By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
When the first Shakers arrived in the United States, they were officially known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming. It’s not surprising that the name Shakers became more popular. Believers were expected to live communally, labor willingly, remain celibate, practice pacifism, and value both sexes equally. But, obviously, the group’s dancing and shaking were most memorable to outsiders. As the Shaker lifestyle and beliefs attracted new followers, additional colonies were established.
Shaker communities emphasized self-sufficiency “” do it yourself instead of going shopping. The products they made and grew varied from one village to another, but they built their own houses and furniture, tilled their own land, and made their own clothes. In their time, some people may have considered Shaker architecture and crafts austere and utilitarian, but today we see beauty in their simplicity. Take a look at a few villages, and decide for yourself.
For more information about these locations, visit the National Park Service’s Shaker Historic Trail Web site, www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/shaker.
1. Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, New Gloucester, Maine
Founded in 1782, the village became official in 1794 when the meetinghouse was built. The community grew until 26 large buildings and many smaller ones were sited on 1,900 acres of land. The central dwelling house “” a large, five-story building with sleeping rooms, a chapel, a music room, and a kitchen-dining room complex “” is still inhabited by Shaker Sisters. The house reflects their communal practices. Sabbathday is the only active Shaker community that still holds services on Sundays. Visitors are welcome to take a guided tour of six of the 18 remaining structures at Sabbathday, which hold 27 exhibit rooms. Tours are offered Monday through Saturday from Memorial Day (May 30, 2005) through Columbus Day (October 10, 2005) and start at the Museum Reception Center, located at 707 Shaker Road in New Gloucester. Phone (207) 926-4597 for more information.
2. Alfred Shaker Historic District, Alfred, Maine
The first Shaker society in Maine, which also later became the largest, began in 1793. The 300-acre historic district includes the community dairy/bakery, a cow barn, a school, the trustee’s office, the sisters’ shop, and the brethren’s shop, plus the adjacent agricultural fields. The Alfred Shakers supplemented agriculture with woodworking, textiles, and tanning, but still the community failed. After this community closed in 1931, members joined the Sabbathday Lake group and left the property to the Brothers of Christian Instruction. Local residents are working to place a Shaker museum inside a renovated carriage house on the property, and several businesses on the site are open, such as a bakery and opportunities to pick your own apples, blueberries, and raspberries. For more information, phone the Brothers of Christian Instruction at (207) 324-6612.
3. Enfield Shaker Historic District, Enfield, New Hampshire
Although this community was established in 1793, the most significant buildings weren’t constructed until the mid-19th century. Each “family,” which ranged in size from 30 to 90 people, had its own communal buildings, dwellings, and workshops. The six-story Great Stone Dwelling House was the tallest domestic building north of Boston. Like most Shaker villages, Enfield declined in membership after the Civil War, so much of the acreage was sold. After the new owners founded a mission following Shaker traditions, Enfield saw much of its growth. Today the Enfield Shaker Museum interprets this complex site. The Enfield Shaker Historic District is located at 24 Caleb Dyer Lane and is open year-round, daily in summer and on weekends in winter. Phone (603) 632-4346 for more information.
4. Enfield Shakers Historic District, Enfield, Connecticut
This is not a mistaken duplication of the previous location; it has the same name, but it is in a different state. This Enfield was the only Shaker community in Connecticut and housed 150 individuals. Of the original 100 buildings there, only 15 remain, but they reflect considerable variety in architecture. The buildings are now private residences and not open to the public, but visitors can still enjoy seeing them while driving slowly by. Enfield Shakers Historic District is located along Shaker, Taylor, and Cybulski roads in Enfield.
5. Canterbury Shaker Village, Canterbury, New Hampshire
Canterbury prospered for more than a century with farming, livestock breeding, and water-powered mills, and by producing seeds and herbal medicines. We haven’t seen this village, but it’s on our “next time we head to New Hampshire” list. Canterbury Shaker Village is located at 288 Shaker Road and is open daily from May through October, and on weekends only in April, November, and December. The outdoor museum includes guided tours, craft demonstrations, and restored organic gardens, and you can tour the meetinghouse, laundry, ministry, sisters’ shop, school, and dwelling house. For more information, phone (603) 783-9511.
6. Harvard Shaker Historic District, Harvard, Massachusetts
The Harvard Settlement was the second Shaker community established in the United States. With the help of Mother Ann Lee, one of the leaders of the Shaker movement in America, it was built by dissenters in 1781 who had left their previous (non-Shaker) church. They had to alter the landscape of the area as the membership increased. Canals were dug to drain the marshlands for use in agriculture. The 1791 meetinghouse was in the center of the community, as befitted its use. Another interesting building is the New Office. As its name indicates, all six stories of the building were devoted to business. Daily affairs were conducted on the first floor, and the community trustees, guests, and office staff worked above. Unfortunately, the buildings of the district are not open to the public, as they are private residences, but they are still worth seeing from the outside. The district is located on Shaker Road in Harvard.
