Visiting New England Shaker Sites

Jacob Glover, PhD, Director of Public Programs and Education

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill staff prepare to give a presentation on Pleasant Hill in the Watervliet Meeting House in February 2020.

Although it seems like a lifetime ago, the above photo was taken exactly one year ago today inside the Meeting House at the Watervliet Shaker community in Albany, NY. This gathering was the kick-off of a whirlwind tour through more than a half-dozen Shaker sites in New York and New England that our program team at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill had planned to coincide with Mother Ann Lee’s birthday on February 29. While the trip was educational in nature, we had hoped to share images and video from our trip upon our return. Little did we know the significance of the public health crisis that was building then.

So, here we are, exactly one year later and we are finally returning to this material. Looking at all of these photos and watching the videos brought us a great deal of joy, and we hope these short snippets and glances into other historic Shaker sites will do the same for you. Our first stop was Watervliet the first Shaker communal establishment in America.

First off, if you’ve ever flown into or departed from Albany International Airport you’ve probably driven past either the gravesite of Mother Ann Lee or the current location of the Shaker Heritage Society, the group who oversees the remaining historic property. A quick glance at Google Maps for a reminder and the proximity is striking even now. Shakers Creek runs through the short term parking lot, and Albany Shaker Road and Meeting House Road will both take you to Jetway Drive. Trust us, it’s close. The Shaker cemetery itself was small but well-kept, and identified by a historic marker familiar to most. Although cars zipped by on a modern road beside the cemetery, it was an impactful and moving place nonetheless.

Having arrived in Albany on the afternoon of February 28, we journeyed into the Adirondacks to spend the evening before returning to Watervliet the following morning. Located in present-day Colonie, NY, the Shakers established Watervliet in 1776. Although the nearby community of Mount Lebanon would become the Central Ministry, Watervliet itself overcame trying beginnings and prospered during the mid-nineteenth century. Like many other Shaker communities, Watervliet’s fortunes had declined by the early 1900s, and, in fact, the County had taken ownership of the property and razed many Shaker buildings by 1927.

Today, the Watervliet Shaker National Historic District oversees the site of Watervliet’s Church Family, which includes nine Shaker buildings, gardens and orchards, the Shaker cemetery and the Ann Lee Pond nature preserve. Despite the brutally cold conditions of that February morning, the beauty and simplicity of Shaker design were evident in the snow-dotted landscape.

A view across the expansive grounds of the Church Family at Watervliet. The red roof and white siding of the 1848 Meeting House stand out. Today, this building hosts a museum shop, educational exhibits and public programs.
An interior view of the museum shop inside the 1848 Meeting House.

While the Shaker Heritage Society oversees roughly 770 acres, many Shaker buildings were transferred to private hands over the years and are still being used for other purposes today. In some ways, this process of private ownership of the Watervliet Shaker’s buildings is similar to what happened here at Pleasant Hill between the closing of the community in the early 1900s and the restoration of the historic village in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, the office that I sit in while typing this blog served as a private residence during the interim years after it had been the workspace of the Village ministry for nearly a century!

The Shaker architectural style is evident, even as this building has received modern additions and been adapted into residential apartments.

After a wonderful tour with our hosts through the Church Family buildings and a driving tour of the remaining Shaker buildings that are now in private hands, we returned to the 1848 Meeting House for the presentation that is documented in the photo at the top of this blog. The audience was both interested and gracious, and our only regret was that we had only a few hours to spend with them before we left for out next Shaker tour destination. We said our good-byes and hit the highway for Massachusetts. Check back in a few weeks to find out where our adventure took us next!

Our wonderful hosts at Watervliet!

For more information on the Shaker Heritage Society and the Watervliet Shaker National Historic District, please their website at:

Wedding Planning In A Pandemic

Rebecca Wilson,Senior Catering & Event Sales Manager

Something that everyone has had to navigate during the global pandemic is how to safely go on with our day-to-day lives while maintaining safety for ourselves and those around us. This has made event and wedding planning even more challenging than before! No one wants to make compromises when it comes to the most important day of their life and who they wish to share that time with. Throughout this year, I’ve learned a lot while working with multiple brides to make their wedding day special and safe.

Bride and bridesmaids outside Meadow View Barn at Shaker Village.

It’s All About the Venue

When looking for venues there are many things to consider. Does this venue provide enough space for all guests to maintain social distancing guidelines? Does this venue have outdoor locations for guests to go, weather permitting? During this time, I recommend looking for venues that have both indoor and outdoor locations. If the weather is nice, your guests will be able to go in and out of the venue. This makes adhering to local and state guidelines much easier to manage, as guests are not confined to a single area within the venue.

At Shaker Village, we have several options for any guest count up to 150. For small, intimate events, we have historical spaces that could accommodate 50 people or under that are surrounded by beautiful scenery and nature. This will allow your guests to enjoy the starry night sky while staying warm next to a cozy fire. If your guest count exceeds that number, we have our Meadow View Barn. The barn is the perfect location for a large gathering. Originally utilized as a tobacco barn, Shaker Village has transformed this space into an ideal place to hold a reception. From this location, you can observe and bask in a gorgeous sunset. We also have the West Lot location, a great space that feels like a retreat. You and your wedding group can rent this space and stay in the West Lot building from Friday to Sunday.

