Rye and Middlings

Flour Chest, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880

Flour Chest, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.471.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

Interior of a North Family Wood House, June, 1938.

Interior of a North Family Wood House, June, 1938. Retrieved from: Historic American Buildings Survey, “Shaker. North Family Washhouse (second), Shaker Road, New Lebanon, NY.

This red-painted flour chest in the Shaker Museum collection was acquired from the North Family at Mount Lebanon, a fact that’s backed up by a 1938 photograph of the interior of the North Family’s Wood House. In that photograph the flour chest sits behind, and is nearly obscured by, a table saw and a grindstone. The giveaways that this is the same chest are the four visible hinges on the top of the chest indicating that the lid is split into two sections, and the rather prominent casters used to roll the chest. These features, along with its general dimensions as they appear in the photograph, provide strong evidence that it is the same chest.

Interior of Flour Chest Showing Labels for Bins, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880

Interior of Flour Chest Showing Labels for Bins, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.471.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

Interior of Flour Chest Showing Labels for Bins, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880

Interior of Flour Chest Showing Labels for Bins, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1850-1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.471.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

Each of the chest’s lids cover  two partitioned compartments. The undersides of the lids are labeled in hand-painted letters: Rye, Middlings, Course Flour, and Fine Flour. All were used in baking. Rye flour is mixed with wheat flour to make rye bread. Middlings are the parts of the wheat kernel – the bran and sometimes the germ – that are often sifted out of milled wheat flour. Middlings are occasionally added back into bread for additional fiber and protein. Coarse flour usually refers to whole wheat flour – sometimes called Graham flour after Sylvester Graham, a 19th century advocate of vegetarianism, temperance, and eating only whole grain flours. Fine flour is what is left when all of the bran and germ are sifted out of milled wheat.

Elder Frederick W. Evans, North Family Elder for 57 years, is known to have been very particular about bread and how and from what it was made.  In 1877 he wrote a letter to Brother Albert Lomas, editor of the The Shaker, commenting on making bread:

The wheat is the starting point. The wheat must be home ground, or you will not have homemade bread. We might as well go to Moody and Sankey for pure Christianity, as to go to a worldly miller with our wheat to grind; much less to buy the flour to make Shaker whole wheat, or coarse ground, unleavened bread.

He follows this caution with a recipe for Shaker whole wheat bread.

The Church Family built a substantial grist mill in 1824 and for years was able to produce flour for all the Mount Lebanon Shaker families. For a number of years they employed millers from the outside world and often had trouble keeping them. It may have been that by the time Evans wrote his commentary on wheat bread he was concerned that the millers were not supplying the family with proper flour for Shaker bread. Sometime in the early 1880s the North Family created a small grist mill inside their 1854 Wood House. By this time the family had largely switched to coal for heating and some of the Wood House was available for other functions. At the south end of the building the Shakers created a new modern laundry. The new laundry required power for the new machinery they installed. That power came from piping water under considerable pressure from a reservoir they had built in 1875 to supply hydrants to protect the family from fire. This water source was extended into the cellar of the Wood House to operate a ten-horsepower Baccus Water Motor. The Shakers soon found additional uses for the power supplied by the water motor – one of which was to power the equipment necessary to operate the grist mill.

Schematic Illustration of the Grist Mill in the Wood House, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Schematic Illustration of the Grist Mill in the Wood House, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY. Museum staff.

The grist mill was constructed vertically in small rooms adjacent to the laundry  and directly over the water motor in the cellar. The rooms were also next to an “elevator” that was used to take damp laundry from the wash room in the cellar to the attic when it needed to be dried indoors. While the date the Shaker built their grist mill is not known, it is known that on February 6, 1884, a carpenter “finished the wheat bins in the wood house loft.” The wheat bin is located in the Wood House attic directly over the room on the second floor where the grindstone was located. The bin could be filled from bags or barrels of wheat brought up the elevator and could be released down a wooden chute from the bin directly into the hopper of the grindstone. Flour and its more undesirable by-products traveled from the grindstone through another wooden chute to the room directly below where they were fed into a sifter or bolting machine that separated middlings from fine flour. For coarse flour, the ground wheat was not bolted, leaving all of the bran and germ in the flour – much to Elder Frederick’s liking.  Both the grindstone and bolting machinery were powered by the water motor. The various flours produced in the mill needed to be stored in separate bins – therefore there was need for a large flour bin in the Shakers’ wood house.

It is not known when the milling equipment was removed from the Wood House. It was apparently gone prior to 1940 when A. K. Mosley measured and drew the Wood House floor plan for the Historic American Buildings Survey. There is considerable evidence still intact in the building that supports the description of the grist mill. A tin-lined square funnel in the floor of the wheat bin is open directly to where it appears the grindstone was located. Holes in the floors remain where belts from the water motor traveled to operate both the grindstone and the bolting machinery, and the wooden chute that once brought ground wheat into the bolting machine remains in place. The disposition of the equipment has yet to be discovered.



