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North Family Farmhouse, one of the earliest buildings in the district
National Register of Historic Places collection

Of the 26 original buildings, only 13 remain to tell the story of the Shirley Shaker Village in Massachusetts. Begun in 1793, the community received most of its land from a group of four generous benefactors. Affluent landowners of that region, Nathan Willard, Elijah and Ivory Wildes, and John Warren, donated hundreds of acres to the fledgling community. Blossoming around the houses of these principal land donors, the Shirley Shaker society developed into three separate families: the Church, North, and South families. Surviving into the 20th century, the community continued to expand, with a membership of 150 individuals by 1853.

[photo] One of many brick buildings in the district, Shirley's Administration Building is similar to that built at Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire
National Register of Historic Places collection

Typical of most Shaker architecture, the buildings of Shirley consisted of either clapboard or brick construction. The yellow and white clapboard structures preceded those of brick, which appeared only after the founding of a local brick factory in the 1840s. In addition to exterior fašades, the interiors, especially those of the dwellings, were prototypically Shaker. In 1875, visitor William Dean Howells described the "the unpapered walls, the scrubbed floors hidden only by rugs and strips of carpeting, and the plain flat finish of the wood-work. Each chamber accommodates two brothers or two sisters, and is appointed with two beds, two rocking chairs, two wash stands, and a wood stove with abundance of rugs.there were few tokens of personal taste in the arrangements of the rooms."

With abundant apples trees, the Shirley Shakers utilized their natural resources and maintained a profitable applesauce industry throughout the 19th century. At times, however, the Believers ventured into broom-making, jelly-making, mop manufacturing, and herb preparation. However, similar to the plight of the Alfred Shakers, the plethora of economic enterprises failed to sustain the Shakers of Shirley, finally forcing the community to dissolve in 1908. Leaving their homes and land behind, the remaining members migrated to the Harvard Shaker Village to continue practicing their religious devotion and live out the rest of their lives.

[graphic] Previous Site rocking chair

Shirley Shaker Village is located south of Shirley, Massachusetts, on Harvard Rd. It is now part of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution complex. Periodic tours of the village are offered and private group tours for 8-12 people can be arranged; there is a fee. For more information call the Shirley Historical Society Saturdays and Mondays from 10:00am to 1:00pm at 978-425-9328, visit the musem's website or email them at

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