The Harmonial Vegetarian Society of Harmony Springs "The Grass Eaters"
The Harmonial Vegetarian Society sounds like a group you would find in the 1960's, right? This society actually appeared about a hundred years earlier in the late 1850s when Dr. J.E. Spencer came to the area from the east. Some members of the society were in the area as early as 1859 when the entire group was tried under Benton County law for breaking the sabbath. The members at that time called themselves "The Reform Christian Church". They maintained that all days were holy, and they gave to charity the results of their labor for two-thirds of two days each week. The basis for this calculation is a mystery. Regardless, the Bentonville jury convicted them of not keeping the sabbath.
In 1860, the society bought from Dr. Spencer 520 acres of land just east of Maysville in Benton County, Arkansas, at a cost of $6000. The deed for the property at the time of purchase had 16 names on it, the property belonging jointly to all of them. When someone new joined the group they were required to give all their worldly belongings to the society. The rule of the group was that they had all things in common.
If you joined the society you had to renounce your marriage contract. Marriage was not recognized by the group but you could remain living with your former spouse if you choose or you could select a new "mate" by lots. Any children born in the society were considered to be the responsibility of the entire community and not of individual parents.
Immediately after the purchase of the property, the group started building a large three-story structure which contained 80-90 rooms which included their home, hospital and school. This may have been the first structure in Benton County to have running water which was pumped by way of a hydraulic ram. Each of the rooms in the living spaces and the hospital had its own running water, as did several of the other buildings on the grounds. Other structures that were also completed in the first year were a large bath house, machine shop, spring house, saw and grist mill, blacksmith shop, general store and print shop.
Most of the land was was cultivated for growing crops. The society was known for having some of the biggest and best crops around. Their diet was strictly vegetables and nuts. The believed that a purely vegetable diet was healther and would prolong one's life. No meat, milk, cream, butter, or any other food of greasy content was allowed to be eaten by those in the group. They were better known in the northwest Arkansas area as the "Grass Eaters" because they were strictly vegetarians.
For about a year, the society printed their own newspaper called the Theocrat which advocated living in a society with all things in common and eating a purely vegetable diet.
The society mostly associated exclusively among themselves. The group even had its own physicians and teachers. They had little to do with the outside world except commercially. Their mill was busy most of the time working for local farmers, bringing in some cash to the group. They also did some trading for things they needed.
The society had one of the best hospitals in Benton County at that time. The doctor for the group, Dr. J. E. Spencer, was an eclectic who was convinced that the beneficial effect of drugs was "proportionate to its animal influences." He believed that electrical currents could cure a variety of different diseases. The hospital would accept "outsiders" in cases of sickness, where they would be treated for a consideration. In the time they operated, they were never known to have someone die in their care.
The ladies in the society wore "bloomers" because ladies were expected to pull their own weight in the group. This gave ladies more range of movement but would have been considered outlandish in regular society in that day and age. The gentlemen in the group dressed much like Quakers. The group was active and and industrious and didn't allow any laziness among its members.
It would have been interesting to see how long this group would have lasted but for the Civil War. During the war, the buildings were used by the armies. At one time this was called Camp Jackson, which was located 2 miles east of Camp Walker. Their mill ground a lot of grain for the Confederate army in the first part of the war. It seems that the buildings stood through most of the Civil War just to be destroyed by what many think were "Bushwackers" near the end of the war. No one knows what happened to the members of the Harmonial Vegetarian Society during the war. As far as we can tell, only one member remained in the area after the war while most reportedly returned to the east. Mr. Henry E. Dewey stayed in the area for several years and ran the grist mill at Honey Creek. Soon after the war, the land was sold and the proceeds divided among its members.
Note: The information here is from multiple different sources. Since there were not good records keep on this society, many accounts differ from each other. We have tried to piece together this story the best we can.