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[photo] Shaker artifacts today on display at the Shaker Historical Museum at the North Union Shaker Site
Courtesy of the Shaker Historical Museum

The North Union Shaker Site, near Cleveland, Ohio, was established in 1822 when Ralph Russell, a pioneer settler from Connecticut, persuaded his family and neighbors to convert to the Shaker religion. Today, all the buildings of this former village have been demolished, but the land on which it once stood is a rich archeological site. Ralph Russell's group began the North Union Shaker community by donating more than 1,000 acres. A few years later, the Shakers of North Union achieved one of their first monumental goals. In damming the Doan Brook in 1826, they were able to create a lake and establish both a gristmill and a sawmill. Consequently, the Mill Family was founded to operate the mills and provide for the community by refining grain and producing usable wood. At the same time the Mill Family and the community as a whole focused on reworking and strengthening the dam, completing the process by 1836. One year later a third family unit, the Gathering Family, was established.

Shaker chairs, like all Shaker furniture, displayed a simplicity of design that reflected Shaker beliefs
Courtesy of the Shaker Historical Museum

Over the next two decades, the North Union community established more mills and by the early 1850s, they recognized the need for a second dam. Completed in 1854, this second earthen dam created the Upper counterpart to the previously established Lower Lake. Unfortunately, by 1889 the community disbanded, and sold their land to a pair of brothers interested in city planning and design. O. P. and M. J. Van Sweringen developed Shaker Heights as a garden-city suburb inspired by the rural beauty of Shaker landscapes. In 1892, 280 acres of the Shaker Lakes Parklands were donated to the City of Cleveland. Today, public access to the archeological site of the North Union Shaker community is restricted to ensure its preservation and to allow further archeological investigation. However, most of the parklands and Shaker Lakes are accessible via walking trails both in Cleveland Heights on the north shore of Doan Brook and Shaker Heights on the south shore of Doan Brook. Located on land that was once the North Union apple orchard, the Shaker Historical Museum interprets the history of the Shakers who once lived here, and referred to the area spiritually as "The Valley of God's Pleasure." The museum features furniture and artifacts from North Union and other Shaker communities, the Spirit Tree Museum Shop and the Nord Library.

[graphic] Previous Site rocking chair

The North Union Shaker Site is located in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Visitors can go to the Shaker Historical Museum, at 16740 South Park Blvd., open year round Tuesday- Friday and Sunday, but closed major holidays. For more information call 216-921-1201 or visit the website.

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