7. Shirley Shaker Village, Shirley, Massachusetts
In 1793 four landowners donated hundreds of acres to a fledgling Shaker community, helping it to expand to 150 members by 1853. The buildings of Shirley were constructed of clapboard or brick, and the interiors had the typical Shaker bare walls, scrubbed floors, a few rugs, and plain woodwork. An abundance of apple trees enabled the Shirley Shakers to maintain a profitable applesauce industry during the 19th century. At times they also made and sold brooms, jelly, mops, and herbs. As hard as they worked, their enterprises couldn’t sustain them, and so the community was dissolved in 1908. The village, on Harvard Road south of Shirley, can be toured only on a periodic basis, as the land is now part of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution. For more information, phone the Shirley Historical Society at (978) 425-9328.
8. Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Hancock thrived for nearly two centuries. As at most Shaker communities, the buildings at Hancock were designed for function and utility. The results are architecturally conservative but beautiful, too. The 1826 Round Stone Barn is a gem “” the only Shaker barn of its kind. Its circular design was such a model of efficiency that progressive thinkers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville visited to see it. As the largest Shaker museum in the East, Hancock still contains 20 historic buildings, extensive gardens, and a significant number of Shaker artifacts. The village is open year-round and is on Route 20 in Pittsfield. You’ll see programs, tours, exhibitions, and hands-on activities. Of the Shaker villages we’ve visited, read, and heard about, this is our favorite. Phone (413) 443-0188 for more information.
9. Mount Lebanon Shaker Society, New Lebanon, New York
The Mount Lebanon Shaker Society was the United States’ largest and most industrious Shaker community, and lasted from 1785 to 1947. It became the spiritual center of American Shakers. At its peak, Mount Lebanon had 600 members, with hundreds of buildings on 6,000 acres. In addition to being a spiritual model, Mount Lebanon had impressive examples of architecture. The Second Meetinghouse has an arched roof and five entryways: the left door for Brothers, the middle for Elders, the right for Sisters, and two for non-Shakers. The Ministry House and Main Dwelling both reflect a Victorian influence. This site is open to the public, with a museum and walking tours available. It is located along U.S. 20 in New Lebanon. Phone (518) 794-9500 for more information.
10. Watervliet Shaker Historic District, Albany, New York
This was the first Shaker settlement in America, and Mother Ann Lee lived here during her last days. It prospered in the early 19th century by focusing on agricultural and commercial production of garden seeds and corn brooms. The profitability of brooms is evident by the 3-1/2-story broom shop. Albany County purchased the historical site in 1926 and demolished all but eight buildings. Fifty years later, the Shaker Heritage Society encouraged the restoration of the remaining buildings. Watervliet (pronounced “wa-der-vleet”) is located along Watervliet Shaker Road in Albany. It’s open year-round; closed on major holidays and the first two weeks of January. Guided tours are available on Saturdays between June and October. Phone (518) 456-7890 for more information.
11. North Union Shaker Site, Cleveland, Ohio
North Union was a latecomer. It was 1822 when a Connecticut pioneer persuaded his family and neighbors to become Shakers. The village buildings have been demolished, but the land is rich in archaeological treasure. In 1826 the Shakers dammed a brook to establish a gristmill and a sawmill, creating a lovely lake. The resulting flour and processed wood were used communally and sold to the public. Thirty years later a second dam resulted in another lake. When the community disbanded and sold their land in 1889, developers turned the area into what is now known as Shaker Heights, a suburb that sustained the landscape’s beauty. The Shaker Historical Museum interprets the history of the Shakers who once lived there, featuring furniture and artifacts from North Union and other Shaker communities. The museum is at 16740 S. Park Blvd. in Shaker Heights and open year-round (closed Mondays, Saturdays, and major holidays). Phone (216) 921-1201 for more information.
12. South Union Shakertown Historic District, South Union, Kentucky
South Union was active from 1807 to 1922. The 225 buildings there reflected a Southern influence, with more curves and arches than you see in the East. Perhaps gender separation was less rigidly followed there, since the Centre House didn’t have the typical separated entrance. Instead, a double stone stairway leads to one main door. South Union also was visited by non-Shakers of note, such as presidents James Monroe and Andrew Jackson, and statesmen Henry Clay and Sam Houston. Today eight Shaker buildings (including the Centre House) and 600 acres of farmland have become the Shaker Museum. This facility has the largest collection of Southern Shaker furniture in the United States. It is located along U.S. 68 in South Union. The museum offers tours daily from March through November. Phone (800) 811-8379 for more information.
13. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg, Kentucky
At its peak, Pleasant Hill was one of the largest Shaker communities. By the mid-1850s some 600 Shakers occupied 250 buildings on 2,800 acres. This community still is an architectural masterpiece. Unlike other Shaker locations, the buildings here were designed or influenced by a single man named Micajah Burnett, who arrived as a teenager. He did adhere to guidelines prescribed by the ministry, but Burnett also was heavily influenced by the Federal style of creating buildings with vast, open interiors. The multiple family dwellings are examples of his approach, as are the twin spiral staircases in the trustee house. The meetinghouse required the most ingenuity. Burnett designed an interior free of obstructions so the believers had plenty of room, and he made sure that the building and floors would withstand considerable vibration. The meetinghouse is a technical marvel that still shows little wear today. The village closed in 1910, and in 1961 a group of Kentuckians began restoring the remaining buildings. This is the largest restored Shaker community in the United States, with 2,800 acres of farmland and an outstanding collection of Shaker architecture. It is located at 3501 Lexington Road (U.S. 68) and is open daily. Between November and March some buildings are closed and the tour hours are reduced. Phone (800) 734-5611 for more information.