Published: December 18, 2001
OLD CHATHAM, N.Y. – The Shaker Museum & Library has chosen New York architectural firm Cooper, Robertson & Partners to study plans to move the museum from its present location on Shaker Museum Road in Old Chatham, N.Y., to Mount Lebanon Shaker Village in New Lebanon, N.Y.
The Shaker Museum & Library holds the most comprehensive collection of Shaker artifacts and archives in America, 80 percent of which originated at Mount Lebanon. Mount Lebanon was the largest and most significant Sha-ker community in America.
The announcement of the selection of the award-winning architecture firm was made at a Supporters’ Reception given by museum board members Judith Powers and Ilana Green on November 30. US Congressman John E. Sweeney, who helped the museum get a $750,000 National Park Service “Save America’s Treasures” grant, was among the guests.
“Continuing to build our heritage sites is critical,” said Sweeney. “Bringing up to 60,000 visitors to the Mount Lebanon site each year would greatly benefit our local economy and highlight Mount Lebanon’s well-deserved place in the cultural history of our nation.” Additional funding for the project was made possible by New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno.
During Phase One of the Mount Lebanon Project, Cooper, Robertson & Partners will be investigating the feasibility of acquiring the North Family site at Mount Lebanon Shaker Village and returning the Shaker Museum & Library collection to this location. The project includes preparation of a historic struc-tures report, a master plan for phased development of the site into a major heritage tourism and education destination, schematic designs for a new museum and “bricks-and-mortar” emergency repairs and stabilization.
The 30-acre site includes 11 Shaker structures dating back to 1824 and the extraordinary masonry shell of the largest stone barn in America, built in 1859 and destroyed by fire in 1972. As part of the master plan the architects will look at possible reconstruction of the barn for adaptive use as a state-of-the-art museum and education center. Also under consideration is access to the Shaker archaeological sites and hiking and biking trails that surround the site, including the 29-mile tri-state Taconic Crest Trail.
Cooper, Robertson & Partners is the first and only firm to receive National American Institute of Architects Awards in both architecture and urban design in the same year. Other clients of the firm include Yale University, John Hopkins University, Lincoln Center, the Gettysburg National Military Park and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation at Monticello.
The Shaker Museum & Library was founded in 1950 by John S. Williams, Sr., an ardent collector of Shaker furnishings, tools and decorative objects. The majority of his collection was acquired from nearby Mount Lebanon when the last Shakers left the community in the late 1940s.
Williams converted one of the dairy barns on his property into a museum to display his collection. Over the years, other outbuildings were converted or built to accommodate the growing collection. A major storage facility was added in the past decade to protect the museum’s holdings of more than 40,000 objects. Today, these buildings are inadequate and outdated. Therefore, in August 2000, the board of directors began considering acquisition of the Mount Lebanon site as a possible solution for the future needs of the Shaker Museum & Library.
The Shakers, or United Society of Believers in Christ’ Second Appearing, are one of the most successful of the communitarian societies established in America in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries. The first Shakers, led by “Mother” Ann Lee, left England in 1774 and settled at Watervliet, near Albany, N.Y. But the 1830s, 19 Shaker communities had been established in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. In the years before the Civil War the movement had an estimated 5,000 members.
The Shaking Quakers, or Shakers, were so-named because of their zealous worship practices including whirling, trembling and shaking to rid themselves of evil. The best-known Shaker beliefs are an emphasis of celibacy and simplicity. The virtues of simplicity, purity and perfection are evident in their architecture and in the products they produced for themselves and for sale.
Shaker communities were made up of “families” of men and women living and working separately, but equally, as “Brothers” and “Sisters.” First settled in 1878, Mount Lebanon, with eight families, provided both spiritual and commercial leadership for all Shaker communities for more than 150 years.
At its height, the Mount Lebanon community spread over 6,000 acres and had more than 600 members. In addition to farming, members made everything from baskets, brooms and buckets to furniture and oval boxes, but the community was especially known for their garden seeds and herbal and botanic medicine industry.
Today, only one Shaker community remains, at Sabbathday Lake, Me. Mount Lebanon is a National Historic Landmark owned and operated by the all-volunteer, not-for-profit Mount Lebanon Shaker Village.
The Shakers were a very important part of the history of the northern Hudson Valley and the surrounding region.
“We are very fortunate to have Cooper, Robertson & Partners heading this project,” says Cherie Miller Schwartz, director of the Mount Lebanon project. “They have assembled a highly experienced team, including Page Ayres Cowley Architects as historic preservation consultants, and Robert Silman Associates as structural engineers, to develop a master plan that will reunite America’s foremost Shaker collection with America’s most significant Shaker site.”
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