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[photo] Current views and an historic image c1870 of the Watervliet Shaker Historic District
Courtesy of Shaker Heritage Society

The Watervliet Shaker Historic District, in Colonie, New York, was the first Shaker settlement in America and where Mother Ann Lee lived her final days. Leaving behind their native England, Lee and a small group of seven followers arrived in New York City in 1774 to establish a purer form of the United Society of Believers. The utopian-minded religious group established Watervliet in Albany County, New York, only two years later. While Watervliet was the first settlement of Shakers, the first "formal" organization was established at Mount Lebanon, where the first Shaker building was erected in the mid-1780s. Although the center of authority shifted to Mount Lebanon, Watervliet grew to include four families and prospered in the early 19th century by focusing on agricultural and commercial production. Specifically, the Watervliet Shakers concentrated on garden seeds and corn brooms, two very profitable items in the early 1800s. The monumental three and one-half story West Family broom shop testifies to the broom-making activity that once took place here.


Shaker cemetery where Mother Ann Lee, the leader and founder of the American Shakers, is buried along with 444 other Shakers
Courtesy of Shaker Heritage Society

Architecturally, Watervliet adhered to the model established at Mount Lebanon. From dwellings, to barns, to the Trustees' Office, all buildings were constructed out of either wood or brick, with functional design, simple forms and clean lines. The 20th-century decline of this Shaker village resulted in some deviation from Shaker standards, such as a non-Shaker superintendent hired to manage the South Family farm. Architectural evidence of these deviations is seen in the porches added to several Watervliet buildings. By 1926, the Church Family site was purchased by Albany County, which demolished all but eight buildings. In 1977, the Shaker Heritage Society was formed to educate the public about the influence of the Shakers on the region, and to restore and use the remaining Shaker buildings. This site is extremely important among Shaker villages as it is America's first Shaker settlement and the place where Mother Ann Lee, Father William Lee, Mother Lucy Wright and 442 other Shakers are buried.

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The Watervliet Shaker Historic District is located near Albany International Airport, in Colonie, New York. Operated by the Shaker Heritage Society, the site is open Tuesday-Saturday 9:30am to 4:00pm, closed major holidays and the entire month of January. Guided tours are available for a small fee Saturdays, June-October at 11:30am and 1:30pm. For group tours or more information call 518-456-7890 or visit the website. Watervliet Shaker Historic District is also featured in our Places Where Women Made History itinerary.

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