Thursday, September 20, 2012

Canterbury Shaker Village

The Canterbury, New Hampshire, Shaker village extends a warm welcome at first sight. Still rural, it is unique among Shaker museums in that it passed directly from the Shakers to the non-profit museum corporation. In fact, the last sisters remained here as the museum developed and their lodging was the last building to be incorporated into the museum. By not experiencing a period of private ownership, the village remains more intact than any other Shaker site, except for Sabbathday Lake, which remains an active community.

The first thing a person familiar with Shaker sites notices is the density of buildings. We know from old maps of other villages that they have lost many buildings to fire and demolition over time. Here at Canterbury, the Church Family site retains the density of a functioning Shaker community. Moreover, the buildings date from throughout its history, giving a feel for how life changed there over time and how technology impacted the people's lives.

Shaker life was all about the church, so the meeting house was of primary importance. The community was founded in 1792 and their Moses Johnson-built meeting house was completed the same year. The church family dwelling wasn't begun until the following year.

The initial building was small, but grew through many additions to where it could house up to 100 members. The bell tower, or cupola, was added in 1832 and met with opposition from the central ministry at New Lebanon.

According to their web site, the tower was shortened by 5 feet 5 inches in response. Mentally adding back that height, one can understand why the central ministry might not be pleased. Shakers were still strict about not making a show of things at that time.

The Enfield House was built in 1826 as the trustees office for the Canterbury Second Family. In 1921 the Shakers moved it to the Church Family where it housed the sisters who left the Enfield community as it was being closed in 1923. It became the preferred dwelling in the 20th century because it was more modern than the Church Family dwelling.

Like Enfield, the Canterbury museum does not permit photography inside the buildings. So interior shots are few and caught in unsupervised moments (I'll have a rant on this subject in a few days). Pity, for there is a lot to see here.

One of the outstanding features of the Church Family is this unique oven. There are four doors opening on revolving shelves each four feet in diameter. There is some sense of scale from the bricks, but consider that 60 loaves of bread could be baked simultaneously. The oven was designed by a Shaker sister and completed in 1878.

Tomorrow I'll take you to some of the dependent buildings and we'll investigate life at the Canterbury village.


  1. Another fine piece of history. What annoys me most is when you're not told why you may not take photos and the supervisors seem to have so little discretion on the subject. When I went to Anglesey Abbey I was told that I must not use flash as it adversely affected the colours in the many tapestries. Fine. I was also told that I could not use a tripod as it might be a nuisance to other people. Fine. But the guide saw no reason why I could not use a monopod to take photos. Thank you. When I know the reasons I'm quite happy to follow their wishes, but so often there seems to be a ban for no sensible reason.

    1. My promised rant on the subject is scheduled for Tuesday next, John.

  2. I'm learning - I recognised the distinctive meeting house from your earlier 'lesson' in Shaker style.

    1. Good for you! You'll have Shaker peg rail in your house before you know it.

  3. Replies
    1. The shot was bootlegged because of their no photography edict. If there had been a docent present, the best I could have done was try to describe it. Which approach would be more likely to make you want to visit yourself? I must be missing something in their logic.

  4. Such an impressive building, it's huge !
    What a unique oven, I can only imagine the tasty loaves of bread that were baked daily.