New Llano has a unique, 100-year-old, history. It is arguably the longest-lived socialist community in the United States.

New Llano has a unique, 100-year-old, history. It is arguably the longest-lived socialist community in the United States.

Originally established in 1917 as a Utopian community, people came from all walks of life, and from all over the world to New Llano. They were seeking a paradise where “you produce for use, not profit;" where all members did equal work for equal benefits in a self-sufficient cooperative.

The first colony in California, called the Llano del Rio Cooperative Colony, was established by Job Harriman, in 1914. It was abandoned just four years later. Llano del Rio turned out to be too far from other settlements to develop a sustaining economy, and it had an unreliable water supply.

In 1917, 200 of the original 600 California colonists chartered a train and moved the experimental colony to Louisiana. They settled into the former lumber town of Stables, and changed its name to New Llano. 

For the next 20 years, the colony evolved its own brand of "cooperativism," southern-style. Everyone over the age of 18 had a job. Usually jobs were assigned, but people were allowed to change occupations if they were competent.Life at the colony was not easy, but no one starved physically or intellectually.

In the early 1900's, lumber workers in Louisiana had faced many conflicts with big lumber interests in the state. This made the politics of a co-operative society appealing to them.

The socialist concept had much popular support in the United States, during the late 19th and early 20th century. Utopian colonies were scattered throughout the country during the industrial age, as the working class struggled to gain rights.

The New Llano Colony has often been dubbed a "socialist commune," however, this is not entirely accurate.

Although Harriman and many of the long-time colonists were Socialists, it was not a requirement for membership. Members simply had to agree to live co-operatively and abide by the Golden Rule-- “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Many of the ideals, which were promoted within the Utopian community, were a source of pride, and have been instituted in today's American society. These include minimum wage, Social Security, low-cost housing, old-age pensions, equal rights for women, welfare, and a move toward universal health care.

Members collectively owned all industries, which they ran themselves, including water and electricity for their homes. The group produced many high-quality items, from shoes to machine tools, and popular food products.

New Llano was once home to a broom factory, sawmill, ice plant, sheet metal factory, and the leading national socialist newspaper.

The colony was one of the first groups in America to adopt the Montessori teaching method. Theodore Cuno, one of the founders of Labor Day, made New Llano his home until his death. Cuno endowed the colony with a substantial library, one of the best in Louisiana. Colony orchestras and theatrical groups performed on a roof garden, free of charge, to fellow colonists and their neighbors.

Everyone worked together to produce whatever they needed.

Eventually, in 1939, a series of financial problems and internal dissent forced the colony into receivership.

Documentary filmmakers Beverly Lewis and Rick Blackwood produced the 1994 film, "American Utopia," about the Llano del Rio Cooperative Colony in Vernon Parish.

The Town of New Llano is celebrating the 100-year anniversary with a two-day festival-style celebration, featuring live music and vendors selling arts and crafts, food and drinks.

The event runs Friday, June 30 - Saturday, July 1 at the park on Stanton Street. It will get started both days at 8 a.m. The celebration will will close at 6 p.m. on Friday. A fireworks display will take place on Saturday at 9 p.m. 

Alcoholic beverages and pets are prohibited at the celebration.

 

The Museum of the New Llano Colony Museum will be open during the event. It is located at 211 Stanton Street, and is regularly open Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. (closed from noon - 1 p.m.).