Altered states: piecing together an object’s history

The Shakers’ communal furniture pieces were often larger than those used in single family homes, so when those pieces found new uses outside Shaker villages they were sometimes altered and reduced in size: benches made to seat eight to ten Shakers might be shortened to serve in a family entryway as a place to sit and put on shoes; communal trestle-style dining tables that once fed 12 to 16 Shaker brothers or sisters have been shortened to seat the storied nuclear family; and tall 10-drawer cases have been cut in half to become four- or five-drawer bureaus. Often these alterations were done by outsiders who bought surplus furniture from the Shakers. Sometimes, however, these alterations were done by the Shakers themselves. For example, on January 18, 1884, a South Family scribe (Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, mss. no. 21485) recorded in the family journal that Samuel Shumway, a non-Shaker resident of the town of New Lebanon who was often hired to do carpentry and cabinetmaking for the Shakers, “cut a door thro the porch into the Deaconesses room [and] cut a large case of drawers into [i.e., in two] – half goes in the North garret, the other half remains in the porch.” 

While it is not known if the object that is the subject of this article resulted from the intentional alteration of a piece of furniture or something more tragic, it was clearly once part of something larger. When cataloged into the collection it was identified as a “drawer.”  Upon recent examination the remnant has been identified not as drawer, but as a four-sided gallery that likely sat atop a small case of drawers to make a piece called a washstand. Before the advent of indoor plumbing and sinks for personal wash-ups, washstands were common in Shaker and non-Shaker dwellings. The pieces took many different forms, but often had a back-splash or a gallery to contain any leaks, spills, or splashes from an ever-present water bowl and pitcher. 

The gallery has several distinctive features. The sides are made of a tight-grained curly maple. The right and left sides and the front side all flare out slightly. The four sides are dovetailed together. The underside of the gallery bottom has long grooves along its right and left side that were made to receive the plank side boards of the case piece upon which it sat and in the center of the front of the underside, between these grooves, is a small rectangular mortise that likely once secured the tenon of a divider that separated two drawers in the washstand. There are also small rectangular holes just inside the gallery walls that were made by nails that secured the gallery to its base. These details, taken as a whole, suggest a strong connection between this gallery and the galleries of several washstands that have been attributed to Brother Abner Allen (1776-1855), a known Shaker cabinetmaker from Enfield, Connecticut. One washstand with a similar gallery (see below) is in the collection of Hancock Shaker Village. While the dimensions of the gallery on this washstand – 3 ½” high by 27 7/8” wide by 19 ¼” deep — do not match those of the gallery in the Shaker Museum’s collection – 3 1/4” high by 23 ¾” wide by 17 5/8” deep – all of the other characteristics of the complete washstand gallery compare favorably with the displaced gallery.  

Washstand, Enfield, CT, ca. 1850

Washstand, Enfield, CT, ca. 1850, Hancock Shaker Village: 1989.2. Timothy Rieman, photographer.

Brother Abner was known to favor figured wood – especially curly maple. He seemed to have an affinity for dovetailed joints that are not joined at right angles. The protruding edges of the bottoms of the galleries on both examples terminate in the same thumb-nail shape. The most noticeable difference between the two examples is that the gallery in the Shaker Museum’s collection is painted red while the complete washstand is not. It is, of course, conceivable that the complete washstand, at some point, had its paint removed to expose the beauty of the curly maple. If this is the case, it is an interesting piece of information to think that Shakers made furniture from wood known for its decorative appearance and then obfuscated most of that feature with paint.  

Since this piece was acquired in 1961 at Mount Lebanon and was most likely made at Enfield, Connecticut, it is likely that the washstand from which this gallery was separated was brought to Mount Lebanon, maybe with Elder Walter Shepherd and Brother Daniel Orcutt when Enfield closed and they moved to the North Family at Mount Lebanon. 

Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon is currently migrating its collection records to a web-based public database thanks to a grant from The Henry Luce Foundation. In the process, much of the collection is being re-examined, allowing us to make sense of and flesh out the stories of pieces in the collection.




Splitting wood in the 19th century

Hildreth Patent Double Wood Splitter

Hildreth Patent Double Wood Splitter, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1883, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950-1118.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

