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[photo] The Second Meetinghouse at the Mount Lebanon Shaker Village was the spiritual center of the community
Courtesy of Mount Lebanon Shaker Village

The Mount Lebanon Shaker Society, now the Shaker Museum/Mount Lebanon, in New Lebanon, New York, was the largest and most industrious Shaker community from 1785 until 1947, and the spiritual center of Shaker society in the United States. In the wake of the death of Mother Ann Lee in 1784, the United Society of Believers came under the leadership of Father James Whittaker. In turn, Whittaker established a new era of Shakerism by founding an entirely original community, one which would ideally become the center of Shaker ideology in America. With construction beginning in 1785, the Shakers of Mount Lebanon soon developed into the society that Whittaker envisioned, a model for all other Believer Societies to follow. At its peak, Mount Lebanon consisted of 600 members and hundreds of buildings spread out over 6,000 acres. The community was know as "New Lebanon" (for the adjacent town of New Lebanon) until 1861 when the Federal government officially recognized it as "Mount Lebanon" and granted the Shakers an independent post office.

[photo] Characteristic brick Shaker building found at Mount Lebanon--a Brothers' Shop
Courtesy of Mount Lebanon Shaker Village

In addition to being a spiritual model, Mount Lebanon also became an architectural model. Father Joseph Meachum (Whittaker's replacement), developed Mount Lebanon and standardized his plans for subsequent communities. The first Meetinghouse, built in 1785, was not only the first building at Mount Lebanon, but also the first Shaker Meetinghouse in America. Construction expanded linearly from the Meetinghouse as multiple buildings were designed and erected to provide living and working quarters for the eight families that comprised the community. Setting the precedent for all other communities to come, Mount Lebanon buildings maintained a characteristic form based on simplicity and functionalism. One such example is the Second Meetinghouse, built in 1824. Designed to accommodate the peculiar requirements of the Shaker religion, the building had an arched roof and five entryways, with the left door for Brothers, the middle for Elders, the right for Sisters, and two on the East side for non-Shakers. Unusual Shaker architecture can also be found at Mount Lebanon. The Ministry House and the Main Dwelling, built much later than most Shaker buildings in 1875, reflect the external influence of the Victorian style. These buildings were unique within the Shaker society, and reflect the pervasive nature of this late 19th-century architectural style.

Mount Lebanon also set precedents for commercial and industrial activity. Seed production, patent medicines and chair manufacturing were among the many lucrative industries that supported the community. During Mount Lebanon's most active period, several hundred institutional buildings served the Shakers' domestic, industrial and agricultural needs. However, by the early 1930s, Shaker influence in the area had all but vanished, with the last Mount Lebanon Shaker dying in 1947. Over the following years, the village was broken into three sections and sold. Today, known as the Shaker Museum/Mount Lebanon, the site hosts walking tours and a museum. The impressive remains of the North Family's Great Stone Barn give testimony to the importance of the village's agricultural industry, its economic success, and the vision of the community. In December of 2014 a grant was awarded for the restoration of the barn.

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The Mount Lebanon Shaker Society, a National Historic Landmark, is located along US Rte. 20, in New Lebanon, New York. Walking tours guide visitors to the North, Center and Church Family buildings, including the great arch-roofed Meetinghouse. For more information visit their website.

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