The Last Shaker Village--and there are just 4 members left
(NEW GLOUCESTER, ME.)Wafts of fruitcake, fresh from the oven, lace the brick Dwelling House, built in 1883. In the barn across the field, as the sun hangs low on a winter horizon, three pigs gleefully scuttle toward Brother Arnold."Hello kids, hello kids," he coos, patting their rumps as if they were pet dogs.
In many ways, life has changed little in this pastoral patch of southern Maine, where the Shaker community has toiled for more than two centuries. That's why Brother Arnold winces when he is told they are vanishing."Everyone says, 'poor Shakers,'" he says."People come here, and say we are gone."
You could, of course, be forgiven the assumption. This is the last populated Shaker village in the country. The other 17 have disappeared or become museums. And here on Sabbathday Lake, on 1,800 idyllic acres of forest, apple orchard, and pasture, only four Shakers remain, pledging celibacy, and, in their founder Mother Ann's words, to put their"hands to work and hearts to God."
Brother Arnold, Brother Wayne, Sister June, and Sister Frances are the last possessors of the Shaker tradition, a responsibility they are reminded of each day as they share meals across long, wooden tables, or when they say goodnight and head to their separate rooms. Yet it is not with a sense of doom, but determination, that they uphold the tenets of their centuries-old faith - and adapt to the realities of the future.
Sometimes that means looking outward in ways both pragmatic and novel. Recently they signed a $3.7 million preservation plan with a consortium of conservation groups in Maine to ease their tax bills and protect their property from being turned into subdivisions."Friends are increasingly important to this community," says Brother Arnold, patting their golden retriever, Chase.
The United Society of Believers, dubbed Shakers because they shook and
trembled during 18th-century worship, was never a group of vast
numbers. Ann Lee founded the Protestant sect in 1747 in England, but,
because of persecution, they immigrated to the US in 1774. Here they
formed communities stretching from Maine to Florida. At their height
before the Civil War, they numbered 5,000, many of them orphans.
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