Maintaining a sufficient supply of seasoned wood for heating and cooking occupied a considerable amount of time and space for the Shakers at the North Family at Mount Lebanon. The brothers and hired men would begin getting in logs from the mountain wood lots in February and March. By 1830 the Shakers used a circular saw located outside their Brick Shop, powered by its waterwheel, for cutting the logs and what they called “small wood” (branches) to proper firewood length. The logs were then split by hand and carted to one of several wood houses to season under cover. The work of splitting more than one hundred cords of firewood every year was made much easier in the early 1880s when the North Family purchased a Hildreth Patent Double Wood Splitter. An advertising brochure published sometime after 1886 carried two testimonials from the Shakers, one from the Canterbury Shakers dated around 1878 and the other from Elder Frederick W. Evans during the winter of 1883. Both highly praised the machines. Elder Frederick visited Canterbury in June, 1878, and likely saw their Hildreth splitter in operation at that time. In the winter of 1883, he wrote  in his testimonial, “I bought it for a Canaan Family. They had a lot of some fifty cords of wood sawed up. It was an exceptionally hard lot to split, – mostly Elm. It was their opinion that the machine would fail to do the job. They set it up and put it to work. The foreman stood and watched the operation for a little while, then turned on his heel and said, ‘That will do! It splits any thing put under it.’”

On March 21, 1883 the brothers from the North Family went down to the Upper Canaan Family to watch the machine in operation. As the original intention was that the machine would be shared between the Upper Canaan Family and the North Family, on March 29, 1883 the machine was brought from the Upper Family and put near the firewood saw at the Brick Shop and powered by the waterwheel. It “worked splendidly.” Two days later, however, the splitter broke and had to be taken to Pittsfield, MA, for repairs. The next year the splitter was set up inside the north end of the North Family Wood House and powered by the ten-horsepower Backus water motor the North Family used to operate the machinery in the laundry in the other end of the building. In the floor of the Wood House, where the machine once stood, the Shaker cut two square recesses either to keep the machine from moving across the floor or to level it – or both. The precise location of the machine is preserved by these recesses. 

Advertising Brochure, Hildreth’s Patent Wood Splitter

Advertising Brochure, Hildreth’s Patent Wood Splitter Manufactured by Hildreth Bros. Harvard, Mass, ca. 1886, Hancock Shaker Village: 4244.

The Hildreth Brothers of Harvard, Massachusetts, manufactured these machines. They were made in several different sizes ranging from the smallest – the one the Shakers purchased, capable of splitting wood up to 17 inches long — to one that would split wood 50 inches long. The Shakers paid $240 for their machine. The patent for the splitter (U. S. Patent No. 205550 issued July 2, 1878) was held by its inventor Edwin A. Hildreth, and witnessed by Stanley B. Hildreth and M. G. Hildreth – likely the “Brothers.”  The promotional brochure for the machine suggests that “Parties testing these splitters on rock maple wood from one to two feet in diameter, and so hard that it was with great difficulty that a hand axe could be made to enter it at all … work[ed] so easily and rapidly that, as they expressed it, ‘the boys had hung up their hand axes and would swing them no longer.’” Operating between 125 to 175 strokes per minute the double splitter could split ten to 18 cords of firewood per day or up to eight to ten cords of kindling. 

[An aside: In 2010 the elementary school in Harvard, MA, was renamed the Hildreth Elementary School to honor the gift of six acres of land and half the construction cost of a school built in 1904. The Hildreth family – Edwin A., Stanley B., and Sister Emily E. – were the donors.] 

Although the Museum’s Hildreth wood splitter has not been used to make firewood since the 1930s, there are still some of these machines in operation – mostly being demonstrated by old-time machinery enthusiasts. To watch one of these splitters in operation follow this link and remember that while the machine in operation here is working at a speed of about 60 strokes per minute, the machine was intended to operate two to three times that fast. 


Photo provides new documentation of a museum object

Photograph, Sister Sadie Maynard Standing behind a Bench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Photograph, Eldress Annie Rosetta Stephens, North Family, Mount
Lebanon, NY, Ca. 1915, Shaker
Museum | Mount Lebanon

We recently wrote about a lawn bench in the Museum’s collection. Carved on its back rail is, “August  | North Family Shakers | 1914.” It was located in the yard between the North Family’s First Dwelling and the Sisters’ Workshop facing uphill to the public road. In the post we included a photograph of Sister Sadie Maynard standing behind the bench. Since then we received a gift of a collection of materials that had come from the North Family through the donor’s mother-in-law’s great grandmother, Margaret Fyfe (Fife in Shaker journals), including a photograph of Eldress Annie Rosetta Stephens seated on the same bench. It is rare to have Shaker-era photographic documentation of pieces from the Museum’s collection. To have two such images is quite remarkable.

Eldress Annie Rosetta Stephens was one of the first converts resulting from Elder Frederick W. Evans’s 1871 lecture tour in England. Sister Rosetta’s father, a designer of paisley shawls and a weaver who was one of the founders of the Humanitarian Brotherhood, was apparently very receptive to the American communist who had come to lecture in London – enough so to send his 11-year old daughter to America with the elder. When the “Atlantic” docked in New York and Elder Frederick disembarked, by his side was little Annie who became and remained a Shaker her whole life.

