The North Family,
at Mount Lebanon Shaker Village.
Established in 1799 as the portal to Shaker life, the North Family was home to some of the most progressive Shakers in history.
Mount Lebanon Shaker Village
"Mount Lebanon Shaker Village is the single most important historical site bearing on the Shaker experience in America."
- Stephen J. Stein, author of The Shaker Experience in America
For 160 years, from 1787 to 1947, the Shakers at Mount Lebanon led the largest and most successful utopian communal society in America. From this central community developed the Shakers’ ideals of equality of labor, gender, and race, as well as communal property, freedom and pacifism. From Mount Lebanon also grew the now famous Shaker aesthetic of simplicity, expressed in their objects, furniture, buildings and village planning.
With over 6,000 acres and 100 buildings, Mount Lebanon Shaker Village was a driving force in the agricultural, industrial, commercial, and institutional activities of its day. The Village was divided into smaller :"Family" groupings (Center, Church, Second, South, East, North, and so on.), each with its own leadership, members, and commercial activities. As the Shaker community declined in population in the early 20th century, the site was gradually sold to various private owners, including the Darrow School, which still inhabits Mount Lebanon’s Church and Center Families.
The North Family was purchased by the Shaker Museum and Library in 2004 as the future home for the museum. Mount Lebanon was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and was recognized by the World Monuments Fund in both 2004 and 2006 as one of the 100 most significant endangered historic sites in the world.
The North Family today consists of 10 buildings on 30 acres. The iconic North Family Great Stone Barn – measuring 50’ wide, four stories high, and nearly 200’ long, was a testament to the ingenuity, faith, and perseverance of the Shakers. In 1972 the barn was totally gutted by a catastrophic fire, leaving only its four massive masonry walls standing until this day.
In 2001 the Shaker Museum and Library was awarded a Save America’s Treasures grant to investigate the feasibility of acquiring and preserving the site for the public benefit. The Museum retained a nationally-prominent design team led by Cooper, Robertson & Partners of New York City, and Robert Silman Associates, structural engineers, to perform a comprehensive historic structures and cultural landscape assessment, and create a Master Plan for reuse of the site.
Historical American Landscape Survey
To view the HALS interactive Google Earth media project on Mount Lebanon Shaker Village, click here. This project contains georeference maps/plans, photos taken by NPS staff, 3D models of buildings, and more! (Requires Google Earth)
Historic Preservation at the North Family
Today, restoration work is underway on a number of projects at the site.
The Great Stone Barn (1859) A massive undertaking is underway to conserve and stabilize the masonry walls of the Great Stone Barn, gutted by fire in 1972. Design and engineering began in the Fall of 2009. Work on this project is being funded by the Federal Department of Transportation (TEA-21), Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, a Save America's Treasures grant from the Federal Department of the Interior/National Park Service, the World Monuments Fund Craftsmanship Training Program, and many other generous foundation and private contributors. In 2013-2014, the walls were stabilized and the top levels of the Barn were rebuilt to reflect their original appearance. For 2015, the Museum plans to open the Barn to visitors.
The Wash House (1854) Following the first phase of foundation stabilization in 2006, funded by New York State, design will begin soon on the second phase of stabilization, to include foundation, drainage, and exterior restorations, funded by the Federal Department of Transportation. In 2014, the Wash House serves as the Museum's main exhibition building, housing Utopian Benches and Rock My Religion. As part of Utopian Benches, Shaker objects from the Museum's collection were shown at Mount Lebanon for the first time in their proper historic context.
The Granary (1838) A 2009 collaborative training project between the Museum and the North Bennet Street School of Boston, exterior restorations were undertaken by a team of preservation carpentry interns, working under the guidance of David E. Lanoue Inc. Living onsite for two months, the interns undertook restorations to windows and siding; recreated historic gutters, downspouts, shutters, doors, and hardware, and painted the building. Today, the Granary houses the Visitor Center & Museum Store.
The Brethren's Workshop (1829) In 2009, interns and workshop students helped to repair and replace rotted floor supports in the building's basement. In addition, the first floor of the building was set up as an educational woodworking studio, and fitted out with two restored Shaker workbenches from the Museum's education collection.
The Poultry House (Circa 1860) In 2013, the Pultry House was repainted and rebuilt, its interior restored to house exhibition space. Currently, the Poultry House is home to the Great Stone Barn Project exhibit, which includes information on the history and construction of barns in Shaker communities, and what the Museum is doing today to preserve and restore the Great Stone Barn. A small number of artifacts from the barn are also on display.
The Landscape (Since 1785) In 2009, the National Park Service undertook a summer-long documentation project of the North Family landscape and waterworks, producing a Historic American Landscapes Survey, focused on the extensive waterworks in the village, with a complete set of drawings documenting the current conditions at the site. This work, made possible through funding by the World Monuments Fund Craftsmanship Training Program, is helping the Museum maintain the landscape and prepare a Treatment Plan for its restoration. For a short video on the HALS program at the site, click here.
For a video tour of the village's waterworks, click here.
The Museum continues to work aggressively to document and restore the North Family.