Monday, September 10, 2012

Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village

Upon the 1784 death of Ann Lee (Mother Ann), founder of the Shakers, she was succeeded by James Whittaker as leader. He quickly founded a second Shaker community at nearby New Lebanon, New York, that became the largest and most successful utopian community in America, persisting for some 160 years. At its peak, the New Lebanon community had some 600 members, more than 100 buildings, and 6,000 acres of land. Whittaker's first action was to build a meeting house (church), which was quickly followed by dwellings, shops, and barns. The community was renamed Mt. Lebanon in 1861 when granted its own post office.

Whittaker died in 1787 and was succeeded by Elder Joseph Meacham, who then named Sister Lucy Wright Eldress and co-leader of the Society. Together they established the "church order" by which all Shaker communities came operate. The last Shaker at Mt. Lebanon died in 1947 and the property passed into ownership by the Darrow School, a private preparatory school.

The Darrow School logo uses the entrance to the 1824 Second Meeting House, which the school now uses as their library.

There are three doors at the entrance, which is located at one end of the building. The brethren entered by the left door, the sisters by the right door, and the elders by the center door.

Two doors on the side of the building were for the world's people, who came out of curiosity to observe the Shaker worship services. Some were moved to join the Shakers after visiting services.

In 2004 the Shaker Museum and Library at Old Chatham, NY, bought the Mt. Lebanon North Family site, plus the Mt. Lebanon Meeting House, which was then leased back to the Darrow School to continue as the school's library. The purchase included 10 Shaker buildings and 30 acres. The Museum is in the process of restoring these buildings in preparation for moving to the Mt. Lebanon site.

The Great Stone Barn had been gutted by fire in 1972. Work to date has focused on stabilizing the walls until sufficient funds can be raised to restore the building.

The second photo gives an indication of what's great about the Great Stone Barn. It measures 50 feet wide x 200 feet long, and is 4 stories tall. It was said to hold 100 animals and 3,000 cubic yards of hay. It had interior silos, a corn crib, and a rail system to move manure.

A nearby granary was the first building restored by the Museum, and it's here you will find your tour guide and interpretive displays.

The North Family Wash House is currently being stabilized in preparation for restoration. This large building also housed other activities at various times in its history. But it's the laundry-related features inside that give it its unique character.

Heated air from the boiler below was ducted through a large chamber that housed large drying racks.

Each rack slides in and out of the chamber independently of the others, like cabinet drawers set on their sides. It's sort of a 19th century version of a large, commercial clothes dryer.

The North Family Brethren Shop is undergoing restoration, as well as serving as the carpentry shop for work being carried on elsewhere in the North Family. It still has its magnificent work benches inside, and the parts, such as wood vises, all appear to be in working order.

The museum at this site is still very much a work in progress, but it has great potential. And it's historical significance is greater than practically any other Shaker site. It would be nice to go back when work is further along. Yet most of the Mt. Lebanon village remains in private hands and is not accessible to visitors. Perhaps that, too, will change in the future.

The Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village is about 30 miles SE of Albany, NY.  For further information, please visit their website by clicking here


  1. Such interesting history should surely be available for all to see. I'm astonished at the amount of timber that seems to have been used to make that workbench.

    1. Timber was something we had in abundance in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, John. Even now there are wide expanses of forest, but it's practically all second growth and not of the quality it once was.