Margaret Fyfe, who either took or was given the photograph, first came to the Shakers at the North Family with Amanda Deyo, a Universalist minister, vice-president of the Universal Peace Union, and a prime mover in the annual peace convention held in Wiley’s Grove near Salt Point, Dutchess County, NY – a meeting the Shakers attended. Margaret boarded with the North Family from early spring through late fall each year from 1910 until about 1920. She was enough of a consistent presence during those years to be noted as “Sister Margaret” on occasion in one family diary.


To a green bench in a green shade

fig 1Bench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Bench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1914, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1971.17371.1.

This bench was made to be used outdoors; was painted dark green, a traditional color for outdoor furniture; and was once placed between the North Family Dwelling House and the family’s Wood House/Wash House. On the upper back rail is carved “August | North Family Shakers | 1914.” If there was an event to memorialize on that date, it hasn’t come to light yet.


Brother William Perkins, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Postcard, Brother William Perkins, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1910, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1957.9505.1, photographer unidentified.

The bench was likely made by Brother William H. Perkins, an immigrant from England, who, although usually associated with the Second Family at Mount Lebanon, was a member of the North Family from June 4, 1914, until he moved to the Second Family on March 31, 1915. The bench certainly fits nicely into his tenure as a North Family brother. Prior to becoming a Shaker, Perkins was a trained wood carver by trade. The bench is made of oak rather than the white pine that would have been the natural choice of New Englanders. An Englishman, on the other hand, would consider oak the traditional wood for this kind of project. The bench was painted over at some point in its post-Shaker life with dark green high-gloss paint. Underneath is a single coat of dark green, applied much more sparingly. 

Sister Sadie Maynard Standing behind a Bench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Photograph, Sister Sadie Maynard Standing behind a Bench, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1940, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1996.5.1, photographer unidentified.

A photograph in the Museum’s collection shows the bench in the dooryard just west of the family Dwelling House. Standing behind the bench is Sister Sadie Maynard. Sister Sadie arrived at the North Family on July 24, 1918, from the Harvard, MA, Shaker community where she had lived since joining the Shakers in 1899. She was one of the last six sisters to live at that community before it closed and she moved to the North Family at Mount Lebanon. She remained at Mount Lebanon until that community also closed and she was one of seven remaining Shakers moved to Hancock, MA. She died there in 1953.



Writings on the Walls: The Brethren’s Workshop

Brethrens Workshop

The Brethren’s Workshop, or Brick Shop, circa 1920’s. North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York. Photographer: William F. Winter. Source: Historic American Buildings Survey.

The buildings of the North Family are full of clues pointing to past uses by the Shakers, from slots in floors and ceilings for belts that once powered machinery, to the peg boards that still line the walls of many rooms. One of the most widespread and mysterious of clues at the site involves the wealth of writing, recording, and material remnants on the walls of the site’s oldest extant structure, the Brethren’s Workshop, built in 1829.

In 1985-6 Dr. Michael Coe of Yale University and Dr. Ernest Wiegand of Norwalk Community College led the Mount Lebanon Shaker Village Archaeological Project to document, inventory, and assess structures and items found at the North Family historic site. A segment of that project focused on “superficial and subsurface archaeological field investigations at several sites,” which included graffiti found in the Brethren’s Workshop. The report included a catalog of graffiti, with measured drawings, research, and condition reports.

In the summer of 2016, the “Brethren’s Workshop: Writing On the Walls” project was launched to fill in the narrative gaps surrounding the wall remnants through research and new photography. The result was a new graffiti catalog building upon the original, with narrative analysis detailing what these historic remnants tell us about the Brethren’s Workshop and the people who worked and / or lived there. Support for the project came from a Vision Grant from Humanities New York.

The Brethren’s Workshop, or “Brick Shop” as it was called by Shakers, was constructed in 1829, when the corner stone was laid on April 27. From that point through the North Family’s closure in 1947, the workshop was home to Shaker Brothers and Sisters, hired workers and their families, and has been host to carpenters, teenage trespassers, archaeologists, guided tour groups, and exhibitions.

In its earliest days, the Workshop was used as space to do laundry by Sisters, and by Brothers as the center of their broom-making, fruit-selling, and seed businesses, the latter of which eventually grew into a major operation with trade routes in every direction from New York City to the western frontier. Over time, the range of trades plied inside the Workshop expanded to include shoemaking, constructing coffins, cabinetry and other woodwork, printing, carpet beaters (also known as rug whips), poultry, and likely more beyond the recorded history.

Hand print in black ink

Hand print in black ink, found on the third floor’s printing shop room.

In the basement floors, coffins, eggs, fruits, and vegetables were stored, in particular a “nice apple cellar” recorded as built on November 5, 1891. This supported the apple-selling business, whose remnants appear in the basement’s northwest and east spaces. On the first floor, woodworking went on in the carpentry shop. The second floor was used for a variety of purposes, including making carpet beaters and brooms, but the primary work there was the seed business, and seeds were stored, counted, and packaged for sale there. Based on graffiti and interviews with a former hired man who resided in the workshop, chickens may have been kept on the second floor. Finally, the third floor contained the printing and shoemaking shops. Most of the graffiti and markings found in the workshop reflects this layout.

