“Several of the best Mediums”: Shakers, Spiritualism, and camp meetings

 

The Shakers were no strangers to the concept of camp meetings. In the early days of the Shaker Church they saw such meetings – then usually very much of a religious nature – as an opportunity to testify about the Shaker faith and Shaker life with the hope of finding potential converts. As religious revivals burned through the Taconic Hills on the Massachusetts / New York border and later in the western part of New York State, the Shakers often sent missionaries to witness the work that was going on and to see if there was an opening for them to step forward and present themselves and their message of salvation. When the Great Kentucky Revival camp meetings at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, took hold in the early 1800s, Mother Lucy Wright sent three missionaries to what was then considered the West to preach the Shaker gospel to those gathered there. This effort resulted in a half-dozen Shaker communities being founded in Ohio and Kentucky.

In later years, camp meetings still retained a religious tone but began to stray beyond the strictly holy. Seventh-day Adventist camp meetings promoted vegetarianism and served only vegetarian meals. The camp meetings on Lake Chautauqua, New York, which started as Methodist meetings in the 1870s, soon evolved into a formal slate of lectures and performances that continue today. Pacifists gathered by the thousands outdoors in the pine groves of Salt Point, New York, to report on and discuss progress in the peace movement. The Shakers, proponents of many progressive movements, were particularly interested in the Spiritualists. The Shakers received messages from Mother Ann Lee and other departed leaders during the Era of Manifestations from the 1830s through the 1850s, and they believed this gave them a unique advantage in finding converts within the Spiritualist movement of the later 19th century.

 

In 1870 a camp meeting ground with 75 tent lots was established on the shore of Lake Pleasant, in the town of Montague, Massachusetts, and by 1872 it had become a favorite meetings place for Spiritualists. In 1874 Henry Buddington and Joseph Beals organized the New England Spiritualist Campmeeting Association. New cabins were built and more tenting lots created, and by August 1900 the population of the meeting ground could reach as high as 2,000 people.

Spiritualist’ and Liberalists’ Camp-Meeting. Lake Pleasant. Montague, Mass. August 4th. To August 30th. 1875

“Spiritualist’ and Liberalists’ Camp-Meeting. Lake Pleasant. Montague, Mass. August 4th. To August 30th. 1875,” Springfield, MA: G. E. Lyman & Co., Printers, 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2009.12.1.

The advertising flyer pictured here promoted the 1875 season. The description promised “a large Pavilion with tight roof, polished floor, open sides, built for dancing parties, dining salons, refreshment stands, boats, swings, bathing houses for ladies, sequestered walks by the Lake, artesian wells, affording soft, pure, cool, water; overlooking the auditorium, a bluff on which the tents are placed, under pine trees, … free from mosquitoes …” With this kind of promotion it seems an unlikely place for the Shakers to venture, but venture they did. In 1879, Elder Frederick Evans and Brother Emil Bretzner from Mount Lebanon’s North Family attended the camp and the next year a rather large contingent of Shakers from Mount Lebanon and Watervliet, New York, and Harvard, Massachusetts – 34 Shakers in all, went to Lake Pleasant. At the meeting on Wednesday, August 18, noted spiritual medium, Emma Hardinge Britten,  reported, “The Shakers were present in force, and conducted the exercises both morning and afternoon. Elder Evans, Eldress Doolittle, and other members of the party spoke. The singing was a novel portion of the exercises. Elder Evans is a radical speaker, and some of his remarks were loudly applauded. The audiences were very large during the day.”

“Lake Pleasant Camp-Meeting,” Montague, MA, 1880

“Lake Pleasant Camp-Meeting,” Montague, MA, 1880, Frank Crosier, Readsboro, VT, photographer, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1951.4407.1.

This photograph, taken in front of Joseph Beals’s tent, shows 20 of the Shakers who traveled to Lake Pleasant. Beals, one of the founders of the camp meetings, was a dentist and amateur photographer. Whether his tent was merely his August residence, a dental office, or a photographic studio is not known, but it is interesting that the photographer, Frank Crosier from Readsboro, Vermont, chose to take his picture of the Shakers in front of another photographer’s tent. While a number of Shakers are identifiable in the photograph – Elder Daniel Offord, Brother Orren Haskins, Sister Martha Anderson, Elder William Anderson, Brother Charles Greaves, Elder Amos Stewart, Elder Timothy Rayson, and one of the Sizer brothers – noticeably absent are Elder Frederick Evans and Eldress Antoinette Doolittle who we might guess were off lecturing the crowd.

