Travel Tips

Travel tips from this month's Journeys column

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Above all, avoid rushing. "Do all your work as though you had 1000 years to live, and as you would if you knew you would die tomorrow," said Mother Ann, and generations of Shakers sought to experience each moment as the sacred gift of life that it is. Visit if you can in a spirit of contemplation. These were places where life and work were sacred, where souls found respite from the ragged edges of commercialism and industrialism.
-June Sprigg, scholar of American shaker culture

Heaven and Earth are threads of one loom"

Follow us on a virtual tour of the Shaker communities visited by our authors. As we make our way eastward from the Hudson Valley, through the Berkshires, and northward into Maine, we'll encounter a museum and five quaint Shaker communities within a four- to five-hour drive of each other. Our guest curator, June Sprigg, will provide colorful insight into what you can expect to see at each site. We'll take you first to Watervliet, New York, near Albany, the first Shaker settlement in America. Close by is Old Chatham, never a Shaker community, but one of the best Shaker museums you'll find. Then, farther east, off Route 20, is Mount Lebanon, at one time the Central Ministry for the whole Shaker society. At the junction of Routes 20 and 41, in western Massachusetts, is Hancock, the site of the Round Stone Barn, one of the most unusual agricultural buildings anywhere. A couple of hours northeastward, off Interstate 93, is Canterbury, a National Historic Landmark, with its homey Creamery Restaurant. Farther north in Maine, on State Route 26, is Sabbathday Lake, the home of the last eight Shakers.

 Modern visitors to Shaker villages will enjoy knowing that they are just the most recent among many thousands of travelers—both Shakers and the "world's people"—to the same destinations for more than 200 years. From the early 19th century, and for most of their history, Shakers welcomed visitors to their neat, productive homes. It was the best way to show the world that their way of life was peaceful, successful and just maybe the answer for some of those pilgrims—after all, the celibate Shakers depended entirely on converts to keep their societies alive. Nineteenth-century tourists, from Charles Dickens to Nathaniel Hawthorne, came to see what was what, buy a souvenir (useful, of course) in the shops, tour the facilities and perhaps have a meal—just like you! The highlight of any visit was the Sunday public worship service, where lines of dancing Shakers astonished visitors quite unused to seeing anything so unconventional, so active (and, thought many, so unseemly) in church.

If you travel to a Shaker village today, don't be disappointed if those dancing Shakers linger only in spirit. Only one Shaker village remains as a living community, in Sabbathday Lake, Maine, where a small but energetic group combine the traditions of their heritage with the practical amenities of the 21st century. Many of the other sites are now museums. But the modern traveler with an interest in authenticity will appreciate that these villages are made of buildings erected by their original inhabitants in situ. These are not museum villages assembled of structures from here and there by 20th-century collectors, like a life-size toy village under the Christmas tree, but authentic artifacts of another time and place.
- June Sprigg

Where It All Began:
Shaker Heritage Society, Watervliet, New York

"We'll make you kindly welcome."

The community at Watervliet, on the outskirts of Albany, always remained dear to Shakers' hearts because it was the first communal home in America of Mother Ann Lee and her intrepid little band of followers, who settled here during the winter of 1775-76 and built the first communal dwelling house in 1779. Mother Ann did not live long in her new home, which proved to be less of a haven from religious persecution than she had hoped, but the knowledge that she had lived there made Watervliet especially meaningful for Shakers. Like them, you can pay a call to her grave, marked with a simple headstone (unlike them, you may have to overlook the noise of the crowd from a nearby baseball stadium or the roar of a jet from Albany's airport.) Today, Watervliet offers visitors exhibits in the restored meetinghouse. The rest of the property has been a state residence for many decades.
- June Sprigg

Hours and Admission:
Open year-round Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 A.M. to 4 P.M., except the first two weeks of January. Guided tours on Saturdays, June through October, at 11:30 A.M. and 1:30 P.M. Admission is $3; children under 12 are free.

Directions to the Village:
From Exit 4 of the Northway (I-87), go west 1.3 miles on Albany Shaker Road (Route 151). At the stop sign, proceed straight into the grounds of the Ann Lee Home. The second building on your right is the Shaker Meeting House.

