THE SHAKERS AND THEIR BARN


| November/December 1979



Pennsylvania pulled by a 9 HP Economy engine

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.