Check In With Vendors (Especially Catering Vendors)

When times are uncertain it is very important to check in with your vendors more frequently. I recommend doing this often to stay up-to-date with any changes that your vendors may make due to the pandemic, especially your caterers. Food handling has not been an easy task to tackle during this time and your catering team may have changed the way they serve and handle food. I would suggest investing in a plated meal as well as service staff. This is to eliminate people coming together for a buffet line, while also limiting several points of touch. If you would like to do a buffet, work with your catering vendor to ensure that the buffet will be served in a safe manner and limit the touch points for your guests.

Table settings for a reception at Shaker Village.

At Shaker Village, we pride ourselves on cleanliness and the customer service of our restaurant and catering staff. Our events team has made accommodations to ensure that you and your guests remain safe. At Shaker Village we have a committed service staff that ensures the timeliness of the service for your event, especially since we are serving plated meals at this time.

To Mask Or Not To Mask

You will set the precedent of mask wearing at your event. If you and your wedding party are wearing masks on the dance floor and anytime other than when you are eating and drinking then the guests will follow suit. Messaging and visual cues help to reinforce that you are following current guidelines at your event. Hand sanitizer stations with disposable masks can be stationed throughout. Having a greeter that informs guests of the safety rules can explicitly convey how you expect your guests to behave. Decorative signs can reinforce your priorities such as “Spread the love, not germs!”

At Shaker Village, the safety of our guests is our top priority. All of our employees will be in masks. We have made changes to our catering services. For example, we have switched to strictly serving plated meals to ensure limited touch. Each of our catered meals comes with a friendly team of staff ready to provide the best and safest customer service to you and your guests.

Make Multiple Guest Lists

With changes to maximum capacities and new mandates, your guest list will likely vary over the course of your planning. You should begin by creating a full guest list. This includes everyone that you would want to invite. Based on that list, you should make a second guest list of 50%. This prepares you to make quick changes if the maximum capacity of your venue changes due to new mandates and guidelines. If you choose not to continue with your current date, and want to postpone to allow additional guests, then reference your contract and talk with your venue about their policy.

Here at Shaker Village, we are currently offering full refunds of deposits if your wedding needs to be cancelled due to COVID-19 or new mandates, or moving deposits to a new date that is available.

Hire a Wedding Coordinator or Day-of-Coordinator

I cannot stress enough that no matter how elaborate or intimate your wedding is, the entire planning process is complex and could be made easier by hiring a coordinator. A professional coordinator will also be apprised of all COVID-19 mandates, regulations and guidelines.

At Shaker Village, we do not require a coordinator, but recommend it as much as possible. The Event Sales Catering and Events Manager that you book with will ensure everything on the Shaker Village property will be ready to go on your big day. Our staff has knowledge of the policies and procedures at the Village that we will be using to make you and your guests feel safe. However, a coordinator can assist with the set-up and breakdown of all décor and help your dream wedding come to life!

Be Flexible

With things continually changing it is important to be flexible. Things may take longer to plan and timelines may be a little foggy. The plan can change very quickly and the team you have assembled will do everything they can to ensure your wedding day is perfect. With all the negativity surrounding the virus, something positive is that we can recognize and prioritize the things that matter most to us and that same philosophy applies to your wedding day. Couples should make a list and discuss the most important things they want to experience on their wedding day. Whether the ceremony is the experience you value the most or having your first dance with your new partner. Make sure you emphasize these things on your day because these are the memories you will look back on and cherish the most.

An outdoor ceremony at Shaker Village.

No one said planning a wedding in the middle of a global pandemic was easy, but it is doable and can still be the best day of your life!

If you are in need of a venue, please reach out to the team at Shaker Village.

Catering & Events at Shaker Village

George Washington & The Shakers

Jacob Glover, PhD, Director of Public Programs and Education

President George Washington

While it was not unheard of for the Pleasant Hill Shakers to mention sitting U.S. Presidents in their journals and other writings, the April 1839 “visit” of George Washington was one of the more remarkable events to unfold in the community’s history. In order to get the full story we need to go back a bit.

The New Era
The New Era, or the Era of Manifestations, was an internal spiritual revival that occurred within Shaker communities across America in the mid-19th century. This movement involved striking spiritual visions and an assortment of other spiritual “gifts” received by Shakers of all stripes. The New Era began at Watervliet, NY, in 1837, and the first trappings of the revival at Pleasant Hill began in September 1838 with a series of visions received by Sarah Poole.

Gift drawings were some of the most artistic outpourings of the New Era. Although none were produced at Pleasant Hill, this image from Hancock Shaker Village features important Shakers, as well as non-Shakers like Christopher Columbus. Credit: Hancock Shaker Village

Only a few months after the first visions, Poole would relate her encounter with our first President. On April 1839, Poole detailed that in her vision she had been transported to the “New Jerusalem” where she met with Jesus, Mother Ann Lee and a number of other Shakers leaders. They demanded that she take a hard lesson home to Pleasant Hill. According to Mother Ann, there were “many evils” among the community that needed to be confessed and purged from their ranks. Among these “evils” were matters such as “hard speeches, affections and lusts; and pride, envy, jealousy, backbiting, complaining, murmuring and fault finding.”

