Watervliet Shaker Historic District

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Watervliet Shaker Historic District
Watervliet Shaker village, Albany, New York, circa 1870, Courtesy of Shaker Heritage Society.jpg
Watervliet Shaker village, Albany, New York, circa 1870, Courtesy of Shaker Heritage Society
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LocationWatervliet Shaker Rd., Colonie, New York
Coordinates 42°44′23″N73°49′6″W / 42.73972°N 73.81833°W / 42.73972; -73.81833 Coordinates: 42°44′23″N73°49′6″W / 42.73972°N 73.81833°W / 42.73972; -73.81833
Architectural styleShaker Style
NRHP reference # 73001160 (original)
73002247 (increase) [1]
Added to NRHPFebruary 20, 1973 (original)
September 20, 1973 (increase)

Watervliet Shaker Historic District, in Colonie, New York, is the site of the first Shaker community. It was established in 1776. The primary Shaker community, the Mount Lebanon Shaker Society, was started a bit later. Watervliet's historic 1848 Shaker meetinghouse has been restored and is used for public events, such as concerts.

Colonie, New York Town in New York, United States

Colonie is a town in Albany County, New York, United States. It is the most populous suburb of Albany, New York, and is the third largest town in area in Albany County, occupying about 11% of the county. Several hamlets exist within the town. As of the 2010 census, the town had a total population of 81,591.

Mount Lebanon Shaker Society

Mount Lebanon Shaker Society, also known as New Lebanon Shaker Society, was a communal settlement of Shakers in New Lebanon, New York. The earliest converts began to "gather in" at that location in 1782 and built their first meetinghouse in 1785. The early Shaker Ministry, including Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright, the architects of Shakers' gender-balanced government, lived there.


The founder of the Shakers, Mother Ann Lee, is buried here. [2]

Ann Lee English Shaker leader

Ann Lee, commonly known as Mother Ann Lee, was the leader of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, or the Shakers.

It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and the listing was expanded later in the same year. [1] Albany International Airport was constructed on the community's herb garden.

National Register of Historic Places federal list of historic sites in the United States

The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the United States federal government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance. A property listed in the National Register, or located within a National Register Historic District, may qualify for tax incentives derived from the total value of expenses incurred preserving the property.

Albany International Airport Airport outside of Albany, New York

Albany International Airport is seven miles (11 km) northwest of Albany, in Albany County, New York, United States. It is owned by the Albany County Airport Authority. ALB covers 1,000 acres (400 ha) of land.


The Shakers, who believed that spiritual ties were more significant than blood relationships, organized the community at Watervliet into four, large "families," each of which formed an independent, self-supporting unit with its own buildings, although all members worshiped in the same meetinghouse. They were known as the "Church," "North," "West," and "South" families. [2] At its high point, the community had 350 members and 2,500 acres (10 km2) of land. [2]

Shakers Christian plain people

The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, more commonly known as the Shakers, is a millenarian nontrinitarian restorationist Christian sect founded around the year 1747 in England and then organized in the United States in the 1780s. They were initially known as "Shaking Quakers" because of their ecstatic behavior during worship services. Espousing egalitarian ideals, women took on spiritual leadership roles alongside men, including founding leaders such as Jane Wardley, Mother Ann Lee, and Mother Lucy Wright. The Shakers emigrated from England in the 1770s and settled in Revolutionary colonial America, with an initial settlement at Watervliet, New York. They practice a celibate and communal lifestyle, pacifism, uniform charismatic worship, and their model of equality of the sexes, which they institutionalized in their society in the 1780s. They are also known for their simple living, architecture, technological innovation, and furniture.

In the early 19th-century, a custody battle involving a father who had gone to live at Watervleit with his minor child was widely publicized. The negative publicity caused the Shakers to establish a rule that married persons would not be accepted into Shaker communities unless both partners agreed to enter. [3]


The original buildings were log cabins, however, the oldest surviving buildings date to 1820. [2] Each "family" house had a basement, 3 living floors and an attic. [2] Kitchens, including the large kitchens for baking and canning, were located in the basement. [2] Each house had a wing for "sisters" and a wing for "brothers," with separate staircases; the wings were separated by large hall. [2] Not only bedrooms, but sitting rooms were separate. [2] Both sexes shared the dining and meeting rooms, but sat on opposite sides of the room. [2] Typically, 2 to 6 Believers of the same sex shared a bed chamber. [2] The buildings of the North family burned to the ground in 1920. [2] Other buildings were lost to neglect. or torn down over the years. [2] 22 buildings survive. [2]

Collectively, the buildings at Watervliet are regarded as among the finest and best preserved surviving Shaker buildings. [2]

Meeting House

The 1848 meetinghouse replaced a 1791 meetinghouse. [4] It is a plain, wooden building decorated according to the Shaker rule that "Meetinghouses should be painted white without, and of a bluish shade within." [4] It was the only white building in the community, since, according to Shaker rules, "no buildings may be painted white, save meeting houses." [4] Three doors on the building's northern side provide separate entrances tor the brothers, the sisters and the members of the ministry, who used the center door. [4] The meetinghouse was located in the center of the village and it served as the home of the ministers. [4] The austere interior provided a large floor space for the dancing that was a central part of Shaker worship. [4]


The Watervliet Shakers, like all Shaker communities, were almost self-sufficient, raising their own food and producing their own clothing and machinery. [2] They purchased a limited range of goods from outsiders, principally iron, which they worked into hardware and tools in their own workshops. [2]

Each village also produced market goods for outside sale. The Watervliet Shakers had a tannery, produced brooms for sale in volume, and had a small industry manufacturing brass, steel and silver writing pens, but they are most noted in business history as having been among the first producers of garden seeds as a commercial product in the United States and the first Shaker community to have produced and sold seeds. [2] [5] It has been claimed that a member of this community, Theodore Bates, invented the flat broom, older brooms having been fashioned as round bundles of broom corn straw or twigs. [6]

Seed business

The Watervliet seed business is known to have been highly profitable at least as early as 1811. [2] Prior to this time, individuals saved vegetable seeds from the previous year, or traded with neighbors. [2] The Watervliet Shakers are thought to have been the first seed sellers to package seeds in small, paper envelopes. [7]

See also

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  1. 1 2 National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Landmarks of American women's history, Chapter: Watervliet Shaker Historic District, Page Putnam Miller, Oxford University Press US, 2003, pp. 36 ff.
  3. “At War With the Shakers,” Mary Beth Norton, September 17, 2010, New York Times.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 America's religious architecture: sacred places for every community, Marilyn Joyce Segal Chiat, John Wiley and Sons, 1997, p. 76.
  5. Work and worship among the Shakers: their craftsmanship and economic order, Edward Deming Andrews, Faith Andrews, Courier Dover Publications, 1982, pp. 79, 101.
  6. Work and worship among the Shakers: their craftsmanship and economic order, Edward Deming Andrews, Faith Andrews, Courier Dover Publications, 1982, p. 159.
  7. Work and worship among the Shakers: their craftsmanship and economic order, Edward Deming Andrews, Faith Andrews, Courier Dover Publications, 1982, p. 53.