Mount Lebanon Shaker Village
At its height in 1860, the Shaker village of Mount Lebanon, New York, spanned some 6,000 acres and contained more than 100 buildings. The Shakers are a Christian sect that originated in England but settled in New England to escape persecution. Their celibate communities were self-sufficient and developed new approaches to the design and manufacture of goods based on function and simplicity of design, an aesthetic that survives today.
By the turn of the 20th century the Shaker community had decreased in size and families consolidated as Shaker villages closed. The North Family was the last remaining at Mount Lebanon when it closed in 1947.
In 1972 a devastating fire broke out in the North Family’s Great Stone Barn, which was the largest stone barn in America when it was built in 1859. Only its masonry walls were left standing. The following year, the Dwelling House, a massive 50-room, five-story abandoned building, was razed for fear that fire or other calamity would come to the site.
The remaining ten buildings are threatened with severe deterioration or total loss. Most of these structures retain their original Shaker exteriors with modified interiors. A remarkable amount of original historic details and finishes can still be found throughout the site.
How We Helped
World Monuments Fund recognized the importance of Mount Lebanon Shaker Village in New York by placing it on the 2004 and 2006 Watch lists. Since then, we have hosted preservation field schools at the site and are actively engaged in helping the Shaker Museum and Library make Mount Lebanon accessible to the public and the centerpiece of their interpretive programs and exhibitions.
In 2009, we initiated a partnership between Boston's distinguished North Bennett Street School, which teaches historic crafts, and the Shaker Museum that allowed NBSS students to use the Mount Lebanon site as both workshop and classroom. Some workshops were open to the general public, and WMF offered limited scholarships for local residents to participate.
In June 2009, with funding from WMF, the National Park Service Historic American Landscape Survey Program led a team of professionals and recent graduate students to explore the remarkable under- and above-ground waterworks that fueled life and industry at Mount Lebanon.
In December 2009, the Shaker Museum and Library was awarded a $400,000 Save America’s Treasures grant for stabilization of the Great Stone Barn. This award acknowledges WMF’s long-standing commitment to the Barn that began when the site was listed on the 2004 Watch.
In summer 2010, WMF provided scholarships for three New York City students to attend a window sash restoration workshop at the village. WMF sponsored the program in partnership with Shaker Museum and Library, North Bennet Street School, Darrow School, Hancock Shaker Village, Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design, and Abyssinian Development Corporation. During the two-week workshop, students lived and worked on site and learned traditional repair techniques.
Why It Matters
Mount Lebanon was once the center of the Shaker world in the United States; at its peak in 1860, 600 people occupied 125 buildings on 6,000 acres. After the last Shakers left in 1947, much of the property was sold, and the village dwindled to fewer than 40 buildings on only 72 acres.
The Shaker Museum and Library was established in 1950 in Old Chatham, New York, with much of its collection connected to the history of the Mount Lebanon community. In 2001, the museum received a grant to explore the feasibility of moving from Old Chatham, which has no affiliation with a Shaker settlement, to the Mount Lebanon site. The museum is now preparing to transfer its operations to Mount Lebanon.