Originally founded in 1792, Canterbury Shaker Village has been the site of a non-profit museum since 1969. At its peak in the 1850s, the community was comprised of 300 members who lived and worked in 100 buildings on 3,000 acres. Gradually, membership declined and the last Shaker sister died in 1992. Today, this museum complex is dedicated to preserving the legacy and heritage of the Canterbury Shakers and the village features 25 original and restored buildings constructed by the Shakers as well as four historically-accurate replicas. These buildings are located within a complex that spans over 690 acres and also contains forests, gardens, nature trails, and mill ponds. The village is open to the public from May through November and offers guided tours, various educational and arts programs and numerous special events. The village was also designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1993.
The Shakers were
a Christian religious sect formed in England in the mid-18th
century. Referred to as Shakers due to their
practice of ecstatic dancing during worship, the United Society of Believers,
led by Mother Ann Lee, expanded to the American colonies in 1774 and
established their first community at Watervliet (now Colonie), New York. They eventually established 19 communities from
Maine to Kentucky. The Shakers adhered to
a set of unique religious and societal practices that included communal ownership
of property, pacifism, dancing during worship, gender equality, celibacy and an
excessively austere lifestyle. However, unlike
the Quakers, the Shakers launched various industries (especially furniture
production), adopted new technologies, and re-invested in their communities. The last known Shaker community exists at
Sabbathday Lake, Maine and has only two members remaining.
In 1782, Shakers
Israel Chauncey and Ebenezer Cooley traveled to Canterbury and converted
several prominent families who eventually donated the land upon which the
Canterbury Shaker community was built in 1792.
The Canterbury Shakers gradually grew their community through
conversions and adoptions and peaked at 300 members in 1850. Community members, aside from religious services,
produced wool clothes, brooms, and Shaker boxes. They also sold food and seeds. The community also embraced technology as
they patented a steam-powered washing machine and a revolving platform to
evenly brown bread in an oven. They also
installed a telephone in 1901 and built their own electricity-generating
powerhouse in 1910.