Brother Curtis White with a hired man in the kitchen garden

Brother Curtis White (left) with a hired man in the kitchen garden, circa 1930s. The workshop can be seen in the background.

Shakers were not alone in undertaking all of these different types of work. Especially following the Civil War, the Shakers experienced labor shortages due to loss of (primarily male) members and therefore employed large numbers of hired men, or “hirelings,” in various supplemental roles; in 1893, the North Family journal records 11 male and 31 female resident Shakers.

Hired men were housed both in the upper floors of the nearby Farm Deacon’s Shop, but also in the Brethren’s Workshop itself, including in some cases with their families; Ashly Pratt, a former hired man who was interviewed in 1986, described arriving around 1922, moving into the workshop and joining three other hired hands and families. He described cold, bare conditions, having only cold running water for washing, and a portable chemical toilet. Other hired men’s families included the Face family (one of whom, Elroy, would go on to become a Major League Baseball player and pioneer modern relief pitching), the Gallaghers, and the Griswolds. Also living in the workshop were visitors to the North Family.

Wallpaper remnants

Wallpaper remnants, found on the second floor.

One notable example of a visitor living temporarily with the Shakers is that of Peter Neagoe, a Romanian writer and artist who’d spent a portion of his younger years at the North Family, where he apparently designed marketing material for Shaker products. Later, he and his wife stayed in the workshop several summers intermittently from 1912 through the 1920s, and eventually purchased a home in New Lebanon. It is likely that it was the Neagoes who were responsible for the wallpaper found on the workshop’s second floor, as the Family journal records Neagoe making renovations preparatory for his wife’s arrival.

The story of the Brethren’s Workshop is of the many different people who called it home, Shaker and non-Shaker alike: their lives, their work, and their marks left at the North Family. The building housed generations of Shakers, and later non-Shakers, who worked together to make the North Family operate as an efficient and prosperous economic enterprise. The marks, sketches, designs, and recordings all tell a very clear story about its utilitarian use.

This month, members of the public are seeing the results of the project and exploring these remnants of the past up close and personal. A tour will occur on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 3PM. You can register for the tour online here. Following both programs, the full report will be made available for download online.


“Verses composed in the North Family of Believers at New Lebanon,… March 12th 1848.”



Partial View to North Family – Looking North-West, ca. 1880. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.4014.1

This anonymously written poem notes and described the 36 members of the North Family at the beginning of 1848. Where some members are noted only by their first names their surnames have been supplied in brackets. The document is useful in its description of the employments of many of the family’s members. That information coupled with other manuscripts from the family for that year gives us a rich view of life in the family.

Verses composed in the North Family of Believers at New Lebanon, in which all the members of said family are briefly noticed who were residing therein March 12th 1848.

In describing the members of this family,

We’ll labor to exercise some charity.

And if by and by we should chance to espy,

Some very small mote in a brother’s eye,

We’ll seek to remove it as we have been shown,

By taking out firstly the beam from our own.

Impress’d with this maxim we’ll now pass along,

And notice each member in our little song.


Here kind Elder Richard [Bushnell] stands first on the list,

And kind Brother Frederick [Evans] stands next to assist,

Now both our kind Elders we love and revere,

And give them our blessing their spirits to cheer.

Our Elders so kind we are bound to obey,

They watch for our souls that we go not astray;

So we will be faithful and labor to bless,

Our kind loving Elders for their faithfulness.

Eldress Sarah [Smith], now stands at the feminine head,

By whose wise example good Sisters are led;

The same bright-example now daily is set,

By our loving sister we call Antoinette [Doolittle].

By both have a burden of labor and care

Their love for lost-souls makes them willing to bear

Our kind Elder Sisters deserve our best love.

They are striving to lead us to heaven above.

Charles Bushnell and Clawson [Middleton] good Deacons have been,

In supporting the gospel which saves us from sin;

In love and good works they do always abound,

And faithful and true they have ever been found.

Armeda [Sherman] and Anna [Crosman] are two faithful souls,

As ever existed between the two poles;

Their labors of love are extended to all,

The sick and the healthy the great and the small.

And now, Thomas Estes we’ll next call to mind

He’s faithful in labor, obliging and kind

John Shaw we’ll remember who makes all our shoes;

And by his example much strength does diffuse,

Now Amy [Bennet] kind Sister must not be forgot,

She’s patient in bearing what falls to her lot;

She’ll long be remember’d beloved and blest

For labors bestow’d on the sick and distress’d

We’ll also remember our good Phebe Ann [Jones],

Who daily is striving to do all she can,

She works at the Palm leaf and makes summer hats,

Likewise pretty fans and some table mats;

In all her employment, she’s cheerful and bright,

And her smiling countenance gives us delight.

