A southwest view of the ruins of the North American Phalanx

It could be said that it was nice while it lasted. A southwest view of the ruins of the North American Phalanx off Route 537 in Colts Neck, in an undated photo sometime prior to the 1972 fire that destroyed the remnants of the complex. / Library of Congress

Before Occupy Wall Street, before the 1960s’ counterculture movement, there was the North American Phalanx.

From 1843 to 1856, a commune with a population of 150 “associates” at its peak, inhabited 673 acres in Colts Neck, today one of the Jersey Shore’s most affluent bedroom communities, which still retains much of its pastoral character of yesteryear. Modeled upon the teachings of French philosopher Charles Fourier (1772-1837), the North American Phalanx was intended to be a utopian society within a day’s travel from New York.

Fourier was a socialist with influential American supporters (including newspapermen) who believed in income equality and wealth distribution. He was opposed to individualism because he argued when left to their own devices without a common cause, human beings will act in their own self-interest to the detriment of their fellow citizens.

There were two farmhouses that preceded the commune on the land. When the Phalanx moved in, dormitories and a social hall that connected the two homes were later built. A stream mill, stables, cow and wagon sheds, forges, carpenter shops, a packing house, a schoolhouse, a day-care center for working mothers and guest cottages also were constructed. On the grounds around the sprawling campus were landscaped gardens and paths and an artificial pond for bathing and boating in the summer and ice harvesting in the winter, according to the Monmouth County Historical Association.

Most members were working-class or middle-class city folk from across the Northeast. Admission to the Phalanx was made by application, and the criteria for entrance was based on individual skills and intelligence, personal background and a candidate’s ability to work well with others. People who were accepted into the commune were invited to visit for 30 days. If they still wanted to join and everyone else was agreeable, the candidate would be required to serve a probationary period of one year. When the year was up, the entire community would vote on whether to let the applicant stay. If approved, the candidate then would be given provisional status before transitioning to full membership in the Phalanx, according to the historical association.

It was meant to be an agrarian paradise. A kind of board of directors or council, which included a presiding officer, maintained order. The concept was simple: Everyone brought their own unique talents and skill sets to the community, working together in harmony with nature, caring and being responsible for one another — no one needed to live their lives in isolation, no one needed to face the cruel world alone.

Shockingly, it took as long as a decade for members to want to kill each other.

As the historical association points out, there were feuds over religion and politics — women’s rights and slavery — and how to recruit more members, and how one person drives another person crazy.

Schisms emerged, alliances formed. Eventually in 1853, one group of associates said “au revoir” to their socialist French experiment, while the other group admonished them not to let the stable door hit them on the way out.

A fire a year later destroyed the flour and saw mills, the blacksmith and tin shops, as well as some valuable machinery. Paradise pretty much became insufferable. The remaining associates were left holding a liability of $10,000 — about $256,000 today.

But it was nice while it lasted.