HISTORY

About the museum

Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon holds the world’s most comprehensive collection of Shaker objects, archives, and books, and stewards the historic North Family site at Mount Lebanon, the founding community of the Shakers.

The Shaker Museum was founded in 1950 by John S. Williams, Sr. on his farm in Old Chatham, New York. Beginning in the 1930s, Williams traveled extensively to then-active Shaker communities and collected examples of their arts, industries, and domestic life, as well as spiritual artifacts. His approach was that of an anthropologist documenting the decline of a culture. Today the museum’s collection is a prime resource for scholars and curators.

In 2004, the museum became the owner and steward of the North Family site at Mount Lebanon Shaker Village, consisting of 11 Shaker buildings on 91 acres, and the museum’s name was changed from Shaker Museum & Library to Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon.

About the historic Mount Lebanon site

Founded in 1787, Mount Lebanon was the first official community organized by the Shakers and was the leader in administrative and spiritual matters for all the Shaker communities that emerged throughout New England and south and west into Kentucky, Ohio, and Florida. Its community planning, architecture, commercial and industrial endeavors, as well as its spiritual practices, became models for the other Shaker villages. At its peak in the mid-19th century, Mount Lebanon spanned over 6,000 acres and around 600 people lived and worked in hundreds of buildings. Within this central community the Shakers developed their progressive ideas on gender equality, racial equality, pacifism, communal property, the value of labor, and sustainability. They also established the now famous Shaker aesthetic of simplicity, expressed in their objects, furniture, buildings, and village planning.

Shaker communities were divided into families, typically made up of 50-100 men, women, and children. Families were self-sustaining, with their own communal laundries, kitchen gardens, agricultural operations, commercial industries, classrooms, and dwellings. The North Family was established ca. 1800 and served as a conduit between “the World” and the more cloistered Church, Center, South, Upper and Lower Canaan, Second, and East Families. Shakers at the North Family worked to attract new members by holding a public worship each Sunday, publishing theological books and tracts, and attending gatherings in the World where there might be an opening to proselytize about their faith and life. Visitors to Mount Lebanon and new converts were welcomed at the North Family, where they learned the day-to-day practices of Shaker life as well as its spiritual underpinnings.

When the seven remaining Shakers left the North Family in 1947, Mount Lebanon was closed and the last Shaker family in New York State ceased to exist.

Mount Lebanon was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and was recognized by the World Monuments Fund in both 2004 and 2006 as one of the 100 most significant endangered historic sites in the world. Restoration work is ongoing at Mount Lebanon while the museum continues to develop and expand public programs at the historic site.

Today visitors to the North Family will find 10 original Shaker buildings on 91 acres. Visitors are welcome year-round, weather permitting, to stroll the grounds, hike the North Pasture trail, or have a picnic in the meadow. The vault of the iconic 1859 Great Stone Barn is open to the public and a visitor center and shop, located in the 1839 Granary, is open seasonally.

About the Administrative Campus & Research Library

The Administrative Campus & Research Library, which houses collections storage, the library, and the administrative offices, is open year-round by appointment.

 

More about the historic Mount Lebanon site

More on the Administrative Campus & Research Library

The Devil tempts others; but an idle person tempts the Devil.”

Mother Ann Lee

Exhibitions