Initially Poole was reluctant to take such a message back to the community. She feared she would be ostracized by the other Shakers for her insistence that they must confess such actions. Mother Ann reassured her that the village leadership would assuredly support Poole, George Washington arrived on the scene to offer his support!

In Poole’s words:
“George Washington then came into the room, and bowed to me; and then said to Mother [Ann], that if she had union in it, he had a desire to send his love to the brethren and sisters…and to tell them, he had gained his salvation, by confessing and forsaking his sins….He also added, he had a little march he wished to be sung and marched at the same time, in remembrance of him.”

Meaningful Visions
In many ways, Washington’s advice and counsel to the Shakers was very similar to other spiritual visitors during the New Era. Many of them offered encouragement to the Shakers to continue to seek to fulfill their stated utopian aims of eradicating sin from their lives and achieving union with one another. Although it may seem strange that non-Shakers would sometimes feature so prominently in these visions, the fact that these personas from American history were associating with the Shakers in the spirit world was further proof of the legitimacy and urgency of the Shaker’s mission on earth.

By the 1850s the New Era would subside at Pleasant Hill and in other Shaker communities. The memory of the time that George Washington came to town, shared the news of his own salvation and encouraged the apparently backsliding Shakers through song and dance would still remain!

Lambing Season On The Farm

Michael Moore, Farm Manager

One of the most exciting times of the year is upon us and it’s shaping up to be a big one (or little one) – lambing season. Winter is usually considered a slow time for a farm, but for a farmer it’s just a busy as any other time. A lot of planning and forward thinking occurs during the winter months. We’re thinking about what to plant and the schedules involved for a successful season, and lambing is no exception.

Every year we breed our ewes in the fall, sheep only have a gestation period of five months, so we expect lambs to arrive beginning in late February through the end of March. But, before the new lambs arrive there are some key things we must accomplish to ensure a successful lambing season.

Lambing Season Prep Checklist:

  • Ensure all of our areas are clean and ready for lambs and moms.
  • During the last six weeks we increase the mothers nutrition intake to assure she is healthy and ready to take on the new lambs (Yes, lambs! Sheep usually have twins).
  • Crutching the ewes, which is the process of shearing the tail end of the ewe, to ensure that she stays nice and clean through the birthing process.
  • We make sure all of our supplies are in order, such as milk replacers, baby bottles, vaccinations and heat lamps in case the new lamb or mom has any issues.
  • Most importantly, we are on a vigilant watch. Lambing can occur at any moment and any time of day. Long days and even nights are part of the process so that we can be there to help mom through every step if required.

This year we have 25 ewes expecting lambs and this flock can birth as much as 150% or more of their current numbers, so we are expecting upwards of 35 to 40 new lambs. We can’t wait to introduce each of them to you this spring!

The Saving of Seeds

Brandi Duff, Farm Assistant

For more than two centuries, seeds have been saved from the vegetable gardens at Pleasant Hill for use in subsequent years. For the Shakers, there were many reasons to save seeds from the bountiful gardens they grew. By saving the seeds they knew produced well, the Shakers ensured they had what they wanted for the following year. This was a sustainable and cost-effective use of resources.

A Market Industry

Though seed saving was a common practice in early agrarian America, the Shakers quickly turned it into a market industry. Credited with being the first to sell seeds in small pre-packaged envelopes, the Shakers at New Lebanon, NY perfected this process as early as the 1790s.

They kept detailed records and divided the process into four areas: the field, the barn, the shop, and the world.

Seed saving became profitable for most Shaker communities, and we see evidence of this industry at Pleasant Hill in the early 1800s. According to Pleasant Hill records, seeds were saved throughout the growing season and were sent to consignment shops in September and October, remaining there through February or March.

Okra seeds are commonly saved at Pleasant Hill to be planted in the next growing season.

Seed packets evolved throughout the years, beginning as small envelopes in tan or orange colors. Print shops at each location printed the intricately designed border adding planting instructions on the packaging later in the process. The Shaker name on seeds soon became synonymous with “quality.” This allowed them to thrive in the industry.

After the civil war, the Shakers began to see stronger competition in the seed market. The combination of superior printing technology using brighter colors, better growing locations, and the fact that many Shaker communities were in decline, led to the Shaker seed market eventually closing.

Seed Saving Today

Today at Pleasant Hill, we still proudly grow and save heirloom varieties of plants. Our seeds are open-pollinated, which means that they either self-pollinate or are pollinated by the same plants. This ensures the reliability to produce the same plants as the parent plant.

We proudly offer many of the same varieties in our shops that the Shakers grew. Learn more about seed saving by attending one of our educational tours or a farm workshop.

To purchase heirloom seeds from the Shops at Shaker Village, come on out for a visit, or visit our online store!