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Simple Gifts of Shaker Legacy Live on
in Canterbury, New Hampshire
By Phyllis Edgerly Ring

Canterbury , New Hampshire has typical
New-England features: Country store,
village green, acres of fields and forests, and miles of stone walls.

But all roads here seem to lead to one destination –- the hilltop setting where a
bit of heaven on earth, a feeling of “kindly welcome” remains the hallmark of
Canterbury Shaker Village.

A Shaker Community Now a Museum

Enormous trees that line the road for miles date from the nineteenth century,
when 300 souls lived worshipful lives here. Planted as each new Shaker joined
the community, these grew heavenward as those individuals also “grew where
they were planted.”

Now a living museum, the Village’s collection of 25 original buildings
surrounded by gardens, ponds, and meadows recalls a purposeful way of life
guided by religious teachings of gender and racial equality, common ownership
of goods, pacifism, and celibacy. In a time when women had no rights, Shakers
lived and worked in this egalitarian community as Sisters and Brothers who saw
each other only in passing at mealtimes, and in worship services.

One of 19 such communities in the eastern United States , Canterbury Shaker
Village sees 60,000 visitors retrace its 200-year history every year – and
experience its undeniable peace.

"Hands to Work and Hearts to God"

“The Shakers lived their belief of ‘Hands to Work and Hearts to God’ and this is
exemplified everywhere one looks or wanders,” says staff member Jane
McLaughlin. “When people would say they ‘felt something’ here, the Eldresses
would smile and say what people were feeling was the Shakers who had left
this earth physically but who would always come back to the place that they

A staff member since 1982, McLaughlin knew two of Canterbury ’s last Shakers,
octogenarians Eldress Bertha and Eldress Gertrude. In 1961, the few remaining
Shakers opened the Village to the public and helped establish the non-profit
organization that preserves it today. The last Canterbury Shaker died in 1992.

Shakers: More Than Furniture and Crafts

Most associate the name “Shaker” with a legacy of furniture, crafts, and song.
Often misunderstood as austere or dour, the Shakers, or “Shaking Quakers,”
whose religious roots originated in Europe, embraced joyful worship that
expressed itself in music and vigorous dance. It’s said that during their services
neighbors miles away could hear the Shakers’ feet stomping the reinforced
floorboards of the Meeting House, the first building they constructed when they
established the Village in 1792.

Because the celibate Shakers typically had no children, the schoolhouse
provided up to 12 years of education to youngsters who were orphaned or
impoverished. Each was also trained in a variety of trades and crafts.

Shaker men and women are credited with scores of inventions and
improvements in household and farming items. Canterbury ’s huge laundry
facility featured spin cycles and tumble dryers long before the 20th century, and
the power plant that now houses the bakery was constructed of pressed tin to
make it as fireproof as possible.

Shakers’ love of beauty can be seen in vivid hues of sunflower yellow, deep red,
apple green, and brilliant blue throughout the Village. Shaker craftsmanship’s
spare, clean lines merged beauty and utility in everything from buildings to the
simplest tools. Known for their canny conservation of resources, they produced
and marketed dozens of items from the gifts nature provided, including
furniture and wood crafts, soaps and candles, brooms and baskets, spun,
woven, and knitted goods, dozens of agricultural products, and a wide array of
herbal medicines.

Inspired by Shaker's Vision

Local artisans pursue their craft inspired by the Shakers’ vision. David Emerson
fashions Shaker-style furniture upstairs in the Carpenters’ Shop, while
downstairs, Barbara Beeler crafts the oval boxes that have become a Shaker
signature piece. Handmade reproduction goods are available at the Museum
Store, and no visit to Canterbury should overlook a sampling of hearty Shaker
fare -- a legend in itself -- at the Village’s Creamery Restaurant.

Another simple gift of Shaker heritage is the noble aims it continues to inspire.
McLaughlin recalls explaining to one tour group how the Shakers used their
talents to the best of their ability because they felt God was always watching and
giving new talents in reward. Later, a woodcarver on the tour stopped to tell her
that he had rushed to get an order out the day before and knew he hadn’t done
his best work.

“When he was reminded of the blessing of talents,” McLaughlin recalls, “he said
he had decided to carve two more birds correctly and send them in

Canterbury Shaker Village for more information.

About the author: New Hampshire writer Phyllis Ring has published articles and essays in
a variety of magazines including Christian Science Monitor, Delicious Living, Hope, Ms.,
and Yankee. More information about her current writing projects can be seen at her Web
Phyllis Ring.
Canterbury Shaker Village, from a 1906 Postcard
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