Now, Anthony Roberts and George [Wickersham] we will name

They both are mechanicks of much skill and fame.

They are gifted in skill like the workmen of old

Who wrought for the temple wood, silver and gold

And as they in faith and good works do abound,

With pure love and union they both shall be crown’d

Let kind sister Sally [Bushnell] come next if you please,

And Patty [Bushnell] who make our good butter and cheese,

We know they are faithful in all their employ,

They cultivate good but the evil destroy.

Henry Cantrell and Chauncey [Sears] are worthy of praise,

Their labors are useful in various ways;

In the shop, at the mill on the farm with the team,

Their good deeds are flowing in one constant stream;

These brethren so faithful in all their employ.

We give them our blessing and wish them much joy;

And when all their labors are finishe’d and done,

We trust they will reign with the Daughter and Son.

Now Nancy [Lockwood] and Charlotte [Bowns] kind Sisters are they,

Both careful to walk in the strait narrow way;

In deep tribulation they always endure,

And march on their way with the humble and pure.

Of Levi [Shaw] and Daniel [Fraser] we’ll next-take a view,

We know they are faithful, kind, honest and true;

Their faith by their works they’ve both fully shown,

We love them sincerely we freely must own.

Now Phebe [Van Houten] we’ll notice like Dorcas of old,

She’s made many garments which we can behold.

And Catharine [Van Houten] also is true in her place,

While smiles of contentment enliven her face.

These two worthy sisters so loving and kind

Are belov’d by all for their pureness of mind.

Resembling each other as near as two pins,

They bring to the mind two young roes that are twins.

Here’s Andrew [Firkey] and Luther [Dunnels] quite faithful we find,

They’re both honest farmers to labor inclin’d;

The cause of the gospel they wish to promote,

Their time and their talents they freely devote;

These brethren obliging and kind are to all,

And while they are faithful they never will fall.

Jane Knight, loves employment she’s neat as a pin,

She gives wholesome counsel to those who come in;

In her conversation she’s meek and she’s mild,

And in her behavior a true gospel child.

And Harriet Bullard kind sister we love,

The spirit is pure as the innocent dove,

She is faithful in duty in every place,

And virtues bright image is stamp’d on her face.

John Brown is a brother quite clever and kind,

He’s taken some pains in improving his mind.

He’s faithful in duty takes care of the hens

He cultivates good bur the evil condemns

John Robe is a brother quite cheerful and free

In search of Mount Zion he sailed o’er the sea

And since he was faithful and did persevere

We give him our blessing and welcome him here

Now, Sarah Jane Epwell the gospel obeys

And kind Hannah Wilson is worthy of praise

They both do stand faithful and firm for the truth

They’ve given their strength to the Lord in their youth

For such there’s a blessing for greater we know

Than all the vain pleasures this world can bestow.


Our young brother Henry [Cantrell] does all that he can

To build up the gospel of good Mother Ann

And Timothy Rayson is striving to be

Attentive to labor obliging and free

We know if they’re giving their strength to the Lord

Now while in their youth they will have their reward

And if they are faithful to keep in the fold

They’ll gain greater riches than mountains of gold

Of Elizaette Sutton and Rhoda [Hollister] we’ll speak

They’re pure in their manners obliging and meek

The world they’ve forsaken with all its vain toys

To find more substantial and heavenly joys

Now, Moses [Clement] we’ll mention who’s set out to break

The ties of old nature for the gospel’s sake

And Solomon Goddard has also begun

The snares of the tempter henceforth for to shun

We love these young brethren we’re free to confess

We give them our blessing that they may progress


This poem was transcribed many years ago from a manuscript in the collection in one of the repositories holding Shaker materials, but the transcriber does not remember which repository. It is shared here both for your reading pleasure and for your help in locating its source. If you can identify the poem, please comment below.


Why didn’t the Shakers talk about having their pictures taken?


Photograph of Eldress Anna White, North Family Mount Lebanon, NY, Notman Photographic Company, Albany, NY, Ca. 1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 2017.24190.1.

Recently Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon acquired a carte-de-visite of North Family Eldress Anna White that was created by the Notman Photographic  Company in Albany, New York. In addition to this image the Museum holds two other Notman photos, one of North Family Eldress Antoinette Doolittle and one of that family’s businessman, Brother Levi Shaw. Despite the hundreds if not thousands of photographs taken of Shakers in commercial photographers’ studios, information about these experiences are woefully under-recorded in Shaker records.

William Notman, a Canadian photographer based in Montreal, was both a successful photographer and a successful businessman. Notman was born in Paisley, Scotland, in 1826 and moved to Montreal in 1856. Already established as a photographer, he set up a studio in the town’s business center shortly after his arrival. He experienced considerable success, including receiving a good medal at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. (As an aside, his work with the Centennial Exposition included producing photographic identification cards for those working at the Exposition, and in doing so became the father of the modern “photo-ID.”) Following on his success in Philadelphia, he decided to open a studio in Albany, New York, in 1877. It was this studio that was visited by the three Shakers from the North Family.


