Hancock Shaker Village

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Hancock Shaker Village
Round Stone Barn, Hancock Shaker Village MA.jpg
Shaker barn
Hancock Shaker Village is located in Massachusetts
Hancock Shaker Village
Hancock Shaker Village is located in the United States
Hancock Shaker Village
Nearest cityHancock, Massachusetts
Coordinates42°25′48″N 73°20′20″W / 42.43°N 73.339°W / 42.43; -73.339Coordinates: 42°25′48″N 73°20′20″W / 42.43°N 73.339°W / 42.43; -73.339
NRHP reference #68000037
Added to NRHPNovember 24, 1968[1]

Hancock Shaker Village is a former Shaker village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts that was established in 1791. It was the third of nineteen major Shaker villages established between 1783 and 1836 in New York, New England, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana under the leadership of "Mother" Ann Lee and later Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright.[2]

The village was closed by the Shakers in 1960, and sold to a local group, who now operate the property as a museum. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1968.


Brother Ricardo Belden making oval boxes in a workshop at Hancock in 1935

The Shaker religion began in Manchester, England in 1747 and found its leader in a charismatic young woman named Ann Lee. In 1770, she is said to have had visions and revelations which taught her that only by renouncing sexual relations could humankind ever achieve entrance into heaven. After enduring persecution in England, a small group of Shakers, including Lee, set sail for America in 1774. They came to settle in the Albany, New York area, and from there expanded through missionary trips in the Northeast. Mother Ann died in 1784. What had started as a small following eventually expanded to a religion that, at its height in the mid-nineteenth century, claimed over 5,000 believers.[3] The Shakers are a religious order who believe in pacifism, celibacy, communal living, and gender equality. In the nineteenth century Shaker worship included singing, shaking, and ecstatic dance, which is why they were called the "Shaking Quakers," or "Shakers." The utopian sect is known for its plain architecture and furniture. A handful of Shakers still practice their faith in a Shaker settlement in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.[4]

The Hancock community was started in 1783 with the consolidation of land donated by converted farmers, many of them members of the Goodrich family, who were New Light Baptists in the congregation of Valentine Rathbun. Elder Calvin Harlow and Eldress Sarah Harrison were the first leaders of the Hancock Shakers. The group was poor at first, but with good leadership, hard work, and thrift, they attracted more members and built a thriving community of several communal families.[5]

All supported themselves by the proceeds of their farmland. The Hancock Shakers were primarily dairy farmers. The raising and sale of garden seeds was perhaps the most lucrative of their early businesses.[6] Land acquisition and conversion continued for decades, with the area peaking at 3,000 acres (12 km2) and the population rising to over 300.[7] After reaching peak membership in the 1840s, the Shaker movement gradually dwindled, partially due to the urban migration that accompanied the Industrial Revolution, and by the westward migration of New England's youth. By the early twentieth century, the population of the village had fallen to around 50, most of whom were children. The remaining Shakers sold off their excess land, and many buildings were destroyed.[7] The decision was eventually made in 1960 to close the village and sell the property and buildings.

Non-Shakers were impressed by the Hancock Shaker property—scrupulously clean, neat, and well-tended—and their innovations in farming, such as the round barn that attracted much attention (see description below). Visitors also praised Hancock Shakers' products, including boxes "of beautiful workmanship" and garden seeds. Before 1820, the village was prosperous and the Shakers were respected as good neighbors.[8]


1826 Round Stone Barn[edit]

The round barn at Hancock Shaker Village. Temporary art installation in the foreground.

One of the most notable buildings in the village is the "Round Stone Barn" built in 1826. That barn was built in a circular shape for several reasons, the primary one being that it was the most functional.

Inside the barn there are four rings. The innermost ring provides ventilation. This ventilation is necessary to help draw the moisture up and out of the hay which prevents mold from growing and the hay from eventually spontaneously combusting. The next ring out is where the hay was stored. It was tossed in from an upper level balcony that was accessible by ox-drawn wagon via a ramp outdoors. Because the barn was round, the wagons could enter, unload the hay and then exit the barn without ever having to back up. The third ring out was where the Shaker brothers would walk to distribute the hay from the second ring to the cows standing in the fourth (outermost) ring. The barn could hold up to 70 cows at a time. They would go to the barn twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening to be milked. Inside the barn they were put into wooden stanchions. Standing there, the cows could eat while the brothers milked them. The floor of the outermost ring is split level, with the inner part raised up 3 inches (76 mm). This was to prevent the unsanitary situation of having the milk buckets on the same level as the manure. In addition, the Shakers developed a way of efficiently removing the manure from the complex to use it for compost. Approximately every four feet around the outermost ring was a trapdoor which was used to quickly scoop the manure from the floor into a pit beneath the barn. Other workers would then access this pit to transport the manure to their gardens to be used as fertilizer.

1830 Brick Dwelling[edit]

The other iconic building is the large red-brick dwelling the Hancock Shakers built in 1830 served as dormitory housing to more than one hundred brothers and sisters.[9] The dwelling, like the barn, shows the Shakers' prosperity, as well as their appreciation of the benefits of space, ventilation, and labor-saving modern conveniences such as water piped indoors. The dwelling was a good advertisement for the creature comforts the society provided to its members. In modern times, the visitors to the Hancock Shaker Village can experience authentic Shaker meals in the dining room in the Brick Dwelling. Though the guests are no longer required to separate by sex while they eat, the event maintains its authenticity with its use of sermons, songs, hymns and reliance on natural and candle light.

The dwelling also shows how the sexes lived apart under one roof. Wide hallways separate the brethren's rooms from the sisters' rooms; separate doors and stairways for men and women meant that a sister never had to pass a brother going through those openings. Men and women ate at opposite ends of the dining room. The dwelling also has features unusual in habitations of their era; interior windows for borrowed light to illuminate an otherwise-dark stairwell, built-in cabinets and cases of drawers, dumb-waiters for moving food and dishes between the downstairs kitchen and the dining room on the floor above, an abundance of windows for light and ventilation. All of the windows in the building, rather than having a 90 degree angle with the wall, form a 45 (approx.) degree angle in the wall, which allows approximately 30 percent more light into the building—something that significantly keep the electrical bills low while experiencing more natural light.


In 1960, the Shaker Central Ministry closed the Hancock community, and sold its buildings and land. Purchasers formed the not-for-profit Hancock Shaker Village, Inc. to preserve the historic site.[10] The museum opened on July 1, 1961,[10] and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1968.[1] The museum's mission statement is "to bring the Shaker story to life and preserve it for future generations."

Over 60,000 people a year visit the museum between April and October. It has 20 historic buildings with over 22,000 artifacts, extensive gardens, a working farm, and hiking trails, and runs craft demonstrations. Several special celebrations take place throughout the season, including Baby Animals on the Shaker Farm in the spring and Country Fair in the fall.

As film location[edit]

Hancock Shaker Village was included in Bob Vila's A&E Network production Guide to Historic Homes of America.[11] On May 4, 2012, The Berkshire Eagle reported that Hancock Shaker Village was one of several local sites chosen for shooting in a low-budget thriller film, The Secret Village, with a climax at Hancock Village. The film crew shot scenes on-site on May 3, 2012.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. ^ Learn About the Shakers | Hancock Shaker Village Archived 2011-05-20 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Richard Francis, Ann the Word: The Story of Ann Lee, Female Messiah, Mother of the Shakers, The Woman Clothed with the Sun (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2000)
  4. ^ Williams, Kevin (2015-05-03). "A few good Shakers wanted". Al Jazeera America. Al Jazeera America. Retrieved 2015-06-16.
  5. ^ Deborah E. Burns, Shaker Cities of Peace, Love, and Union: A History of the Hancock Bishopric, (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1993), chapter 3.
  6. ^ Burns, Shaker Cities of Peace, Love, and Union, chapter 5.
  7. ^ a b Life at the Village | Hancock Shaker Village Archived 2011-05-20 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Glendyne R. Wergland, Visiting the Shakers, 1778-1849 (Clinton, N.Y.: Richard W. Couper Press, 2007), 97-121; Wergland, Visiting the Shakers, 1850-1899 (Clinton, N.Y.: Richard W. Couper Press, 2010), 73-114.
  9. ^ Tree, Christina; Davis, William (2011). Explorer's Guide Berkshire Hills & Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. The Countryman Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-1581578683. Retrieved 2015-06-16.
  10. ^ a b About the Village | Hancock Shaker Village Archived 2008-04-20 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Bob Vila (1996). "Bob Vila's Guide to Historic Homes of America". A&E Network.
  12. ^ Smith, Jenn (4 May 2012). "'Secret' is Out: Film made here". The Berkshire Eagle (Print). pp. A:1, A:4.

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