Blog Post

Historic Shaker Site Received Much-Needed Attention Following Watch Listings

In 2001, the Shaker Museum and Library decided to explore a daunting challenge: instead of pursuing plans to modernize and expand its existing museum campus, fashioned from a former dairy barn complex in the rolling farmland of Old Chatham NY, the trustees voted to undertake a feasibility study to acquire the nearby North family property at Mount Lebanon Shaker Village in New Lebanon, NY, as the new site for the 50-year-old museum. Mount Lebanon had been the largest of all the Shaker communities, and its central meetinghouse the site of the Central Ministry—the “Vatican” of America's Shakers for 150 years, from 1787 to 1947. From Mount Lebanon grew the famous innovative Shaker ideas about community, work, aesthetics, and pacifism. Mount Lebanon's North family property, some 30 acres and 10 historic buildings, had been operated as a tourist site on and off for the past two decades. Its iconic Great Stone Barn was the largest stone barn in the country when built in 1859. Gutted by fire in 1972, it stands as a ghostly reminder of the Shakers' amazing story at Mount Lebanon and their powerful ideas that spread to 19 Shaker villages from Maine to Kentucky.

In 2004, the Museum acquired the North family property and Mount Lebanon was included on the WMF Watch List in 2004 and 2006 to call attention to the desperate conservation needs at the site and to remind the world of the extraordinary Shaker cultural legacy that once had great influence in America. World Monuments Fund has been a key partner since then in the preservation, programming, and long term strategic planning for the National Historic Landmark. The listings have helped to shine a light on an important cultural resource and continue to provide an identifiable advantage for the museum in seeking grant support for restorations. WMF has been an active partner with the museum in creating and sustaining preservation training programs and field schools at the site. Finally, WMF has been an important strategic ally in helping to ensure that the site is sustainably stewarded. Most recently this work included organizing a roundtable of scholars to explore the possibility and process of UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for Mount Lebanon and nearby Hancock Shaker Village.