Shakers resided at Hancock and West Pittsfield from the 1780s until 1960. They lived community-centered lives devoted to worship and focused on peace, stewardship, quality, simplicity and innovation. With the 1826 Round Stone Barn as the center of a thriving dairy industry, and with many acres of vegetables, fruits, and medicinal herbs, the Shakers named their utopian village the City of Peace. Today, the village continues its life as a living history museum. Hancock Shaker Village, a National Historic Landmark and an official project of Save America’s Treasures, offers tours, workshops, exhibitions and special events, along with a graduate program in historic preservation in partnership with UMass Amherst, as well as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.
Hancock Shaker Village brings the Shaker story to life and preserves it for future generations. Through this story we promote appreciation of the aesthetics, beliefs, achievements and controversies that have defined the Shaker experience in America.
Our vision is “to become a center for reflection on leading a principled life. The values that the Shakers embraced – equality, pacifism, community, sustainability, responsible land stewardship, innovation, simplicity, and quality in work – resonate for us today. Our programs and business practices reflect these values. We utilize our site and our collections to help the public engage with contemporary thinking on these values while learning about historical Shaker expressions of these principles in their work, worship and community.”
The Shakers are a religious order which believed in pacifism, celibacy, and communal living. Worship could take the form of singing and ecstatic dance, which is why they were called the “Shaking Quakers,” or “Shakers.” The utopian sect is renowned today for its plain architecture and furniture.
In 1774, Mother Ann Lee led eight Shaker converts from Manchester, England, to America, seeking freedom to live, work, and worship. The Shakers believed in racial and gender equality, simplicity, and pacifism. One of the most intriguing religious movements in American history, the Shakers are considered by many to be the most successful of utopian societies that have flourished in this country. The Shakers have made important contributions to American culture including art, architecture, craftsmanship, music, government, agriculture, and commerce. Hancock Shaker Village, a National Historic Landmark, brings the Shaker story to life and preserves it for future generations. Visit Hancock Shaker Village and be inspired by the principled living and extraordinary lives of the Shakers in America.
The Hancock community was started in 1783 with the consolidation of land donated by converted farmers. Land acquisition and conversion continued for decades, with the acreage peaking at 3,000 and the population rising to over 300. It was the third of nineteen major Shaker villages established between 1783 and 1836 in New York, New England, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana under the leadership of Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright.
One of the most notable buildings is the “Round Stone Barn”, built in 1826. The Round Stone Barn was created in a circular form for several reasons, the primary one being that the shape was simply the most convenient. Inside the barn there are four rings. The inner most is also the smallest and is simply for ventilation. This ventilation is necessary to help draw the moisture out of the hay, and to prevent it overheating. The next ring out is where the hay was stored. It was tossed in from an upper balcony that was over the outer two rings. The third ring out was where the Shaker brothers would walk to distribute the hay in the second ring to the cows standing in the outermost, fourth ring. The barn could hold up to 70 cows at a time. Normally, they would go to the barn twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening to be milked. Once inside the barn they would be put into wooden stantions. From there they would eat complacently while the brothers milked them. The floor of the outermost ring is split level, with the inner part raised up 3 inches so that the milk buckets are not on the same level as the manure.
After reaching peak membership in the 1840s, the Shaker movement gradually dwindled, partially due to the urban migration that followed the Industrial Revolution. By the early twentieth century, the population of the village had fallen to around 50, most of which were children. Excess land was sold, and many buildings were destroyed.