Canterbury Shaker Village: a very special place

Canterbury Shaker Village: a very special place

By Mark Okrant

Springtime at the VIllage; courtesy photo

Springtime at the VIllage; courtesy photo

Those of us who are passionate about heritage settings couldn’t be much more fortunate. New Hampshire offers many opportunities to view relics of our past, from traditional museum collections to historic buildings, landscapes, and communities. Among the best examples of the latter is Canterbury Shaker Village, located on Shaker Road in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Founded in 1969 to preserve the 200-year-old legacy of the Canterbury Shakers, the Village is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its incorporation. 

Those of us who are passionate about heritage settings couldn’t be much more fortunate. New Hampshire offers many opportunities to view relics of our past, from traditional museum collections to historic buildings, landscapes, and communities. Among the best examples of the latter is Canterbury Shaker Village, located on Shaker Road in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Founded in 1969 to preserve the 200-year-old legacy of the Canterbury Shakers, the Village is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its incorporation. 

Those of us who are passionate about heritage settings couldn’t be much more fortunate. New Hampshire offers many opportunities to view relics of our past, from traditional museum collections to historic buildings, landscapes, and communities. Among the best examples of the latter is Canterbury Shaker Village, located on Shaker Road in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Founded in 1969 to preserve the 200-year-old legacy of the Canterbury Shakers, the Village is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its incorporation. 

How did Canterbury Shaker Village come to be? The group we call the Shakers began in England during the 18th century, when Mother Ann Lee formed a religious society among a group of religious dissidents. Initially called the United Society of Believers, they were labeled Shaking Quakers because of a peculiarity in their manner of worship. During the 1770’s, these Shakers made their way to the United States. Once here, followers established 19 self-contained communities, and a number of additional sites, all situated from Maine to Kentucky. Twelve of these were in New England, with community number seven founded at Canterbury. Today, the only remaining Shaker community is at Sabbathday Lake in Gloucester, Maine.

Shakers just as easily could have been labeled “shockers,” for members of established Christian sects were scandalized by the group’s practice of engaging in dancing during worship. One can imagine the reaction from a visiting congregation of staid, sober Puritans upon viewing the Shakers as they whirled about and clapped their hands during prayer meetings.

The differences between the Shakers and others did not end there. Shakers practiced a form of communal, or shared, ownership. Members lived simply, believed in equality of the sexes, and practiced passivism. They also were aggressive entrepreneurs, adopting new technologies and reinvesting their earnings into enterprises that benefitted both themselves and the surrounding community. It did not take long for Shakers to earn a reputation for quality, integrity, reliability—as well as generosity toward the region’s poor. 

Shakers practiced celibacy; therefore, propagation of the sect necessitated the ability to attract new members from outside. Amazingly, despite this limitation, the village achieved a population of 300 during the 1850’s. Moreover, the community remained active for 200 years until 1992, when Ethel Hudson, the last Shaker, died.  

Canterbury Shaker Village was established as a National Historic Landmark in 1993. Each year, tens of thousands of visitors follow Routes 393 and 106, before taking a left-hand turn, then traveling 2.7 miles along bucolic Shaker Road to reach the Village. Most arrive for the purpose of learning about the heritage of this interesting religious group. However, once immersed in the Village’s atmosphere—during a stay that typically lasts from two to three hours—many guests use visits as a time to reflect upon contemporary society, while renewing the human spirit in the process.

The entire site is 694 acres and includes structures, fields, forests, gardens, a nature trail, and mill ponds. Thus, there are both indoor and outdoor components to be experienced at Canterbury Shaker Village. Visitors should be prepared to walk moderate distances on paths of dirt and gravel, and be ready for the vagaries of New England weather. The 25 restored, original buildings, most dating to the 19th century, are fascinating and harken back to a time when buildings did not have air conditioning or heat.

Stone wall at Shaker Village.JPG

Highlights of a visit include a first-generation meetinghouse and a dwelling house, both of which date to the 18th century. All of the buildings in the Village exemplify well-preserved architecture, and contain objects, manuscripts, and/or photographs. Visitors may choose to explore, both indoors and out, on their own or join one of the guided tours provided daily by the Village. 

Highlights of a visit include a first-generation meetinghouse and a dwelling house, both of which date to the 18th century. All of the buildings in the Village exemplify well-preserved architecture, and contain objects, manuscripts, and/or photographs. Visitors may choose to explore, both indoors and out, on their own or join one of the guided tours provided daily by the Village. 

Highlights of a visit include a first-generation meetinghouse and a dwelling house, both of which date to the 18th century. All of the buildings in the Village exemplify well-preserved architecture, and contain objects, manuscripts, and/or photographs. Visitors may choose to explore, both indoors and out, on their own or join one of the guided tours provided daily by the Village. 

During my visits, my favorite activities have been the demonstrations, which include broom making, letter-press printing, oval box making, woodworking and chair taping, spinning, weaving, rug braiding, and sewing. After a fulfilling day, we have never been able to resist the museum store, which offers artisan quality goods that represent the workmanship and resourcefulness of the Shakers. Some of the more popular craft items include oval boxes, baskets, brooms, and personal care products. 

No Village experience is complete without a visit to the Creamery Café. Here, the Concord Food Co-op and the Crust and Crumb Bakery provide light lunches, snacks, and drinks. Items in the museum store and café are locally produced, and prepared with Shaker traditions in mind.

This season, Canterbury Shaker Village will be offering a series of outstanding events. These include:

June 29 and 30 Traditional Craft Days

July 6 The Woodwright’s Apprentice

July 7 Medicinal Plant Walk

July 13 What Are Angels and How to Communicate With Them

July 14 Learn to Tape a Shaker Chair

July 23-Aug 3 Arts Week

August 4 Mushroom Walk

August 17 New Hampshire Permaculture Day

August 17 Shaker Oval Box #3

Each of these events necessitates purchasing tickets; it is recommended that interested people do this in advance.

The Village operates on a seasonal schedule, and is open from 10 am to 4 pm. During the summer, Shaker Village is open from Tuesday through Saturday. From Labor Day to October 27, it is open seven days per week, while only on weekends during November. Finally, during the first two Saturdays in December, the very popular Christmas at Canterbury is observed.

Canterbury Shaker Village is located at 288 Shaker Road in Canterbury. For more information, to purchase tickets, and to schedule a group tour or other event, call 603-783-9511, or use the Village’s user-friendly website, www.shakers.org.

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