I love exploring and discovering new historic places and as such, I have to start my Hancock Shaker Village Review off by telling you my experience was nothing short of extraordinary and I'd do it all over again in a heart beat.
I definitely give it a two thumbs up for all my family and friends.
If you’re passing through Hancock or Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Hancock Shaker Village is definitely worth your time to stop and explore. I almost didn’t go but made the decision to do so and I’m really glad I did.
In fact, it will prove to be one of the highlights of my vacation.
I’m vacationing at the Wyndham Bentley Brook resort which I also highly recommend and if you’re an avid traveler and enjoy the condo lifestyle..
Anyway, the resort is a short 15 minute drive from the Hancock Shaker Village. During this short jaunt you’ll go into New Albany, New York and then weave back again into Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
How Long To Spend at the Hancock Shaker Village?
The day I visited, Hancock Shaker Village began it's first demonstration at 11:00 am, so I thought I’d have plenty of time to see and do it all based on the museum closing at 5:00 pm.
As it turned out, I didn’t get a chance to fully enjoy the garden and farm area by the time they rang the 5:00 bell (closed). I had arrived just in time for the first demo at 11 and looking back at the end of the day, I wished I'd have been there when the doors opened at 10:00 am.
My recommendation is if you are not in a hurry and want to do and see it all, arrive when it opens and plan to stay the entire day. It’s definitely a day trip.
You can bring a lunch or buy your lunch at the Village Cafe which is what we did.
They don't allow eating or drinking inside any of the museum buildings but there are plenty of open lawn space and tables in the courtyard area for you and your family to picnic.
What is the Hancock Shaker Village about?
Here’s an excerpt from their website which you can visit here:
Hancock Shaker Village began in the late 1780s, when nearly 100 Believers consolidated a community on land donated by local farmers who had converted to the Shaker movement. By the 1830s, with a great many more conversions and further land acquisitions, the community had peaked in population with more than 300 Believers and more than 3,000 acres.
During their peak period of growth and religious fervor, the Hancock Shakers erected communal dwelling houses, barns, workshops, and other buildings, and developed a large and successful farm. With the 1826 Round Stone Barn as the center of a thriving dairy industry, and with many acres of medicinal herbs, vegetables, fruits, and other crops, the Hancock Shakers enjoyed a simple, peaceful, and hard-working lifestyle, separated from the ways of the World. They named their utopian village The City of Peace, and organized the large community into six smaller communal groups known as Families for efficiency of work, worship, and administration.T
he Shakers developed a wide variety of crafts, trades, and industries, including woodworking and metalworking, basketry, broom making, and much more. They developed their own water-powered mills for grinding grain, sawing wood, and manufacturing textiles. The Shakers were highly regarded for their honesty and industriousness, and for the quality of their products, which were marketed throughout the region as an important source of income for the communal society.
What are the Hancock Shaker Village Demonstrations?
Check with their office at (413) 443-0188 | (800) 817-1137 or their website for the day's events.
When I called ahead of time to inquire, they shared with me that because many of the demos are done by volunteers, they don't ever really know who will show up to do what.
These volunteers may do basket weaving or wool spinning or a variety of other things. One of the demos we saw happened to be a lady spinning wool. She showed us and explained what the process was from the time the sheep were sheered to the wool being cleaned, dyed and spun onto spools for weaving.
Regarding the demo schedules however, there are always a few demonstrations you can count on and even run on a schedule.
The three that were on the schedule which my family participated in were:
1) The story of the Shakers
This was presented in the meeting room of the building called the Brick Dwelling (Pictured)
It was a fascinating story told by a woman dressed as a Shaker. She explained how and where the Shakers originated up through the Shakers of today.
She shared the ways in which the Shakers choose to live their lives and the expectations of those who wanted to convert and join their community.
Her presentation was knowledgeable and heart felt. I could tell she loved sharing about the Shakers.
We toured the Brick Dwelling which was fascinating.
My favorite was the entire lower level where the kitchen, the cannery, the storage rooms for cider, the dry goods storage area, the various cooking pots and ovens, a room to store baskets, a room to store pottery for serving meals and dishes were housed.
I found myself lost in time and imagined what life was like living there in Hancock Shaker Village and working as a woman preparing meals and such.
I probably spent 30 minutes alone in the lower level where the kitchen and storage rooms were. This is the level with the grey stone in the picture. And, I could easily go back and spend more time.
Here's a few pictures to give you an idea of what you can expect to see. My sister is in many of the pictures on this blog.
2) Water Turbine Demonstration
There were a couple of woodworking machines in the shop. One was a lathe and another was a ban saw. Guests were invited to get a close up look at the machines, the water turbine down below the workshop and at how the belts were connected from the water turbine to machines just prior to the demonstration.
