Touring Shaker country

This article is an itinerary.

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

Understand

The United Society of Believers, known as Shaking Quakers, or simply as Shakers, are a Christian sect that dates to the middle of the eighteenth 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.

Prepare

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

Get in

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

Drive

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.

Beginning to End

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.

New York

The herb garden at Watervliet Shakers Church Family occupies the foundation of the former sisters' workshop.

Massachusetts

New Hampshire

Maine

Western Shakers

Unfortunately, the western Shaker communities in Indiana and Ohio have largely been dismantled. Two in Kentucky, however, are in good shape and located about 160 miles apart. It would be easy to visit South Union and Pleasant Hill in a weekend, especially since both offer lodging on site.

Kentucky

Go next

Take a break from communal communities for a side trip to Anabaptist country. Visit the Amish and Mennonite communities in Pennsylvania Dutch Country and Holmes County, Ohio. The Ohio Amish population is larger than the Pennsylvanian.


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