Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village

My previous post was on Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire, where I mentioned a little bit about the Shaker religion. Several days after visiting Canterbury, we visited the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine, near Sabbathday Lake. I regret that we passed up an opportunity to take a tour there. We'd already taken a tour in Canterbury and Sabbathday looked so much smaller and access was so much more restricted that we decided not to spend the time and money. As I look back and read a little more about it, I wished we'd taken more time. 

I quote some excerpts from Charles Nordhoff’s 1875 book titled, The Communistic Societies of the United States

"The New Gloucester Society lies in Cumberland County [Maine], about twenty-five miles northwest of Portland. It consists of two families, having together about seventy members, of whom one third are men. In 1823 it had three families, the third being gathered in 1820, and broken up in 1831. The society had in 1823 one hundred and fifty members. It was "gathered" in 1794…[There] are persons who were farmers, merchants, printers, wool-weavers, and Some mechanics.

The Church Family lives in a valley, the Gathering Family on a high ridge, about a mile off, and overlooking an extensive tract of country. The society has two thousand acres of land, and owns a saw-mill, grist-mill, and a very complete machine shop. The people raise garden seeds, make brooms, dry measures, wire sieves, and the old-fashioned spinning-wheel, which, it seems, is still used in Maine and New Hampshire by country-women to make stocking yarn. But its most profitable industry is the manufacture of oak staves for molasses hogsheads, which are exported to the West Indies. One of the elders of this society, Hewitt Chandler, a man of uncommon mechanical ingenuity, and the inventor of a mowing-machine which was made here for some years, has contrived a way of bending staves without setting them up in the cask, which saves much time and labor, and makes this part of their business additionally profitable. They made last year also a thousand dollars' worth of pickles; and the women make fancy articles in their spare time. They employ from fifteen to twenty laborers in their mills and other works, most of whom are boarded and lodged on the place.

The meeting-house at this place was built in 1794, and the dwelling of the Church Family in the following year. Both are of wood, are still in good order, and have never been re-shingled. The second family at this place was "gathered" in 1808, at Gorham, in Maine, and removed to its present location in 1819. It had then twenty brethren and thirty-two sisters; and has now only twenty members in all. Very few of the people here eat meat. Some drink tea, but coffee is not used. They have flower gardens, and would have an organ or melodeon if they could afford it. The young people promise well; and they have lately received several young men as members, sons of neighboring farmers, who had worked for them as hired people for a number of years.

This society is less prosperous than most of the others. It has met with several severe losses by unfaithful and imprudent agents and trustees, who in one case ran up large debts for several years, contrary to the wise rule of the Shakers to "owe no man any thing," and in another case brought loss by defalcation. The hill family have built a large stone house, but owing to losses have not been able to complete it. The buildings at New Gloucester show signs of neglect; but the people are very industrious, and have in the last three years paid off a large sum which they owed through the default of their agents; and they will work their way out in the next two years. To prevent their being entirely crippled, the other societies helped them with a subscription."

The red brick building below, to the back left, is the Dwelling House, built in 1883. The white building to the immediate right is the Spinhouse, then to its left, the Boys' Shop, then the Herb House, and then the Sister's Shop.  
A closer view of the Spinhouse.
The Trustee's Office, just across the dirt road from the buildings above, which also has a small gift shop now. 
A Garage, built in 1910 for the first car, and fenced in pasture behind it, full of sheep.
A closer view of sheep and Sabbathday Lake barely visible in the center, just to the left of the large, center tree.
340 acre Sabbathday Lake. The village owns 29 cottages on the lake which they lease to help support the land and buildings. 


  1. These are strange towns. I would like to travel to one of those to can understand their costumes.

  2. How interesting. I am kind of shocked they let you take pictures. Some do not like that.