Buildings in the center of Harvard
Courtesy of Massachusetts Historical Commission
The Harvard Settlement was the second Shaker community in the
United States and the first in Massachusetts. Following a period
of religious unrest, a number of dissenters abandoned the Protestant
Church of Harvard and constructed in 1769 what was to become known
as the Square House. Seeking to establish relations with these
idealistic zealots, Mother Ann visited the leaderless group in
1781 and quickly brought them into the folds of the United Society
of Believers. Occasionally residing in the Square House herself,
Mother Ann gradually cemented Shaker influence over the region
and established a community of Shakers here over the next few
Similar to other Shaker settlements, the Harvard Shaker Village
was developed following the standard Family layout, with the Church,
North, South, and East complexes--only the latter two remain today.
Laboring together, the members of the Families effectively reworked
the landscape to the community's advantage. Digging drainage canals
where necessary, the Shakers succeeded in turning the surrounding
marshlands into productive, arable land, suitable for agriculture.
Not only did they modify the flatlands, but the Shakers altered
the nearby hills as well. Requiring a suitable place for their
outdoor religious practices, the Believers leveled the summit
of nearby Holy Hill and planted rows of maples in accordance with
the layout mentioned in the Millennial Laws (Shaker regulations
for everyday life). They toiled to reshape the world around them
as they attempted to create a "heaven on earth."
To further the development of their utopian society, the Shakers
put great care into their construction of buildings as well. The
two most significant buildings of Harvard Shaker Village are not
surprisingly located at the center of the Church Family complex.
The design and placement of the Meetinghouse, built in 1791, signified
that it was the most important building of the community--the center
of social and religious interaction. With a clapboard-sheathed exterior,
granite steps, and four entrances--separated both by gender and
for the elders--the Meetinghouse adhered to the prescribed design
established by the Society. Built about 50 years later, the New
Office was the site of a number of important activities. A full
6 stories high, daily business occurred on the first floor while
the trustees, guests, and office staff worked above. Today, the
New Office interior still contains an exceptional example of Shaker-built
cabinetry. Positioned near the South Family complex, the Harvard
Shaker Village Cemetery offers a different look at Shaker history.
With the first burial recorded in 1792, the cemetery is the final
resting place of more than 300 members of the Harvard community.
Walking among the cast iron grave markers, visitors can follow chronologically
the life and times of the people of the Harvard Shaker Village and
slowly piece together the past for themselves.
In the 1850s, the population peaked at about 200 members and its
landholdings totaled more than 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. In the early 20th century, the remaining Eldresses
sold Harvard's first office building, built in 1794, to preservationist
Clara Endicott Sears who moved the building to Fruitlands
Museum and opened it to the public.
Cemetery and Shaker Ministry
of Harvard Shaker Village
Cemetery: courtesy of Massachusetts Historical Commission,
Ministry: Photograph by A. Vose, from National Register collection