THE SHAKERS AND THEIR BARN

Pennsylvania pulled by a 9 HP Economy engine

Pennsylvania pulled by a 9 HP Economy engine

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Beach Hill Road, New Ashford, Massachusetts 01237

This title may sound odd to most readers for the builders and their organization have passed on leaving several monumental and many small examples of their ingenuity and craftsmanship. The picture taken at the 1978 Hancock Shaker Village Fall Festival shows a 1909 'Pennsylvania' threshing machine manufactured by Heebner & Sons, Lansdale, Pennsylvania pulled by a 9 HP Economy engine with the famous round barn in the background.

A few brief words about these people, the villages they built and the present fall festival: they were a religious sect known as the United Society of Believers founded by Mother Ann Lee in Albany, New York about 1760. This is questionable as historians quote several dates indicating origin in England. In any case, it started to increase rapidly during the 1770-1800 period. They established settlements known as villages in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Kentucky, Maine and New Hampshire. The people or population of each village was known as a family. Celibacy was practiced. The male brethren and the female sisters were housed separately; therefore, recruitment had to come from the outside. The door was always open for orphans, young people unable to find work, emmigrants unable to finance or establish themselves and older persons out of work-the one requirement being a willingness to work to the best of their ability for the benefit of the family. Many were craftsmen and craftswomen; many were professionals, and good-to-excellent living conditions were available to all. Many spent a lifetime at one of these villages.

Religion was not forced. Daily, evening and sabbath day meetings were held with men on one side and women on the other. Prayers and psalms were recited and hymns sung to a solemn dance and this was looked upon as shaking by outsiders. Thus the name Shakers, in the course of time, was adopted by all concerned.

On the other hand, one could leave at any time and many did to marry and settle in nearby towns. Then times were hard; there was no social security and unemployment insurance. There was a waiting list for many out-of-work people applied.

Everyone was put to work at his or her trade and the villages prospered up to about 1917. Then the decline started and most of the villages were closed out about 1934 centralizing everything and everyone in Canterbury, New Hampshire. I believe there are three survivors there today. The Hancock Village and a nearby companion village were settled at New Lebanon on the New York side of the state line, and the one at Hancock is on the Massachusetts side of the line. They built all their own buildings and shops, were very industrious and financed all operations from sales of farm and industrial items. Here they had cabinet and furniture shops for their own use and sale and Shaker furniture is a collector's item today. They were the first to package seeds for sale in decorated packets as we see them today, also medicinal herbs. They invented the first flat brooms, the circular saw, the washing machine. They made washers for the large hotels in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and commercial laundries; had a sawmill operated by water power, produced many small wooden ware items, and cast the noted Shaker wood stove from ore mined on their property. Stores in surrounding states stocked many Shaker-made items.

This leads to the round barn and Fall Festival-the stonework was constructed from rock quarried on the property, the timber work from lumber cut and sawed on the property. It was designed by their own master builder and built by their own masons and carpenters. It is 90' in diameter, it was designed to house 50 dairy cows-all facing inward. It is possible for a team of horses and wagon to make a complete circle at two levels. The below-ground level, (notice the opening in center) was for the daily collection of manure that was dropped through trap doors to the wagons below. A ground-floor level, similar to but larger than the open door shown, is located in the rear of the barn for bringing in wagon loads of hay to be mowed by overhead hay unloading forks while the grains were brought in as needed. The circle of cows all faced in. They were easily fed from the center circle which was open to the roof acting as a hay chute and ventilating shaft, (notice the round cupola on the roof).

Today the Hancock complex is incorporated as a museum. Most of the buildings and shops have been renovated, and are open and in limited operation. At the popular Fall Festival many of the crafts are demonstrated. One can follow the Shaker method of living from candle making to a complete farm-type dinner produced in the large brick oven in a communal kitchen using Shaker recipes.

The Berkshire Gas and Steam Engine Association was asked to help in operating the old equipment and to bring in several pieces of typical Shaker equipment to supplement their own equipment, for the demonstrations had to conform to this locality and Shaker use. The response was gratifying. The club put on authentic demonstrations of threshing by machine and manually by flail and fanning mill. Wood sawing and splitting with a huge timber frame belt-driven wood splitter, a one-of-a-kind made by a local blacksmith was shown. Also large engine-powered butter churn and grindstone were in use. All demonstrations were greatly appreciated by the crowd resulting in the club receiving a letter of appreciation from the museum director.