THE SHAKERS AND THEIR BARN

By Staff
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Pennsylvania pulled by a 9 HP Economy engine

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.

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