Tour of a Lifetime

  • Visit North Central

The Shaker community in Harvard — the first Shaker community in Massachusetts — closed more than a century ago. But in the fall of 2012, visitors had an unprecedented opportunity to tour the buildings that the Harvard Shaker community once called home.

The Harvard community — the second in the United States —began in 1769, when dissenters left the Protestant Church of Harvard and built what was to become known as The Square House. A dozen years later, a visit from Mother Ann brought them into the folds of the United Society of Believers. These stalwart believers worked the land and built homes, a Meetinghouse, and an office building.

The National Park Service, which lists the Shaker Historic Trail on the National Register of Historic Places, notes that the  two significant buildings were located at the center of the complex. “The design and placement of the Meetinghouse, built in 1791, signified that it was the most important building of the community—the center of social and religious interaction. With a clapboard-sheathed exterior, granite steps, and four entrances—separated both by gender and for the elders—the  Meetinghouse adhered to the prescribed  design established by the Society,” the NPS  says. The New Office, built 50 years later, was central to the community’s business,  and still contains “an exceptional example of Shaker-built cabinetry.”

At its height around 1850, the village was a vibrant and industrious community where Shaker Brothers and Sisters lived, worked, and worshiped apart from “the  world.” After peaking at a population of  about 200 members, the community  began to decline in numbers, and the Shakers were forced to sell much of their  property. In the early 20th century, the  remaining Eldresses sold the community’s  first office building, built in 1794, to preservationist Clara Endicott Sears, who moved the building to Fruitlands  Museum and opened it to the public.

The Harvard Shakers are gone — but a  walk through the Harvard Shaker Village Cemetery still tells the story of the community’s  life.  The buildings of the Harvard Shaker Village Historic District are now private  residences and are not open to the  public. The surrounding land is under a conservation easement.  But for one day — September 15 — visitors will have a unique opportunity  to step inside the world of the Harvard  Shakers, when the Harvard Historical Society will hold a Harvard Shaker Village  House Tour. For the first time in almost 100 years, homeowners in the Village District will open their homes to the public. A highlight  of the house tour is the Square House, which became the cornerstone of the Harvard Shaker Village and is a  pilgrimage site for Shaker enthusiasts.

The tour also includes sacred sites, such  as the Holy Hill of Zion and the Shaker  “Lollipop” cemetery. Admission to both  Fruitlands Museum and the Harvard  Historical Society Meeting House is  included in the tour’s $75 ticket price.  The tour is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and one not to be missed. More information about the tour and the Harvard Shaker  Village District is available  at the Harvard  Historical Society’s website,