A Shaker Village existed in Shirley Massachusetts from the late
1700's to the early 1900's. The site is now a prison but it
started as two farms.
Shaker foundress Mother Ann Lee visited the Wilde brothers on
their adjoining farms in the southern part of Shirley in 1783. Her
followers saw her as the female embodiment of the Christ spirit.
Her worship services were full of singing, dancing, and speaking
in tongues. She preached racial and sexual equality. Believers
strove to be modest, hard working, and peace loving. They
confessed their sins daily to the elder or eldress. Their whole
focus was on living the Godly life in every part of their day.
Mother Ann also preached celibacy and this was one belief which
caused conflict between the Shakers and non-Shakers.
Many seekers of spiritual truth came to Shirley to hear her
speak. A poem of many stanzas tells of the night Mother Ann
spent hiding in a closet at the Wilde's house to escape from an
angry mob. In nearby Harvard, another community of Shakers was
By 1790 there were sixty men, women, and children worshiping,
working, and living together on the Wilds property. It had been
decided that they could only follow the way if they lived in
community, sharing their possessions, their work, and their
worship every day.
In 1792 they began construction of a Meetinghouse. In 1793 they signed a covenant as a United Society of True Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. They proceeded to enlarge the farms and shops and build large dwellings for the other families who would join them in the community.
By 1850, at their height, the Shirley Community had a Church Family with Meetinghouse, large dwelling, brick office, brick wash house, brick trustees shop, several barns, and other wooden shops and dwellings. The North Family was the novitiate and had a three story brick shop, small office, large dwelling, the broom shop, and several barns and sheds. The South Family, over the line in Lancaster, had an office, dwelling, shop, and barn. This family also housed a home for the aged. According to the state census, there were 114 Shaker men, women and children in the Shirley Community at that time.
The Shirley Shakers were not known for their baskets, boxes, or chairs, but for their brooms, mops and applesauce. Their community was also unique among the Shakers in that they built a large cotton manufactory on the banks of the Catacunemaug. Then they realized that their work force was declining and they leased the factory to a company from New Bedford. Later the buildings were sold and a cordage factory made rope in them for over one hundred years.
In 1908 the last three Shirley Shaker sisters sold the property
to the state of Massachusetts who opened an Industrial School for
Boys on the site. By 1972 the reform school closed and the
state opened a pre-release correctional facility in the old Shaker
buildings. In 1976 the area was put on the National register
of Historic Places. There is now a minimum, medium, and
maximum security facility on the grounds of the Old Shaker
Village. There are still eight Shirley Shaker buildings on
their original foundations, and three that have been moved. The
prison limits visits to the site, but they are possible through
More Information on the
Shirley Shaker Village
In 1884 William D. Howells published an essay describing his visit to the Shirley Shaker Village. For the text of the essay, with illustrations, from Howells' Three Villages, click here (or to download an eBook version for a Palm-compatible PDA click here).
Links to other Shaker
Sabbathday Lake Maine Shaker Community, - Museum, Library, Gifts, last living community of United Society of Shakers - www.shaker.lib.me.us
Hancock Shaker Village, MA - Museum, Library, restaurant, gifts - www.hancockshakervillage.org
Canterbury Shaker Village -Museum, Library, restaurant, gifts - http://www.shakers.org
Shaker Workshops - furniture sales catalogs and other links - www.shakerworkshops.com
Pleasant Hill Shaker Village - Museum, Library, restaurant, inn, gifts - www.shakervillageky.org
South Union Kentucky Shaker Village and other links - www.logantele.com/~shakmus/Default.htm
To read about other Shaker Villages according to the National parks Services listing, copy and paste this address - http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/shaker/shi.htm
You may also try http://www.shakertown.net for links to other Shaker sites.
For a list of Shirley Shaker souvenir sales items click here.