Open main menu

Helicon Home Colony was an experimental community formed by author Upton Sinclair in Englewood, New Jersey, United States, with proceeds from his novel The Jungle. Established in October 1906, it burned down in March 1907 and was disbanded.[1]


In a 1906 article in The Independent,[2] Sinclair outlined a plan for a home colony located within one-hour of New York City. Following the model proposed by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in her book The Home, Sinclair sought "authors, artists, and musicians, editors and teachers and professional men"[3] who wanted to avoid the drudgeries of domestic life. A farm community would be established that would generate its own meat, milk and produce. Food would be served in a communal kitchen and children raised in separate nurseries. The community would be run by a board of directors. While Sinclair insisted that the project was not a Socialist one, he did think that those interested in participating "would have to be in sympathy with the spirit of socialism".[3] Sinclair planned for about 100 houses on a 400-acre (1.6 km2) lot, and would get proposals for architects and business experts to create a business plan for the endeavor.[3]

In a letter published in The New York Times on July 16, 1906, Sinclair outlined his plan and announced a public meeting to be held the following evening at the Berkeley Lyceum on 44th Street. Employed individuals would join a cooperative and build homes of their own design that would not have kitchens or space for children. The community would use machinery to increase efficiency and "solve the problem of the management of servants". The community would be run by a democratically elected board and would own enough land to produce as much of its own food as possible. Children would be cared for separately and overseen by a Board of Women Directors elected by their mothers. Lecture halls, reading rooms and other common facilities would be provided.[4] "After heaps of stress involving everything from the cooking to the plumbing, the community finally broke down and hired traditional servants."[5]

The Times published an editorial the next day, supportive of the meeting and noting the difficulties of raising a family in the city. However, the editors raised concerns that the funds needed to purchase land in proximity to New York City would require substantial outlays beyond the means of most. The editorial questioned the practicability of raising children on a communal basis, noting that "There would be more fun in that spectacle -- for outsiders -- than in the traditional barrel of monkeys."[6]

Some 300 people attended the public meeting on July 17. Sinclair led the two-hour meeting and spoke for three-quarters of the session. It was agreed that women who paid the $10 initiation fee would be eligible to vote. Sinclair stated that he had offers of suitable land in the New York City area at $10 to $50 per acre, refuting claims made in the editorial in The Times that appropriate land would cost as much as $3,000 to $40,000 an acre. Gaylord Wilshire was named temporary treasurer, and Sinclair announced that commitments of $50,000 had already been made. Sinclair reviewed the responses he had received to a questionnaire he had distributed nationwide, receiving 44 responses, including one from a meat packer in Brooklyn. In addition to details on the types and manner of food to be served in the proposed colony, respondents indicated that they preferred to be close to New York City, preferably in New Jersey.[7]

The colony opened in Englewood, New Jersey, in October 1906. It was located in an old school building, Helicon Hall, on the north side of Walnut Street, between Woodland and Lincoln Streets.[8] During its existence about 46 adults and 15 children lived there.[5] The New York Times reported an outbreak of chicken pox among 10 children at the colony in February 1907.[9] A young Sinclair Lewis worked as a janitor there.[10] The building burned down March 16, 1907 with one man, Lester Briggs, dying in the fire. The colony disbanded with members besides Sinclair being returned their investments through insurance payments. At the time of the fire the Colony had over 70 residents including colonists, boarders, and workers.[1][5]


Helicon Home Colony had a rigorous screening process for the applicants, including a restriction against those of color. The application stated: “The colony should be open to any white person of good moral character”.[11] They explicitly banned black people and less publicly banned Jews. "According to Perdita Buchan, writing in the 2007 book Utopia, New Jersey: Travels in the Nearest Eden, Sinclair himself quietly returned one rejected applicant's money, apologizing that the other members had voted against allowing Jewish people from joining the Helicon Home Colony" even though Sinclair himself "owned 160 of Helicon's 230 shares" and "ostensibly controlled about 70% of the board's vote and could have overruled anyone if he had thought it appropriate."[5]

Colony membersEdit

  • Upton Sinclair, Founder
  • Meta Fuller Sinclair
  • Alice MacGowan, author
  • Grace MacGowan Cooke, author[12]
  • Henrietta Kimball, artist[8]
  • Charles Helliker, engineer
  • B.H. Nadal, poet
  • Mr. & Mrs. J. M. Bowles
  • Mr. Charles M. Williams
  • Mrs. Emma Williams
  • Mrs. Helen Fitchenberg, head cook
  • Mrs. Florence Eddy
  • Prof. & Mrs. William Montague, Columbia University
  • Prof. & Mrs. Anna Noyes, Teachers College
  • Louis Tabor
  • Percy Russell
  • Edwin Bjorkman
  • Mr. & Mrs. A. C. Craig
  • Mr. & Mrs. Edwin C. Potter
  • Edith Somers, Upton Sinclair's secretary
  • Helen Knoll, worker[1]
  • Emma Hahn, Financial Superintendent of the Colony
  • Lester Briggs, carpenter
  • Dora Steinlein
  • W. T. Grinnell
  • Margaret Hogue, writer


  • David Sinclair[1]
  • Helen Cooke[1]
  • Catharine Cooke[1]
  • William Montague[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Fire Wipes Out Helicon Hall, And Upton Sinclair Hints That the Steel Trust's Hand May Be In It" (PDF). New York Times. 17 March 1907. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
  2. ^ The Rock Island argus of 22 June 1906 reproduced the integrality of the article published by Sinclair in The Independent of 14 June 1906.
  3. ^ a b c "THE SINCLAIR COLONY.", The New York Times, June 24, 1906. Accessed July 16, 2008.
  4. ^ Sinclair, Upton. "FOR A CO-OPERATIVE HOME.; The Plan for a Colony to be Discussed Her To-morrow Evening.", Letter to The New York Times, July 16, 1906. Accessed July 16, 2008.
  5. ^ a b c d "How Upton Sinclair Turned The Jungle Into a Failed New Jersey Utopia".
  6. ^ "A CO-OPERATIVE HOME.", The New York Times, July 17, 1906. Accessed July 16, 2008.
  7. ^ "SINCLAIR EXPLAINS HIS HOME COLONY; 300 at His Meeting to Applaud Anti-Worry Syndicating. 100 FAMILIES ARE READY Doesn't Want All Socialists -- Meeting Favors Co-operation in Child Raising.", The New York Times, July 18, 1906. Accessed July 16, 2008.
  8. ^ a b "Muckraking Reformer Had Role In the History of the Hill". The New York Times. March 5, 1972. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  9. ^ a b "HELICON HALL HAS TAKEN TO BLOOMERS; Likewise Air Baths for Babies, Masquerade Parties, and, at Last -- Servants. NO PLACE FOR THE PRIM Therefore None Are Admitted and None Are Scandalized by the Doings There". The New York Times. February 14, 1907. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  10. ^ DePastino, Todd (2003). Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America. Chicago / London: University of Chicago Press. p. 149. ISBN 9780226143781.
  11. ^ "The Illustrated Map of America's Worst Utopias". 2016-09-12. Retrieved 2016-09-25.
  12. ^ "Sinclair Colony to try Tent Life". The New York Times. March 19, 1907. Retrieved August 23, 2018.