A Cornucopia of Shakerdom
Old Chatham, New York

"Trifles make perfection, but perfection itself is no trifle."
-
Phrase used by the Shakers, attributed to Michelangelo

The Shaker Museum and Library, in Old Chatham, New York, was never a Shaker village site, but it remains one of the premier collections of Shaker artifacts and boasts an outstanding library for scholars. You can pore over magnificent specimens of some of the best Shaker handiwork in existence—oval boxes, furniture, baskets, textiles and thousands of tools.
- June Sprigg

Shaker Museum and Library
88 Shaker Museum Road
Old Chatham, New York 12136
Telephone: (518) 794-9100, ext. 100
Fax: (518) 794-8621
Email: shakeroldchat@taconic.net

Hours and Admissions:
Open late April to late October, 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. daily, except Tuesdays. Admission: adults, $8, seniors, $6, children (8 to 17), $4.

Directions to the Museum:
The Shaker Museum is located just minutes from the Taconic Parkway and the New York State Thruway, one mile south of Old Chatham, off County Route 13, on Shaker Museum Road.

  • From New York City: Take Taconic Parkway north to the Route 295 exit and then make a right on Route 295. Make a left at the East Chatham post office. In Old Chatham follow County Route 13 one mile south to Shaker Museum Road.
  • From Albany and the New York Thruway: Take Interstate 90 to Exit 11E and then make a right on US 20. Make another right on Route 66 south near Brainard. At Malden Bridge turn left onto Shaker Museum Road.
  • From Boston: Take the Massachusetts Turnpike to the B2 Exit. Make a left onto Route 295 and make another left at the East Chatham post office. In Old Chatham follow County Route 13 one mile south to Shaker Museum Road.

Center of the Shaker World
Mount Lebanon, New York

"Even in what is seen of the eye and heard of the ear, Mt. Lebanon strikes you as a place where it is always Sunday."
-
A visitor to Mount Lebanon

Mount Lebanon, tucked on the side of the hill that separates New York from New England, occupies one of the most scenic locations in the Northeast. Large, tidy workshops and dwellings still impress the visitor, although they are but a few of the hundreds that once stood in this largest Shaker community. In the village's heyday, 600 Shakers lived and worshiped on its 6,000 acres, until the last of them left Mount Lebanon in 1947. Today, its decades of service as a private high school has inevitably led to the removal of collections and the addition of some modern features, but the great, barrel-vaulted meetinghouse (now the school's library) remains the powerful center of what was Shakerdom's spiritual capital. As you drive or walk through, recall that this was the Holy Mount, home of the revered Father Joseph Meacham and Mother Lucy Wright, Mother Ann's successors, who made Shaker history by sharing the leadership of their community when women in the outside world were chastised for even considering leadership roles. (Around the same time, Abigail Adams asked her husband to "remember the ladies" in forming the new Constitution. John's retort: he and all men had no desire for the "tyranny of the petticoat.")
- June Sprigg

Mount Lebanon Shaker Village
P.O. Box 628
New Lebanon, New York 12125
Telephone: (518) 794-9500;
Email: AnnaLy75@aol.com
(Please do not call between October and June.)

Hours and Admission:
Open mid-June to mid-October. Hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. Tours are given during regular village hours or by calling for an appointment, (518) 794-9500. Please call at least two full weeks before you plan to visit. Admission is $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors (60 and up), $2 for children (under 16), $10 for families (two adults, two children).

Directions to Mount Lebanon:
Mount Lebanon is located on Route 20 in New Lebanon, New York, 11 miles west of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and 27 miles east of the state capital, Albany. Driving time from either New York City or Boston is under three hours. The village is minutes from both the restored Shaker Village at Hancock, Massachusetts, and the Shaker Museum at Old Chatham, New York.

