Four miles south of Cambria, California lies an often overlooked gem of the central coast, the tiny artist colony of Harmony. We first stopped at this charming little community on our honeymoon, back in 1998, and little has changed since then. But Harmony has seen a lot of changes over the years.
The town of Harmony got its start from a dairy farm that was established here by Swiss immigrants in the 1860s. The mild climate and abundant grass proved perfect for this kind of activity, and more dairy farms sprang up nearby. In 1901, the Harmony Valley Co-operative Dairy was established, producing milk and cream, and some of the finest butter and cheese in the state. Records show that in the first six months of 1869, $30,000 worth of butter was shipped from the port of San Simeon to San Francisco.
During its peak time, the village included a large home occupied by the dairy manager, employee bunkhouses, a general store, a livery stable, blacksmith shop, a feed store, a post office, and a school house.
In those days, Highway 1 ran right through the town, and motorists were treated to ladles of buttermilk from the dairy. Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst was a familiar face in Harmony, stopping in to purchase fresh dairy products on his way to his nearby ranch. Many celebrities of the time, including Rudolf Valentino and silent film actress Pola Negra stopped in Harmony, on their way to visit Hearst.
In the early days, things weren’t always peaceful here. Rivalries and feuding among the dairy farmers caused violence and chaos in the little valley. After one shooting death, a truce was called, and everybody involved agreed to put an end to the bitterness and live in harmony, giving the town its name.
Eventually, most of the local dairy businesses moved to San Luis Obispo, and in the late 1950s the Harmony Dairy was closed. Increased grazing land fees led many of the farmers to move on and establish ranches in other areas.
For years, Harmony was a virtual ghost town, until young artists and craftspeople from the counter-culture discovered it and breathed new life into the once thriving community. Today the population, including dogs and cats, is less than 20. Several of the town’s businesses have been reopened as studios and galleries.
Visitors can shop for beautiful pottery, candles, and one of a kind gift items at Harmony Pottery, and sample fine wines at the Harmony Cellars.
Next door to the pottery shop, the Harmony Chapel, with its beautiful hand carved arched double doors, is a popular venue for weddings.
We enjoyed wandering through the shops, admiring the old architecture of the buildings, and the beautiful flowers blooming everywhere.
At Harmony Glassworks, an art gallery featuring some beautiful items, we spent a lot of time watching the glass artisans at work. Even from twenty feet away, we could feel the heat from the furnaces as they shaped the molten glass into beautiful works of art.
Miss Terry was a glass contactor in her old life, before I stole here away and turned her into a gypsy, but she still loves glass. So when we discovered that you can take a glass blowing class at the studio, she was very tempted.
The studio’s brochure says no experience is necessary, and each personalized class lasts over an hour, during which students will create at least two unique items. For $125, it’s an opportunity to learn something about a craft that dates back to the time of the Egyptians. If we could arrange a place to park our motorhome in Harmony, we might come back sometime so Terry can take the class.
Thought For The Day – The artist is not a different kind of person, but every person is a different kind of artist.