 

Advertisements

“[A] new and improved mode of preventing the wear and tear of carpets and the marring of floors”

Side Chair with Pewter Tilter Buttons

Side Chair with Pewter Tilter Buttons, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1855, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.215.1

The Shakers were clever, design savvy, and committed to caring for their property, as demonstrated by their use of the chair “tilter.” In the fall of 1819 Freegift Wells, an elder and woodworker at the Church Family, Watervliet, New York, recorded in his diary that he, “Began to trim off & ball the chairs,” that he had been making for the family. “Balling” the chairs was the term he used to describe inserting a small round wooden ball in the bottom of the back legs of chairs. The balls, flattened on their bottoms, were able to rotate within a socket in the bottom of the chair posts. The balls were held in place with a leather thong or cord passing through the bottom of the ball and then through a hole in the chair post, exiting on the side of the post where it was either tacked or wedged in its hole to keep the ball held tight in its socket. The purpose of the device was to reduce the marring of the softwood (usually pine) floor by the hardwood (usually maple or birch) chair legs when brothers or sisters, as they apparently did, leaned back in their chairs. Raising the front legs off the floor increased the pressure on the back legs and the sharp edge of the back legs often left dents in the floor. The tilters were meant to prevent this damage.

Patent Model of the Shakers’ Patent for the Tilter Button (replica)

Patent Model of the Shakers’ Patent for the Tilter Button (replica). The original of this patent model is described in Expressions of Eloquence: The Jane Katcher Collection,Volume I. [The replica was made and is on loan from Timothy D. Rieman, co-author with Charles R. Muller, of The Shaker Chair.]

While chairs made for community use were often fitted with tilters, it is not clear whether they were sold with that option before a broadside was printed sometime in the 1850s by the Second Family giving the prices of chairs that included an option for “Button joint Tilts” at a cost of twenty-five cents. The offering of tilters on chairs for sale may have been made possible with the patenting of a metal tilter that could be fabricated separately from the chair-making process and installed on the back posts when the chair was finished. This device was patented (U. S. Patent Office Letters Patent No. 8,771) on March 2, 1852 in the name of “Geo. O. Donnell, of New Lebanon, New York.” George O. Donnell, or more likely O’Donnell, was a Shaker brother at the Second Family at Mount Lebanon, New York. According to census records for 1850, had was 27 years old and worked as a chair-maker. The Letters Patent begin: “Be it known that I, George O. Donnell, of Shaker Village, in the town of New Lebanon, in the county of Columbia and State of New York, have invented a new and improved mode of preventing the wear and tear of carpets and the marring of floors, caused by the corners of the back posts of chairs as they take their natural motion of rocking backward and forward …” At the time of the patent, Brother George was also serving as the second elder in the family as well as working in the chair business. He later left the Shakers. There are two issues that are not completely clear about this patent. First, Brother George’s last name is given in the Shaker records as “O’Donnell.” It is likely that this is his correct name and that for some reason – possibly because of negative feelings toward the huge influx of refugees from the great famine in Ireland in the second half of the 1840s – it was thought better (maybe by the patent attorney or agent) to lose the apostrophe and give him the appearance of having a middle name beginning with the letter “O.” This would not have been uncommon at the time. Second, although the Letters Patent identify Brother George as the inventor, it is possible that his name appeared on the document because of his position in the elders’ order and not because he actually created the metal tilter.

The metal tilter buttons were made in a variety of forms – some, such as a pair on a side chair in the Museum’s collection are made only of pewter, some only of brass, and some of a combination. Some are stamped with the date “1852” and one pair is stamped “Pat. 1852.” It appears that there was a lot of experimenting going on as to the best way to manufacture these new tilters, however, in the end, whichever way was thought best, a relatively small number were actually used on chairs. The survival rate is very low and in the 1870s when the Shakers continued to offer tilter buttons on their production side chairs – they returned to the wood style.

 

 

If I had a crandall hammer….

Crandall Hammer

Crandall Hammer, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1825, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanonr: 1950.1483.1

Sometimes the brutish hard work it took to construct the built environment we have come to admire in Shaker villages can be conveyed in a single object. Such an object is the crandall hammer in Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon’s collection. A crandall is a tool used by stone cutters to give stone a particular look and finish. That finish, a relatively even stippling, was usually achieved with one of two tools, a bush hammer or a crandall. A bush hammer looks something like a meat tenderizer with a face several inches square, cut with a grid of sharp points. The crandall is similar but the hammer head is made from a gathering of individual pointed chisels that are wedged together to make the face of the hammer. The crandall in the museum’s collection is unusual in that the pointed chisels are gathered into a round-shaped head rather than the more usual elongated ax-like head made from stacking the chisels in a line. The museum’s crandall originated at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon and shows all the characteristics of being made by a blacksmith. It’s about twenty-two inches long. It’s face is three-and-one-half inches in diameter and the chisels are about seven inches long. One advantage of a crandall over the bush hammer is that the chisels can be removed, sharpened, and replaced whereas re-cutting the face of a bush hammer is difficult.

