Touring Shaker country

Touring Shaker country takes you to one current and nine former Shaker communities in the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Midwest regions of the United States.

This article is an itinerary.

Map of Touring Shaker country

. . . Touring Shaker country . . .

The United Society of Believers, known as Shaking Quakers, or simply as Shakers, are a Christian sect that dates to the middle of the 18th century. The movement found critical mass around 1772 in Manchester, England under the leadership of “Mother” Ann Lee. In 1774 Lee emigrated with a small group of followers to England’s North American colonies to escape persecution in England. Being both pacifist and English, the move to the rebellious American colonies was ill-timed, bringing new rounds of persecution upon the Shakers in their new land. The tide turned for the Shakers between the end of the revolution and the American Civil War, when waves of religious revivalism swept the country, bringing new converts. Around 1787 they began to formally organize into self-sufficient communities across the eastern United States, and began to develop crafts and industries that gained popularity in the surrounding secular culture, most notably their simple yet highly functional furniture. The first community was Watervliet in New York state. Eventually eighteen communities were established in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, and Florida. The Civil War severely curtailed the American interest in communal and utopian life and the Shakers, along with similarly organized groups, began a long, slow decline. From a peak of around 6,000 members, the Shakers today are reduced to a single location at Sabbathday Lake in Maine occupied by a handful of mostly elderly believers.

Shakers are credited with a number of innovations and inventions that have since been widely adopted: packaging seeds in envelopes, the clothespin, the flat broom, an automated washing machine. Their style of furniture continues to inspire craftsmen.

The members lived in gender-segregated, dormitory-like housing, but came together to work, and pray.

Shakers are known for their name because of the way they swayed and “danced” when the spirit moved them in church.

For the sake of convenience there are two routes, either of which can be covered in several days. Beginning to End loops through New York state and New England, and can be done in a long weekend. Western Shakers covers two villages in Kentucky and can be done in two days. Those with a serious interest in Shakers or more time on their hands can go straight through from Maine to Kentucky.

Starts at Watervliet, the first settlement of Shakers in the United States, and ends at Sabbathday Lake, the location of the only extant Shaker community.

The herb garden at Watervliet Shakers Church Family occupies the foundation of the former sisters’ workshop.
  • 42.739354-73.8009211 Watervliet Shaker Historic District, 875 Watervliet Shaker Rd, Colonie, +1 518 456-7890. February to October, Tu-Sa 9:30AM-4PM. November and December, M-Sa 10AM-4PM. Watervliet was the first Shaker settlement in the United States and Shaker leader Ann Lee is buried here. The site is owned by Albany County, which occupies most buildings. All but 8 buildings were demolished by the county in the 1930s. The nonprofit Shaker Heritage Society has renovated the meeting house, where it operates a gift shop. Guided tours available by appointment. Self-guided tour maps available inside the gift shop. Admission is free, suggested donation $5 per adult appreciated. (updated Apr 2016)
  • 42.456584-73.381721 Mount Lebanon Shaker Village, 202 Shaker Rd, New Lebanon (Take Darrow Rd off Rt. 20, entrance will be on right), +1 518 794-9100. While Watervliet was the first gathering of Shakers, the Mount Lebanon community was the first to be formally and deliberately organized into a communal living arrangement. At its peak, this was the largest Shaker village, comprising over 6,000 acres and 100 buildings. It was also the spiritual center of the Shaker movement. Now the village is mostly in ruins or demolished, but the shell of the massive stone barn still stands. Call or check web site for schedule. (updated Apr 2016)

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