Photograph of Eldress Antoinette Doolittle, North Family Mount Lebanon, NY, Notman Photographic Company, Albany, NY, Ca. 1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1960.11977.2

The two eldresses seem to have made the trip at the same time. Their cartes-de-visite are nearly identical with the exception of the portrait itself. In both cases the oval image is embossed – rising above the background card. Both images have a number written in pencil at the upper right-hand corner of the back of the card – on Doolittle’s card the number is “5003” and on White’s, “5004,” suggesting they are the sequential negative numbers from which the prints were made.

Notman’s Albany studio was in operation between 1877 and the mid-1890s. Although primarily owned by William Notman, the studio employed local Albany photographers to do the artistic work. When Notman died in 1891 his son took over the business and the studio began to falter. While it is possible to date these photographs with a decade – the studio began operating in 1877 and Doolittle died in 1886 – there is no indication in North Family records that the two eldresses set off to Albany together to have their portraits made. On the back of Eldress Ann White’s card someone has written the date “Ca. 1880” which seems to be a reasonable guess.


Photograph of Brother Levi Shaw, North Family Mount Lebanon, NY, Notman Photographic Company, Albany, NY, Ca. 1880, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1960.12238.1

The carte-de-visite of Brother Levi Shaw is not an embossed image but resembles the other photographs in every other aspect. The penciled inscription of the negative number reads “3082” on his photograph, suggesting that it was done earlier than those of the two eldresses.

We are interested in knowing about other photographs of Shakers created at Notman’s Albany studio and, of course, any mention of Shakers traveling somewhere with the intention of having their pictures taken. If you have any information to share, please do so in the comments below.


The Brethren’s Workshop


North Family Brethren’s Workshop, Mount Lebanon Shaker Village. September 23, 2016. Rrom the series “Shadows of the Shakers” by Benjamin Swett.

This past summer and fall, photographer Benjamin Swett spent time at Mount Lebanon photographing the landscape and interiors. On his initial visits, he found himself drawn by the way light moved and changed in the corridors, stairwells, and rooms of the building known as the Brethren’s Workshop, and he began to explore the different effects of light on interior spaces. “Studying these effects on the interiors brings one closer to the states of mind of these now-remote people, and spending time with the architecture puts the deliberate, practical, yet simultaneously spiritual and otherworldly mind-set of the Shakers into an accessible perspective,” Swett said.

The 1820s were an amazing time for the Shakers. Their missionary work, both in New York and New England, and as far afield as Kentucky and Ohio, had brought large numbers into the Church. In response to this rapid growth, over the next decade the Shakers embarked on a construction spree, designing buildings to be larger and more substantial than prior ones, building out of stone and brick instead of wood. Between 1824 and 1837, the Shakers built a new meetinghouse, a stone grist mill, a brick workshop, and a brick trustees’ office at Mount Lebanon; the round barn and a new brick dwelling house at Hancock; a brick trustees’ office at Watervliet; and one of their most ambitious and substantial projects – the Great Stone Dwelling at Enfield, NH. When one places all of these buildings and more not mentioned on a timeline, a clear story emerges about the Shakers’ momentum during this time and their feeling of being a church for eternity.


Brethren’s Workshop, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1939, Historic American Buildings Survey, N. E. Baldwin, photographer.

In the midst of this boom, in 1829, the Shakers at Mount Lebanon’s North Family built a men’s workshop and family wash house, later known at the Brethren’s Workshop. The new workshop had a large over-shot waterwheel in its cellar that powered a variety of machinery. Despite the masculine name, probably thirty percent of the building was used originally by North Family sisters to wash, dry, and iron clothes. (Workshops for men and women in the same building were not uncommon, even though the Shakers were generally separated by gender.)


Brick Shop (interior of seed shop), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1931, Historic American Buildings Survey, Charles C. Adams, photographer.

The Brethren’s Workshop has three stories, with a basement and a sub-basement and a substantial attic. The building functioned on all six floors, with nearly 17,000 square feet of usable space. The lower cellar housed the bottom of the wheel pit for the two-story water wheel, a cistern for water collected for laundry, and probably some equipment for washing, dying, bleaching, and soap making. The upper cellar housed the main power shaft for the waterwheel and connected through line-shafts and pulleys to heavier woodworking machinery, as well as the wash room for the laundry. The first floor was apparently used for smaller water-powered machinery for men’s work and the ironing room for the sisters. Much of the second floor was occupied by the North Family’s seed shop (pictured above) where they dried, cleaned, sorted, stored, and put up garden seeds into envelopes and wooden boxes for distribution by the family’s peddlers. The third floor held a shoe shop and probably workshops for the family elders and a variety of other industries: hat making, printing, tailoring, and whip making. The attic provided space for drying clothes in rainy and winter weather and probably for drying garden seeds. The Brethren’s Workshop was fitted with an elevator, or more accurately a dumb waiter since it did not transport people. The counterbalanced lift could bring wet clothes from the wash room to the attic for drying and back down to the ironing room when needed. There was no access to the lift from the floors associated with men’s work so apparently was primarily for the use of the sisters.


