Brethren’s Waiting Room, in the landmark 1841 Great Stone Dwelling,
offers a perfect launching point for the Enfield Shaker Museum. Its
simplicity and superb craftsmanship show off the lauded Shaker
aesthetic. It also invites curiosity about the men and women who
followed their faith and lived ordered, communal, celibate lives here.
A Glimpse into the Past
Enfield Shaker Museum offers an introduction to the self-sufficient
religious community who established their village and lived here from
1793 to 1923. This was a complex, multilayered place. Nearly 1,500
residents made the Enfield Shaker Village their home, for at least some
time. Their community encompassed 3,000 acres with 100 buildings through
its tenure. Community, faith, ideals, and enterprises are interwoven in
its history and site.
a lot to learn about our society by looking at the Shakers. Everyone
who came here brought something to the Shakers, and I think everybody
who left here brought something of the Shakers out into the world,” says
curator Michael O’Connor, who has been on the museum team since 1991,
shortly after it was founded.
museum centers on the Great Stone Dwelling, the spectacular six-story
granite residence, built between 1837 and 1841 when the community was
thriving. Eight other buildings in various stages of preservation are
also part of the site. One of the earlier ones, the 1819 Brethren’s East
Shop, currently houses the colorful Tempestry Project, a display of
knitted banners documenting temperatures here between 1828 and 2022. The
unrestored 1854 Cow Barn, Laundry and Dairy, 1880 Ministry House, and
Brethren’s West Shop are all on the site, and outdoor features include
Shaker herb gardens and a cemetery. The Stone Machine Shop and the Feast
Ground on Mount Assurance are across Route 4A.
museum offers guided tours with brilliantly informed interpreters,
Shaker craft workshops, exhibitions drawn from the collections, special
exhibitions, lecture series, and more. It hosts events including
weddings and retreats and is open for overnight guests, with
accommodations in 20 “Retiring Rooms.”
Building a Community
Enfield Shaker Village, the ninth of 18 eventual Shaker villages, was
founded in 1793, with an initial family of 22 Sisters and 18 Brothers.
Their first building was the Meeting House, their place to worship. The
first dwelling house and workshops followed. Shakers lived in family
groups. Within a family, men and women were Brothers and Sisters.
Children, sometimes arriving with biological parents, sometimes orphans,
were raised by all. Men and women had different work and work realms
but were seen as equal.
was at the center of the early community, but the Shakers also showed
their talent and thoroughness in building and in making furniture early
on. While they were largely self-sufficient, they also always had some
trade with the outside world, both in purchasing things they needed and
selling their products.
the 1830s, having outgrown their first dwelling, they embarked on a
new, much larger one; in fact, the largest Shaker dwelling ever built.
The Shakers prepared the site and did the extensive finish work, but
they hired pros for its design and construction—architect Ammi Burnham
Young, who also designed the second Vermont statehouse and buildings at
Shaker view of gender equality, their form following function
appro-ach, meticulous craftsmanship, and innovation come together in
this 30,000-square-foot, six-story granite dwelling. With two equal
entrances, staircases, waiting rooms, and retiring chambers,
men and women had their distinct spaces. They ate together in silence
at separate tables in the dining room and worshipped together in
separate rows in the meeting room.
Sharing the Shaker Story
in Shaker history and up to date on the latest archaeological research
and scholarship, the museum’s Education Director Kyle Sandler, curator
Michael O’Connor, and interpreters brilliantly bring visitors into the
Shaker community who lived in this building, pointing out scores of
features that a visitor might miss self-guided. Those custom-made
interior shutters still swing perfectly in the 150-plus-year-old
windows. Every room had its own woodstove. Ventilation hoods installed
over lanterns kept smoke from fouling the air. Columns of built-in
drawers provided clothing storage. A dumbwaiter helped move food from
basement to kitchen.
a particularly novel innovation, special cabinets in bed chambers,
lined with zinc and ventilated to outdoors, provided storage for chamber
pots, relieving residents of the need to dash to an outhouse while also
sparing them the unpleasantness of the pot fulfilling its function.
Exhibitions highlight Shaker furniture. Enfield Shakers, for example, used a distinctive flame-shaped finial atop their ladder backed chairs.
Meeting Room offers a sense of Shaker worship. Four chairs at the front
accommodated the four elders—two men, two women. Brothers and Sisters
sat separated in their rows, but danced together never touching, as dance and song were integral to worship. The dance floor even has small dots inset to indicate their positions.
lovely gallery focused on women tells the story of Sister Rosetta
Cummings. Cummings was brought to the Village when she was three years
old in 1841, moved from Enfield in
1923, and died in the Canterbury Village at age 93. Examples of women’s
work here include finely knit gloves, formal opera cloaks, and fancy
poplarware pincushions and needle books, all sold to the outside world.
the mid 1800s, times were changing with arrival of the railroad,
telegraph, and expanding industrialization. The draw of Shaker life
faded, and the village population, especially of men, declined. The
population shrank and became increasingly female. Altogether, 1,498
people are documented as living in the Enfield Shaker Village, but only
370 are buried there. People were free to leave, and many did.
Enfield Shakers left a legacy, including of innovation: Enfield Shakers
are credited with the American design of the circular saw and the
straight-edged broom. Their endeavors included the selling of seeds
packed in envelopes, apparently the first.
has been a general trend in Shaker history . . . to generalize and say
the Shakers did things in particular ways. The Shakers have very much
been idealized,” says Kyle Sandler. Only recently, “there’s a push to
look at individual Shaker experiences and records and take a more
objective look. . . . There was an earlier attitude of angels floating
around the village making beautiful stuff. The reality is much more
nuanced,” he says. I
Who are and were the Shakers?
mid 1700s, a period of Christian revivalism, saw widespread desire to
revive Christianity from a period of moral decline. One group started in
England the 1740s, that became the United Society of Believers in
Christ’s Second Awakening, were derisively called Shaking Quakers,
shortened to Shakers, for their gyrations during worship.
Lee (b. 1736) joined this group in the 1750s. Her visions, particularly
with regard to the Fall of Adam and Eve, led her to exhort followers to
confess their sins, give up their belongings, and become celibate to
find redemption. Christ’s second coming was expected by the sect to be a
woman, and with Ann Lee’s visions, she was seen as that second coming. A
further vision led her to immigrate to America in 1774, bringing eight
followers with her.
group settled near Albany, New York, Mother Ann preaching and bringing
in converts. She died in 1784, but successors carried on, and soon the
idea of communal villages took hold.
Enfield Shaker Village—the ninth of 18 eventual villages—was founded in
1793 by Shaker missionaries who had come to this area in the 1780s and
local people who felt called to join. Shaker leaders in Mount Lebanon,
New York, encouraged these settlements, envisioning self-sufficient
commun-ities where Shakers could live their beliefs.
essential principles of the Shaker faith, as it developed in America,
include celibacy, equality of the sexes, community of goods, oral
confession of sin (to Shaker Elders and Eldresses), pacifism, and
withdrawal into their own communities from the “World” (their term for
all nonbelievers). The Shakers accept that Mother Ann Lee’s revelations
have led them into the Millennium foretold in the New Testament
(Revelation 20: 1–6),” explains the Enfield Shaker Museum on its
Enfield Shaker Museum
447 NH Route 4A
Thursday–Saturday, 10 am–5 pm
Until October 31