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Shaker Heritage Society

In 1774, a small group of English Shakers led by Mother Ann Lee arrived in New York City. Two years later, they settled in Albany County in an area known (by local Indians) as Niskayuna, called Watervliet by the descendants of the Dutch settlers and now known as the Town of Colonie. The group was known as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. They were commonly referred to as "Shakers," a name the group itself also used.

A Christian religious sect, the Shakers believed in confession of sins, celibacy, separation from the outside world, and common ownership of property as the principal tenets of their faith. They also believed in the equality of the sexes, absence of racial discrimination, the devotion to industry, perfection and pacifism.

The Shaker's first building, a log cabin built in the winter of 1775-76, was approximately 500 yards north of the Church Family site, which is now the grounds of the Ann Lee Home. There Ann Lee and her small band of followers began to change this swampy land into a farm which eventually grew into four communities or "families": the Church, North, West, and South Families.

The Shaker community here numbered about 350 in the middle of the 19th century, but only a few remained when the last Shaker eldress of this community died in 1938 and the remaining Shakers moved to Hancock and Mount Lebanon.

Initially, most Shakers at each site lived in one communal settlement, but a few members who joined stayed on their own farms. In 1787, the Lead Ministry, then at Mt. Lebanon, directed all members to join the communal settlements, which were known as "Families.

The first communal dwelling house at Watervliet, probably of logs, was built in 1779. It was soon replaced by a good-sized dwelling built in 1783; this was used until a larger one was built in 1816, when the original became the "second house" and was used as a kind of infirmary.

The Shaker "families" would range in size from 50 to 150 people.

At Watervliet the building of both a new dwelling house and a new meeting house in 1790-91 was made necessary by the great "ingathering" or influx of new members that occurred from that time until 1850, causing the enlargement of established communities and the creation of new ones.

Come, visit the site of America's First Shaker Settlement. Begin with a visit to the museum or the gift shop, then pick up your self-guided tour of the Shaker site - the Shaker buildings and heritage herb garden, the barnyard and animals, the trails around the Ann Lee Pond Nature preserve, and the Shaker Cemetery where the society founder, Ann Lee, and other early Shakers are buried.

The Museum & Gift Shop are in the 1848 Shaker Meeting House, located on the grounds of the Ann Lee Home, right next to the Albany International Airport.

Visiting the Shaker Heritage Society

Open February to October - Tuesday thru Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.. November & December - Monday thru Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Guided tours on Saturdays June thru October at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., when available.

Specifics on visiting the Shaker Heritage Society were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
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