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
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
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
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
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.