Foundation Stones, Second Meetinghouse

Foundation Stones showing stippling, Second Meetinghouse, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY.

There are a number of examples of the Shakers’ use of dressed stone at Mount Lebanon. The most obvious and probably most ambitious one is the marble foundation of the Second Meetinghouse. In 1822 when the Shakers were planning and beginning to prepare materials for the construction of the new meetinghouse, they recorded in a journal, “we were favored with a man qualified to cut and prepare stone, & the foundation was laid of cut stone.” To accomplish this “white stone” (marble) was obtained in Berkshire County and hauled over the mountain by ox team. Once at Mount Lebanon, the stone was sawn into properly sized blocks at the Shakers’ water-powered stone saw. To finish the exterior surface of the stone, it face was worked with a crandall or a bush hammer to give it an even textured appearance. The stippling on each block of marble was framed with a one-inch margin chiseled around its perimeter.

The Second Meetinghouse’s marble foundation rises three feet above the ground and its facing stones cover nearly one-thousand square feet. All of that was hand hammered to achieve the desired finish. An expert on stone cutting could offer an opinion on whether this is crandall or bush hammer work.

 

The Shakers bring fire hydrants to the countryside

Ludlow Fire Hydrant, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Ludlow Fire Hydrant, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. Staff photograph. This hydrant was position to protect the First and Second Dwellings, the Shakers’ Workshop, and the Wash House. It was the hydrant that supplied power to the Wash House.

A recent blog mentioning the devastating fire of 1875 at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon brought to mind some objects of interest still located at Mount Lebanon’s North Family. In the wake of the fire’s devastation, the North Family made a decision to install four fire hydrants to protect their buildings. In the summer of 1875 they laid five-thousand feet of wooden pipe from a stream running through the East Family downhill to a new reservoir they had dug east and steeply uphill from their dwelling house. The reservoir, two-hundred feet long and fifty feet wide, almost exactly the size of the footprint of their Stone Barn, and sixty feet above the dwelling, was capable of proving sufficient water for fire-fighting. When completed at the end of the summer, the family journal commented that the “Hydrants throw water above all the buildings.”

Ludlow Hydrants from Ludlow Valve Company Catalogue

Ludlow Hydrants from Ludlow Valve Company Catalogue, 1878. Souce: http://www.firehydrant.org/pictures/lv01.html

The hydrants, three of which are still in place, were manufactured by the Ludlow Valve Company in Troy, New York. Ludlow Valve was founded by Henry G. Ludlow in Waterford, New York, in 1866 and began making hydrants soon after. Ludlow, an engineer with a degree from Union College, originally a native of Nassau, New York, ran his company into the 1890s. It was the largest producer of fire hydrants in the country. Although the company officially went out of business in 1969, parts for some Ludlow hydrants are still being manufactured.

There is no record of the North Family ever using the hydrants to fight a fire but in the late 1870s the Shakers extended the piping from the hydrant to their new Wash House to power a ten-horsepower water motor manufactured by the Backus Water Motor Company in Newark, New Jersey. The water motor was initially used to power the wash mill and centrifugal extractor for the laundry, but eventually operated the family’s small grist mill, a mechanical wood splitter, and several other smaller machines. In time, the Shakers added lines to the hydrant pipes to provide power to the Sisters’ Workshop for their sewing machines and in 1891 to the Second Dwelling to operate the equipment for the dairy located in its cellar.

Map of North Family Hydrant Locations and Assumed Piping

Map of North Family Hydrant Locations and Assumed Piping, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, as drawn by A. K. Mosley for the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939.

The use of pressurized hydrants for fire-fighting goes back to the second decade of the nineteenth century but as obviously useful as they were in urban areas, the use of hydrants in rural settings such as the Shaker Village would have been quite unexpected by visitors to Mount Lebanon. The Church and South Families at Mount Lebanon also added hydrants to their arsenal of fire-fighting equipment at about the same time.

First and Second House, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

First and Second House, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Ca. 1880, James Irving, photographer, Troy, NY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.4088.1 This view from the early 1880s shows the hydrant that was meant to protect the Second Dwelling, the Brethren’s Workshop, Forge, and Deacons Workshop. It is the one hydrant that has been removed.