Brethren’s Workshop, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1940, Historic American Buildings Survey, A. K. Mosley, delineator.

Over time the activities in the Brethren’s Workshop changed. In the late 1870s the Shakers relocated their family laundry to the south end of the 1854 Wood House leaving unused space in the workshop. Some of that space was immediately put to use storing potatoes and cabbages. In the late 1880s an apple storage cellar was constructed in the sub-basement of the building. Little by little shops were abandoned. The North Family brothers stopped making their own shoes and hats. The seed business was discontinued and that shop was used for making rug whips. When the rug whip business ceased, that shop, like several others, was left untouched and used for storage. Over the years people lived in the Brick Shop as well. Hired men were also housed in the building in the twentieth century.


Slate roof and soffit repair, 2011.

The Shakers left Mount Lebanon in 1947 and by the 1980s the building had fallen into disrepair. In 2002 part of the building became home to a team of historic preservation architects who spent a year doing research and writing an historic structures report on all of the North Family Buildings as part of a Save America’s Treasures grant. In 2004 Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon acquired the North Family site. For two weeks during the summer of that year the museum, with the help of fifteen teenagers enrolled in the Landmark Volunteer Program, cleared the building of non-Shaker items that had collected there over the years. In 2011 and 2012 the museum, funded by the 1876 Foundation and in collaboration with Boston’s North Bennet Street School’s preservation carpentry program, completed extensive repairs to the Brick Shop’s slate roof, chimneys, gutters, leaders, and leader-heads, and unusual plaster covered soffits.


North Family Brethren’s Workshop, Mount Lebanon Shaker Village. October 3, 2016. From the series “Shadows of the Shakers” by Benjamin Swett.

Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon is working on ways to open this building up to the public in 2017, beginning with Writings on the Walls, tours that look at graffiti left there by the Shakers and those who came after them. In the meantime, Swett’s photographs of the Brethren’s Workshop are on view at the Shaker Bar in Hudson, NY. Join us this Saturday, November 19, 2016 for a reception for the artist. All are welcome. Members show their membership cards for a free drink. Prints are provided courtesy of BCB Art and these limited editions are for sale at the gallery and at the Shaker Museum | Museum’s online store.  A portion of the proceeds from each sale benefit the museum.


Mail bag

Mail Bag (exterior), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1848, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1953.6621.1.

Mail Bag (exterior), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1848, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1953.6621.1.

On October 1, 1861, a post office was established at the North Family at Mount Lebanon. Elder Richard Bushnell was appointed the first postmaster. The creation of this post office caused the Shakers to change their village name from New Lebanon to Mount Lebanon so as not to confuse their post office with the one in the town in which they lived. This office operated at the North Family until the fall of 1863, when the Elders there requested it be removed, saying, “they cannot abide it there any longer on account of advantages that young believers take of it, in their mail matters also, on account of the great gathering of company there on that account.” [1] Apparently the post office was too great a social draw and the Elders disapproved. As a result, the post office was moved to the less central Church Family Office where it was managed by one sister or another until it finally closed in 1930.

Mail Bag (interior), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1848, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1953.6621.1.

Mail Bag (interior), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1848, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1953.6621.1.

Prior to the establishment of their own post office, the Shakers at Mount Lebanon made use of the local post offices in New Lebanon and Lebanon Springs, collecting their mail and bringing it back to the village for distribution. The object at hand, a heavy leather cylindrical carrying case lined with brown linen, and just over twenty inches long and eight and a half inches in diameter, was used to retrieve the Shakers’ mail. Sisters at Canterbury, NH recollected that it had once belonged to Elder Frederick Evans at the North Family and was used by him for that purpose. This style of bag, sometimes called a portmanteau, was used by the Post Office Department in the mid-1800s to transport mail because it is nearly weatherproof. The large outside leather flap straps down over a small oval door that also can be tightly buckled. On the top front of the outer flap the words, “NEW. LEBANON. NY. FEBy. 1848.” are blind stamped in the leather.

The mail bag was purchased from the Canterbury Shakers by H. Phelps Clawson and donated to the Museum in 1953. Clawson was the Museum’s first curator and was responsible for the initial cataloguing of the Shaker collection assembled by museum founder John S. Williams, Sr.

[1] “A Register of Incidents and Events [Kept by the Ministry], Church Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, 1849-1890, New York Public Library, Shaker Collection, mss. no. 4, p. 168.