Home of the Round Stone Barn
Hancock, Massachusetts

"We have given you the gospel;—see to it, that you keep it, and make a good use of it."
-
Father James Whittaker

Hancock Shaker Village, the "City of Peace," lies gathered in a wide valley between Mount Lebanon to the west and the Berkshires to the east. If you drive directly from Mount Lebanon, you will descend into a valley of stunning views. I've always suspected that Hancock's proximity to Mount Lebanon was a mixed blessing—Shaker visitors and visitors from the world tended to skip quickly past Hancock's Round Stone Barn to see the larger and more important Holy Mount. Nevertheless, the Round Stone Barn has been attracting tourists since 1826. It is truly one of the glories of Americana. Hancock Shaker Village today is distinguished by about 20 original buildings furnished with one of the best Shaker collections in the world. Hancock also houses the treasured "gift drawings," including the famous Tree of Life by Sister Hannah Cohoon, although the fragility of these watercolors keeps them in storage most of the time and visitors must make special arrangements to view them. And don't let the Round Stone Barn cause you to overlook its neighboring 1830 brick dwelling, a beautifully maintained example of Shaker communal architecture filled with period rooms.
- June Sprigg

Hancock Shaker Village
P.O. Box 927
Pittsfield, Massachusetts 01202-0927
Telephone:(413) 443-0188, (800) 817-1137
Fax:(413) 447-9357
Email: info@hancockshakervillage.org

Hours and Admission:
Open year-round. Winter hours are 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. daily through May 25, 2001. Admission to the galleries and for the guided tour is $10 for adults (18 and over); children are free. Beginning May 26, 2001, hours are 9:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. and admission is $13.50 for adults and $5.50 for children (ages 6 to 17); children under 6 are free. The family rate of $33 is for two adults and any number of children under age 19. The village is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Center for Shaker Studies:
Built in 2000, the Center for Shaker Studies houses visitor services, a gallery of Shaker "gift drawings," the Beatrice O. Chace Gallery, featuring changing exhibitions, and the Miller Library (open by appointment).

Upcoming exhibitions at the Chace Gallery include "Inside Outsider Art: Expressions of American Self-Taught Artists" (May 12 through September 13). The Shaker theme of spiritual enlightenment is explored in works by important self-taught American artists, including Howard Finster, Missionary Mary Proctor and Tony Wise.

Directions to the Village:
Hancock Shaker Village is located at the junction of Routes 20 and 41, five miles west of downtown Pittsfield in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. It is one hour from Albany, New York, and three hours from Boston and New York City.

  • From New York and Albany: Take the New York Thruway (Berkshire Spur) to Route 22 and then go north on Route 22 to Route 295. Take Route 295 east and exit onto Route 41; go north on Route 41.
  • From Boston: Take the Massachusetts Turnpike to Exit 1 and go north on Route 41. From Taconic Parkway: Go east on Route 295 to Route 41 and go north on Route 41. (An alternate exit on the Massachusetts Turnpike is Exit 2 through Lee and then north on Route 20 to Pittsfield and west on Route 20.)
  • Important: Visitors approaching the village from the north via Routes 7 or 22 should note that it cannot be reached via Route 43; visitors should proceed directly to Route 20.

Village With a View
Canterbury, New Hampshire

"She was so neat that she looked as though she had been taken from the bureau drawer."
-
Elder Henry Blinn's praise of Sister Sarah Ward, Canterbury

The approach to Canterbury, Shakerdom's "city on a hill," remains one of the most beautiful views in existence. Today, Canterbury is lovingly preserved and houses a fine collection of artifacts. Visitors will recognize scenes from Ken Burns' documentary film The Shakers, and although the Shaker Sisters in the film are now gone, the spirit of these lovely ladies remains. You can almost sense the gentle presence of Eldress Bertha Lindsay, the last in the line of the Ministry, the succession of handpicked and most trusted leaders that began with Mother Ann herself. By the way, a young Nathaniel Hawthorne visited Canterbury, too, and was so taken with what he saw and felt (and he thought their cider was great) that he toyed briefly with the notion of becoming Brother Nathaniel. Take time to linger outside the meetinghouse at the top of the hill. The view from here, overlooking miles of field and woodland, is the most peaceful place I know of on earth.
- June Sprigg

Canterbury Shaker Village
288 Shaker Road
Canterbury, New Hampshire 03224
Telephone: 603-783-9511

The Creamery Restaurant:
Located in the village in the dining room of the 1906 creamery, the restaurant offers delicious traditional Shaker lunches and a four-course candlelight dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. Enjoy Shaker-inspired specialties such as iced strawberry soup, spit-roasted leg of lamb sandwiches and blueberry buckle with vanilla sauce.

