Maine's Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community

Deborah Holmes

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The 1850's "Boys Shop," where boys taken in by the Shakers lived, is now a museum and reception center.

Just a short distance from the Poland SpringPreservation Park, you'll find the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, where a small group of Shakers live, work and worship. One of 15 Shaker Communitieslisted on the National Register of Historic Places, the Sabbathday Lake Village is one ofnine open to the public.

Sunday meeting, beginning at 10 a.m. is open to the public.

The United Society of Believers (Shakers) began in Manchester, England in 1747.Derisively dubbed "Shaking Quaker" for the vigorous dancing of members duringworship, the group came to America in the late 1700s because of a vision of its leader,Ann Lee, or Mother Ann.

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The "Meeting House," which still holds worship services

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The library is open to the public

The Shakers were ardent believers in the utopian ideal of "heaven on earth,"and practiced community ownership of property, pacifism, gender equality, and confession ofsin. If their active worship style unnerved non-believers, the Shaker challenge to the dominant values of the early 1800s lead to their persecution here and in England. The Shakers were associated with many of the reform movements of the 19th century, including feminism, pacifism and abolitionism. dissented from to theprevailing ideas about worship, marriage and the family, and about community ownership ofproperty, led to persecution both in England and America.

Since Shakers believed in celibacy, the community could only grow through new recruits-- and the persecution of the leaders of the movement had the effect of galvanizingsupporters and new converts. By the late 1700s, the Shakers, lead by American converts,had established communities throughout the East.

A distinctive style of buildings and furniture sprang from the Shaker communities. The rules governing the religious communes prohibited "odd or fanciful styles of architecture." Shaker buildings were plain, well proportioned and without embellishments. The same rules governed furniture, boxes and baskets Shakers were known for. Function, rather than beauty, was the primary consideration -- although others outside the Shaker community quickly found beauty in the clean, functional lines of the style.

The historical simplicity of the Shaker lifestyle sometimes leads to an erroneousassumption that these were communities of isolationists that rejected technology.

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A place for everything...and everything in its place. Shakers made efficient use of storage space, as in these drawers built into a stairway at the Shaker South Village in Worcester, Mass. Photo: Historic American Building Survey.

Far from isolationists, the Shakers of Sabbathday Lake established and ran the localpublic school system for the area, and had a healthy and prosperous business relationshipwith the Ricker Family of Poland Spring.

Shaker workers made the wooden barrels and stoneware jugs for the early bottled water,and later manufactured wooden crates for bottles of the water. Shaker girls and womenregularly traveled to the Poland Spring (as well as resorts throughout the East) to selltheir fancy work to tourists.

The Shakers invented many time and money saving devices, including the wringer washer,flat broom, rotary harrow, wrinkle-resistant fabric, a pea sheller, a revolving oven, amachine for coring and quartering apples. Shakers throughout the East were often among thefirst in a community to get electricity. The Sabbathday Lake Shakers were the first in NewGloucester to own an automobile, purchased used in 1909.

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Innovative sliding laundry dryers, at the Mount Lebanon Shaker Village in New York.
Photo: Historic American Building Survey.

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Although the Shakers believed in gender equality, they also believed in a separation of the sexes in worship and at other times. Meeting rooms had a side and separate entrances for men and women.
Photo: Historic American Building Survey.

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Wooden shutters on this window in the Shaker Community in Worcester County, Massachusetts, slide up from the bottom to cover the window.
Photo: Historic American Building Survey.

The Shaker Village at Sabbathday Lake, like the others throughout the country, are nowlargely run by non-profit historical societies. However, Sabbathday Lake is one of the Shaker communities that still accepts new recruits, as it has since 1783.

The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village is located at 707 Shaker Rd., New Gloucester,Maine. It is open to the public Monday-Saturday, from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, closedSundays. Worship services are open to the public and begin at 10 a.m. For more information call the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community, orclick here.

Further information

National Park Service Travel Itinerary, "Shaker Historical Trail."

Stories on the nearby Poland Spring Preservation Park.

Smithsonian Jorneys, April 2001, "Livinga Tradition."

About the Author
By Deborah Holmes, The Old House Web

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