- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2003


It’s a tall order keeping a big family farm going when you grow your own vegetables, raise your own livestock and care for 18 buildings, some as old as the nation itself.

It’s even tougher when there are just the four of you overseeing 1,800 acres and no descendants to take over when you’re gone.

That is the situation for the world’s remaining Shakers, members of a religious sect that flourished in the 1800s.

They do have dozens of supporters. These volunteers, though unwilling to join the religion, admire the way of life so much that they do what they can to support the Shakers.

Like their forebears and the Amish, with whom they often are confused, the remaining Shakers at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village cling to tradition. They live a communal, agrarian lifestyle that combines worship, hard work and simple living.

But their days of growth are gone. Unlike the Amish, the Shakers are celibate, able to increase their numbers only through converts, or adopting orphans, a practice they no longer follow.

“A life of denial is not attractive to people,” said Arnold Hadd, one of the two Shaker men. “People don’t like to sacrifice.”

A recent day found the two women, Frances Carr, 76, and June Carpenter, 65, making home-grown strawberry rhubarb marmalade. Mr. Hadd, 46, and Wayne Smith, 40, were in the barn cleaning out stalls and giving the animals fresh water.

Simply maintaining the historic farm is an enormous task.

“At this point, it’s triage,” Mr. Hadd said as he made his way between the 1830 barn and the more “modern” six-story dwelling house built in 1883.

About 60 volunteers showed up one recent morning to pitch in. They came from New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Bathed in warm sunshine and swatting black flies, Friends of the Shakers hoisted shovels, painted fences, fixed porch screens and cleaned windows. They planted roses in front of the cemetery where members had been laid to rest under a granite marker that said simply, “Shakers.”

“I like preserving a way of life,” said Ann Spencer, a volunteer from 30 miles away, who was painting a fence. “They have a lot of property here, and they can’t do it all themselves.”

Health insurance executive Ray McCaskey came all the way from Chicago. He said his fascination with the Shakers began as “an extension of history, and it ended up being personal.”

Robert King of Putney, Vt., has studied the Shaker gardens. “You can come here and experience something that never stopped,” he said. “The old agriculture tradition is here.”

Along with manual labor offered twice a year, the 30-year-old Friends group also donates about $10,000 a year. It’s not just the religion that draws their support. It’s also the history, the architecture and the Shaker furniture. Whatever the reason, the Shakers are thankful.

“With 60 people working on the grounds, it allows you to get things done in a day that would take a month,” Mr. Hadd said. “It really helps out a lot.”

The Shakers settled in 1783 at Sabbathday Lake, one of 19 such communities across the country at one time or another. At its peak, this community was populated by 183.

While other Shaker villages faded away, this one in the gentle hills survived. Today, it remains a working farm with 50 sheep, cattle, pigs, gardens and 18 buildings, the oldest of which dates to the 1760s.

About 10,000 tourists visit each summer. Many think they are seeing history, and indeed they are. What some probably don’t realize is it’s living history, and a living religion.

The Shakers rise early for personal devotions, have breakfast together, join in prayer and then go about their chores following the words of founder Ann Lee: “Hands to work and hearts to God.”

Known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, they earned the derisive moniker “shaking Quakers” for their charismatic dance. The worship style changed long ago, but the Shaker name stuck.

Miss Carr bristles at news reports that describe their community as the “last” Shakers.

“It’s frustrating that for the past 20 or 30 years all the reports were that the Shakers were essentially shut down, closed, not accepting new members,” she said.

They pray daily for new followers, but unlike other religions, the Shakers don’t go forth preaching their message or trying to convert others.

“You can’t save others. You’ve got to save yourself,” Mr. Hadd said.

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