From the moment you pull into the driveway at Hancock Shaker Village the beauty of this location will be quite evident. The Shakers made their home here from the late 1780s until 1959 when the community had to sell the property due to dwindling numbers.
Luckily for all of us, much of what the Shakers created has been maintained and a visit here will make you familiar with their beliefs and their work ethic. Unlike the Amish, the Shakers have always embraced technology and they used the latest available to help them to create their fine crafts.
Plan to arrive as soon as the village opens. Live demonstrations and tours are held throughout the day and you won’t want to miss any of them. Begin your visit at the visitor center where there is a display as well as two seven minute videos that you can watch. It will help to familiarize you with what you will be seeing during your visit here.
The Shakers were founded by Mother Ann Lee on the principals of the three Cs, celibacy, communal living and confession of sins. Their goal was to live perfect Christian lives following the example of the early Gospels and Christian community. They espoused equality of the sexes and also the races. Song and dance were an integral part of their worship which led to their being called “Shakers”. Their official name is the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing.
As you walk out of the visitor center and head into the village, the circular barn will grab your attention. It is quite impressive but resist the temptation to run right over there. Several buildings worth a visit are between the visitor center and the circular barn. Check the schedule to see what demonstrations are going on, where they are located and the times and plan your visit accordingly.
Hancock Shaker Village closes at the end of October and will re-open in April. While it is beautiful in the fall with the great foliage and the apple trees loaded with fruit, the spring is one of the most popular times to visit. The barn will be filled with baby animals and everyone from small children to senior citizens will be enchanted.
Twenty buildings are available to visit along with the gardens. The meeting hall is not original to Hancock, it is from Shirley where there was another Shaker Community. Today, the only active Shaker community is in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
Among the demonstrations that we attended were a garden tour which pointed out the herbs and vegetables that are grown here. Local residents take part in Community Supported Agriculture, they can buy a share of the garden and in exchange they receive fresh vegetables every week from whatever is in season. The tour also talked about the poultry house and of course, the round barn.
Another demonstration was the water turbine. The water for the village is provided by a reservoir across the street and the water runs the engine that allowed woodworking lathe among other things.
The most fascinating demonstration that we attended was the Shaker songs and dances. It took place on the main level of the brick house. Guest are encouraged to sing and dance along with the volunteers. It was very enlightening and inspirational.
Buildings are located on both sides of Route 20. Allow a minimum of three hours for your visit and you can certainly spend quite a lot more than that. The Village Harvest Café serves delicious soup, sandwiches and desserts. The potato salad was delicious and I would go back just to have that chicken salad sandwich again. Al is convinced the roast beef sandwich with mushroom gravy is the best he has ever had.
Don’t leave without visiting the gift shop. One of the many things that the Shakers invented was the flat broom and I have to admit I bought one to take home. It is so well made I am sure I will never need to buy another one. I also brought home some of their amazing jam, I have had it before and it is exceptional.
I can’t recommend a visit to Hancock Shaker Village enough. It is fascinating. I am sure that I will be coming back again to enjoy it during the spring and summer. Every member of the staff and volunteers whom we met was extremely knowledgeable and also enthusiastic, you can tell that they love being here and so did we.