The Shaker village of Mount Lebanon, New York, 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. By the turn of the twentieth century, however, the Shaker community had decreased in size and families consolidated as Shaker villages closed. 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.
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.
In 1972 a devastating fire broke out in the Great Stone Barn, which was the largest stone barn in the United States 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 were threatened with severe deterioration or total loss. Most retained their original Shaker exteriors with modified interiors.
A long-standing commitment helps to restore the Great Stone Barn
Mount Lebanon Shaker Village in New York was included on the World Monuments Watch in 2004 and 2006. We helped 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 site as both workshop and classroom. In June 2009, with our funding, 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. The Shaker Museum and Library was awarded a $400,000 Save America’s Treasures grant for stabilization of the Great Stone Barn. This award acknowledged our long-standing commitment that begin in 2004.
In summer 2010, we provided scholarships for three New York City students to attend a window sash restoration workshop at the village. We 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.