The Shakers used water stored uphill from a reservoir they built using from rain, runoff, brooks and other small water flows.
When the demo started, the water turbine was turned on, you could hear the water rushing in and as levers were pushed, the belts began to move. The man doing the demo showed how the levers turned on and off the belts to each piece of equipment.
The photos I took of the water turbine down below the floor are hard to see what you're looking at. So I opted to show you a picture of the belts that are being turned to produce the power to drive the machines.
Additionally, the adjoining room was the laundry. Once a week the women did the laundry and used the water turbine for that. On those days, the men did not work in the machine shop as there was not enough energy to have all their machines going as well as the laundry.
This was a demo of the music and songs that the Shakers sang.
The Shakers have over 10,000 songs in their collection. Singing was a big part of their religious practices where they often clapped and stomped their feet and used hand motions which all meant something to them. This is how they came to be called the Shakers. Because they danced and would shake their arms.
Their songs were written about their lives, their faith, and the love they had for people of all backgrounds, color, nationality and faith.
What made this a really fun Hancock Shaker Village demonstration is that we all got to sing along, clap and stomp and dance together. This way, anyone who wanted was able to participate in a real song and dance inside a real Shaker building in a real Shaker community.
Kinda cool. Real cool!
My sister is always game for such things and actually I am too, but I really wanted to get her picture for her scrapbook so I was on "taking pictures" for this demonstration.
Other Hancock Shaker Village Activities
I can't lie! I especially enjoyed a hands-on discovery room where we were able to touch and play!
Some of the things we did were:
- See how wool was cleaned and spun and then we were giving the opportunity to sit and weave at one of their looms.
- Making wool bracelets
- Weaving strips of fabric to make potholders
- Weaving wool strips to make a the seat of a Shaker chair
- Dressing up in Shaker clothing
- Watching bees at work
- Milking a cow (simulated)
- Make a seed packet
It was great fun and there’s nothing like hands-on learning at any age. In fact, everyone of all ages were doing all of these things and truly enjoying themselves.
Here’s some pictures of my sister and I in the discover center and “dressing up”. (You just slip the clothes over what you have on) I'm in the purple, she's in the pink.
The Round Barn was amazing.
One of the volunteers shared with us the history of the Round Barn, the materials used in the construction and what it was designed to do.
I found it interesting that 8 horses pulling a wagon full of tons of hay would walk in on the upper level, follow the circular barn around while workers tossed the hay into the center of the building and by the time they got back to the entrance, the wagon was empty.
The Shakers were practical people and weren't ones for doing more than was necessary and they were always looking for ways to do things simpler and faster.
Architects come to study the construction of the Round Barn and are amazed at what they find.
The School House
Can you answer this question?
The School house was a fun stop as it’s also a touch and feel. You can sit at desks and write on a student tablet.
We looked inside the teachers desk, learned of ways the children studied as a group and were able to take with us, a copy of an 8th grade test. (Our high school grads probably don’t know what these 8th graders had to know… amazing!)
Back in the 1770's and 1800's, it was unusual for girls to get an education. However, part of the beliefs that the Shakers had was that females and males are equal and therefore the girls has the same education as the boys within the Shaker community.
The girls would attend school for 4 months, then the boys would attend for 4 months. The cycle of girls and boys attending school was totally based on agriculture. For example, during the plowing season, the boys would be working. During the canning season, the girls would be working.
These are just some of the information you discover as you tour the Hancock Shaker Village.
It's all very interesting to say the least.
Is Hancock Shaker Village Worth the Cost of Admission?
Unequivocally, YES! I would have gladly paid more than the $17 adult admission ticket for the opportunity to experience what I and my family were able to.
The grounds were clean, the 20 museum buildings were well preserved and restored and the signage was great so you always knew what you were looking at.
I appreciated the extent to which the story of who the Shakers were, what their role in inventions and making inventions better were, what their message to the world was and the way they lived their life were all preserved and shared today.
If I lived in the area, I would become a member and visit often, participate in events and seminars and classes held there.
The Village Café at Hancock Shaker Village
What can I say. The food was very fresh and delicious.
I enjoyed a roast beef, green apple and something grilled Panini sandwich with Shaker potato salad and my sister ordered a spinach wrap with humas, cucumbers, feta, mesclun and a few other yum ingredients. The portions were nice, the foods largely came from their gardens and the service was great.
You'll notice I couldn't wait for the picture to take a bite! Yum-O!
Before leaving, we stopped at the gift shop and purchased a few post cards and some peppermint tea grown by the Shakers.
Again, I highly recommend the Hancock Shaker Village for anyone who loves history or wants to broaden their knowledge on who the Shakers were.
Happy Travels .... and don't forget to take pictures and scrapbook and journal your travels!)
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