Wayside pulpits for the wayward traveler

fig 1..wayside pulpit, vince pecoraro, photographer

“Wayside Pulpit,” Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1928, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 2008.10.47. Photograph by Vince Pecoraro for the Chatham Courier at the exhibition The Shakers: America’s Quiet Revolutionaries, New York State Museum, Albany, NY, 2015.

In 1919 the Unitarian Minister Henry Saunderson of First Parish Church, Brighton, Massachusetts, noting that bulletin boards placed in front of churches were underused, decided to write short, pointed “wayside sermons” to induce people to stop, read, and search their consciences. After posting his first few sermons and noting the great number of people who did stop and read, he enlisted a number of local ministers to subscribe to his sermons and agree to post them on their bulletin boards. To make this work, the subscribers built “Wayside Community Pulpits” of a size that would accommodate messages printed on a 32 x 44 inch sheet of paper. The movement grew quickly, reaching Reverend H. Harrold Johnson in Manchester, England the following year. Johnson and his subscribers posted hand-painted 40 x 30 inch messages every Sunday morning for the next fifty years.

fig 2..second family dwelling with wayside pulpit, acc. no. 1989.03.01

Winter, William F., “Dwelling- Second Family 1930,” Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1989.03.01.

In the winter of 1928 Brother William H. Perkins and Sister Lillian I. Barlow made a Wayside Pulpit to place outside of the Second Family Dwelling House at Mount Lebanon. The new Pulpit was photographed in the summer of 1930 by William F. Winter as he documented the Lebanon Shakers for the New York State Museum. Perkins was born in Manchester, England in 1861 and immigrated to the United States specifically to join the Shakers, arriving at the North Family in June of 1914. He soon asked to transfer to the Second Family and there he and Sister Lillian Barlow constituted the Mount Lebanon Woodworking Company. Brother William was a trained carpenter and wood carver when he came to the Shakers and seemed naturally drawn to practice that trade. Sister Lillian was born in Mississippi in 1876, came to the Shakers as a girl, and spent most of her Shaker life at the Second Family. When the Second Family was sold in 1940, she moved to the North Family for her remaining years.

In removing the paper pulpit message for conservation work prior to exhibiting it in The Shakers: America’s Quiet Revolutionaries at the New York State Museum, an inscription was discovered on the board to which the pulpit message is mounted. It reads: “Made December 1 to 7 1928 W. H. Perkins   L. I. Barlow.”

fig 3..wayside pulpit with inscription

“Wayside Pulpit,” (inscription on back of the mounting board), Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1928, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 2008.10.47.

It is interesting to theorize about how the Second Family Shakers decided to erect a Wayside Pulpit. Noting that Perkins was born in Manchester, England, it seems possible that, although he came to the Shakers five years prior to the erection of the first Pulpit in Manchester, he may have known about Johnson’s movement from friends or relatives. The choice to make the Shakers’ Wayside Pulpit according to the dimensions specified by Johnson rather than those of the American Saunderson and the fact that the one existing Shaker pulpit message is hand-painted rather than printed, suggests that the Shakers subscribed to receive their sermons each week from the English movement rather than the American.

In William F. Winter’s 1930 photograph of the Second Family Dwelling, a second sign is mounted along the road that reads “Remember ‘Mother Ann’ Second Family Shakers Hands to Work – Hearts to God.” At this time it is not known who made the sign or when, or when it was mounted between the two trees, but it is likely that it is also the work of Brother William and Sister Lillian. Both signs are in the collection of the Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon.

fig 7..1962.13778.1

Sign, “Remember ‘Mother Ann’ Second Family Shakers ‘Hands to Work – Hearts to God,’” Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 1962.13778.1


The history of a sign

figure 6

[sign], Second and South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1870-1920s, pine, paint. 1950.1095.1

This sign directing people to where they could purchase the well-known Shaker chairs has had a more varied life than one would guess at first glance.
noc6111.3 detail

Stereograph, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1875. 1953.6117.3

By the mid-nineteenth century most Shaker families at Mount Lebanon had an Office from which they conducted public commerce; most of these Offices also housed a store where the public could buy Shaker products. The public road that ran through Mount Lebanon was peppered with signs that read Office & Store. The North, Church, Center, Second, and South Families all had signs like this one. This particular sign appears to have had three incarnations over the years as its purpose and location changed. It was apparently first mounted on the door cap, the wedge-shaped porch roofs used on Shaker buildings to protect their doorways and steps, of the Second Family’s Office and Store.  It is painted to read OFFICE & STORE and appearance and location is preserved in a stereograph probably dating from the 1870s.



[Sarah Collins in Front of the Chair Shop], Mount Lebanon, NY ca. 1910. 2012.023252.001

By the 1920s the sign appears in several photographs at the South Family, where it hung above the door of the Brethren’s Workshop where chairs were sold. By this time the word OFFICE had been modified to read CHAIR, the “and” or “&” removed and the word STORE possibly touched up but mostly unchanged.
When William F. Winter was photographing buildings at Mount Lebanon in the 1920s for the New York State Museum (later to be incorporated into the Historic American Buildings Survey’s photographic documentation of Shakers at Mount Lebanon), the word STORE had been painted over with the word SHOP. That remains the sign’s message.