Hours and Admission:
Open daily May through October, 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. Open weekends only, from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., during the months of April, November and December. Admission tickets are usually good for two consecutive days, except during special events. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children (ages 6 to 15).

The Creamery Restaurant is open on weekends in April, November and December and daily from May through October. Lunch is served from 11:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M. Candlelight dinner is served promptly at 6:45 P.M., by reservation only. Dinner is available Saturday nights in April and on Friday and Saturday nights from May through December. Please call (603) 783-9511 for reservations.

Workshops and Special Events:
In addition to its daily roster of Shaker craft demonstrations, Canterbury also features special workshops ranging from making Shaker brooms and baskets, and creating herbal first aid kits, to putting up dry-laid stone walls. Workshops are open to many skill levels, and preregistration is required. Fees usually include all materials.

Directions to Canterbury:
Canterbury Shaker Village is located 20 minutes north of Concord, New Hampshire. On Interstate 93, take Exit 18 and follow the signs to the village.

And Then There Were Eight.
.. Sabbathday Lake, Maine

"The hands drop off, but the work goes on."
-Eldress Bertha Lindsay

Sabbathday Lake, Maine, the Shaker community farthest in the east from the Holy Mount, on the frontier, as it were, is plain and sturdy as granite. The village of Sabbathday Lake is perched on a hill, with a fine apple orchard above it and the lake of the same name far below. Here, in Shakerdom's last stand, the Shaker life has survived and even thrived in the 20th century, when almost all other Shaker communities dwindled out of existence. This was the first Shaker village I knew, when as a child on family vacations I bought maple sugar candy in the shop and toured the small museum in the meetinghouse with one of the aged Sisters. Today, the 1794 meetinghouse is one of the treasures of the Shaker architectural and spiritual heritage. It is simultaneously the perfect antique—something fine and useful and beautiful, unchanged from when it was new except by the passage of time—and, more important, the only place on earth where Shaker worship continues. As of old, visitors are still welcome to the services, which now consist primarily of song, prayers and offered testimonials. Visitors in search of the Shaker spirit will perhaps find what they are seeking here as nowhere else.
- June Sprigg

The Shaker Museum (Sabbathday Lake)
707 Shaker Road
New Gloucester, Maine 04260
Telephone: (207) 926-4597.

Hours and Admission:
Open Memorial Day to Columbus Day, Monday through Saturday, 10 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. The introductory tours are $6 for adults, $2 for children under 12; children under 6 are free. The extended tours, which include the herb department, sauce room and spin house, are $7.50 for adults, $2.75 for children under 12; children under 6 are free.

Shaker Library: Open Tuesday through Thursday, 10:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M., by appointment; Telephone: 207-926-4597; Email: brooks1@shaker.lib.me.us

Directions to Sabbathday Lake:
The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village is located on Route 26, eight miles north of Gray (Maine Turnpike, Exit 11) and eight miles south of Auburn (Maine Turnpike, Exit 12). The village is situated on both sides of the road on 1,800 acres of rolling farmland and forest. There are 18 buildings set in three parallel rows. Signs direct visitors to either the Shaker store, which is located in the 1816 Trustee's Office, or the Museum Reception Center, which is housed in the 1850 Boy's Shop.

When to Go:
The best times to visit any Shaker site in the East are summer and fall, since winter can make travel tough and many of the sites close or reduce their offerings. Flowers and herb gardens are in bloom in July and August; September offers the best of summer and fall, with a quieter pace than summer vacation time; and fall foliage in October is always worthwhile. Even winter, especially around the holidays, can be special. You take your chances—you may enjoy a glorious blue and white winter day or get pelted with freezing rain in a gray and brown world—but either way, you experience exactly what the Shakers did, blustery, bitter weather. And coming into the kitchen from the cold will warm your heart as it did theirs too.

- June Sprigg

Shaker Heritage Society
Watervliet, New York
1848 Shaker Meeting House, 875 Watervliet-Shaker Road, Suite 2
Albany, New York 12211-1051;
Telephone: (518) 456-7890
Fax: (518) 452-7348
Email: shakerwv@crisny.org

Tags
PAID CONTENT

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus