The Shaker Settlement at Harvard, founded in 1781-1782, was one of close to 20 religious communities established in the eastern states by the United Society of Believers in Christs Second Appearing, or the Shakers. The society was made up of followers of Ann Lee, known as Mother Ann, thought to be the female, second incarnation of Christ. The Harvard Settlement was the second Shaker community in the United States and the first in Massachusetts. It closely follows the general layout of the first settlement, which was near Albany, NY, in a community called Watervliet, also a National Register property. Ann Lee advocated celibacy, rigid order, efficiency and equity, along with exuberant celebration. These elements can be found in the physical layout of the Harvard community. The layout split the community into four families, North, East, South and Church (where the elders and elderesses lived)--only the latter two remain today. The simple meetinghouses, dwellings, and workplaces reflect the distinct hierarchy of leadership and the Shaker doctrine prohibiting "odd or fanciful styles of architecture." The Shakers were self-sufficient and sold applesauce, seeds, herbs, wine, milk, and the famed Shaker furniture and small crafts. In the 1850s, the population peaked at about 200 members and its landholdings totaled over 2,000 acres. After the Civil War, many of the members left and the population plummeted to under 40 by 1890. The Shakers were forced to sell both the East and North Family areas. The buildings in the remaining areas are privately owned and the surrounding land is under a conservation easement.
The Harvard Shaker Village Historic District is located on Shaker Road in Harvard, MA. The buildings of the district are not open to the public.