Wednesday, September 26, 2012
A Visitor's Guide to Shaker sites
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg, KY. Founded 1814, closed 1910. Being our nearest and most-familiar site (we've been supporting members more than 30 years), I was careful about ranking it first. Several factors contribute to that ranking, not the least of which is their overnight lodging. Visitors stay in historic buildings in modernized (i.e., individual bathrooms) rooms fitted with Shaker reproduction furniture. A museum for more than 45 years, they have operations well honed. Four family sites are preserved and a varied interpretive program makes repeat visits as interesting as the first.
Canterbury, New Hampshire. Founded 1793, closed 1992 (date last resident died). Canterbury is a very important site, and preserves more of the complexity of a Shaker village than the others. They began operating as a museum while there were Shakers still in residence. They have an excellent food service and museum store, but do not have overnight lodging. So visitors miss out on a key part of the Shaker experience.
Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Founded 1790, closed 1960. Another mature museum, they do just about everything well. They have food service, but they have no overnight lodging. The Round Stone Barn, the Church Family Dwelling, and the Moses Johnson Meeting House are some of the very finest examples of Shaker architecture that exist.
Any of my top three picks will provide an excellent introduction to Shaker history, life, and art. A choice can safely be based on proximity and convenience. Each offers plenty to encourage repeat visits, as well. Those who become serious students of Shaker will want to visit the other six, especially South Union Shaker Museum, Auburn, KY (top photo; founded 1811, closed 1922), and Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village, New Lebanon, New York (founded 1787, closed 1947). Mt. Lebanon has the potential for joining the top ranking once the Shaker Museum and Library finishes restoring the North Family site and establishes their full operation there.
Tomorrow it's on to other things.