on your own, all alone, or with a few of your friends. Buy land. Don’t rent. Money manifests. Trust. Plant a garden, create a center. Come together.”


Haight-Ashbery gave birth to The Diggers, a counter-culture, anarchy-minded theater group in San Francisco in the late ‘60s. One of their products was this magazine, hand made and bound, and circulated to up to 300 other area communes on Kaliflower Thursdays. Kalifower’s intent was to extend the freedoms associated with flower children and the hippie movement to a broader audience. Its title reflects Kaliyuga, the Hindu name for the ultimate revolt against the morality of the vedas and suggests the flower that can grow out of that violence.

"Founded in 1971 at Summertown, Tennessee, with a spiritual commitment to simple living and self-reliance, The Farm has pioneered a wide range of social and physical technologies appropriate to low-cost, high satisfaction community living. The community offers examples of solar building design, permaculture, micro-enterprise, mushroom cultivation, large scale composting and gardening, and regenerative hardwood forest management." —From The Farm’s Web Site