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Shaker Museum & Library

Shaker Museum Road
Old Chatham, New York

Phone: 518-794-9100 --

Statement of Purpose:

The mission of the Shaker Museum and Library is to utilize its unparalleled collection to educate people about the history, values, and craftsmanship of the United Society of Believers within the wider context of American history.

Main Attraction:

Set amidst rolling farmland in New York's Columbia County, this premier Shaker collection will draw you into a world of grace and devotion. The Shaker values of hard work and excellence produced extraordinary objects and industries. At the Shaker Museum and Library, the Shaker experiment is presented through an unparalleled collection, assembled with the help of the Shakers themselves. In 24 galleries, you will see an intimate view of oval boxes, baskets, furniture masterpieces, ingenious tools, and machinery that reflect the "order, harmony, and utility" of one if the most influential American design traditions. While at the Museum, enjoy a snack and browse in the Museum Shop.


The Shaker Museum and Library is located on 48 acres of rolling hills in Northern Columbia County. With over 17,000 objects and 18,500 archival items, SM&L is widely considered the premier study collection of the Shakers. The Museum is dedicated to interpreting and reconstructing Shaker life, gender roles, industry, and invention within the wider context of American history.

The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, more commonly known as the Shakers, was founded by Ann Lee, who came to America from England in 1774 to escape religious persecution. She and others formed a model society where men and women would work and worship in peace, humility, order and harmony. Their motto "hearts to work and hands to God" is reflected in the level of craftsmanship, ingenuity, and simplicity the Shakers brought to everything they created from furniture and textiles, to decorative arts, tools and equipment, poplarware and other crafts.

In the nineteenth century, the Shakers became one of the most successful utopian societies in the history of the United States, establishing 19 communities from Maine to Kentucky. After the Civil War, their numbers began to dwindle, and as Shaker communities began to close, many became concerned that their cultural legacy would be lost to future generations. John S. Williams, Sr. founded the Shaker Museum in 1950 with the cooperation of the Shaker leadership. The Museum exhibits and preserves his outstanding collection of Shaker furniture, decorative arts, baskets, farm tools, craft machinery, textiles, spirit drawings and personal artifacts used and created by this society. Since its founding, the Shaker Museum and Library has evolved into a highly regarded cultural organization, known for its commitment to intellectual integrity and scholarship. Viewed as an important and lively center of community activity and education, the museum attracts 16,000 visitors annually.

Highlights & Collections:

In 1972, the Shaker Museum was accredited by the American Association of Museums and in 1986 was named a "Primary Organization" by the New York State Council on the Arts. In 1996, New York State honored the Museum with a Why I Love NY Award, naming it one of the 12 most extraordinary museums in the State. Museum facilities include: the Museum and Craft Buildings, which feature 22 exhibition galleries; the Education Building/Gallery for special programs and temporary exhibitions; the Murray B. Douglas Study Storage Center, housing many of our finest pieces of furniture and woodenware; the Emma B. King Library, with manuscripts and archival materials; the Shaker Schoolhouse, set amidst a lovely herb garden; an 1840s farmhouse used as the Administration Building; the Museum Shop; the Maintenance Building; storage buildings and bathrooms.

Major Collection:

The Shaker Museum displays the diversity of Shaker genius. Their tools and machinery as well as their furniture, oval boxes, baskets, buckets, and stoves provide extraordinary examples of beauty achieved through functional simplicity. The same fine craftsmanship extends to wood and iron working tools, farm equipment, sewing implements, looms, and other objects used in daily life. All of the major Shaker industries are represented: broom and chair manufacturing, cloak making, garden seeds, and pharmaceuticals. The Shaker Museum and Library's collection includes many examples of Shaker inventiveness: a seven-ton double trip-hammer from Mount Lebanon, NY; a horse-drawn fire engine form Canterbury, NH; the first tongue and groove machine invented in 1828; and the patented washing machine from Canterbury, NH, that won a Gold Medal at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.

In 1997, the Shaker Museum and Library opened a new exhibition,

From sewing desks, counters and cupboards, to woodworking tools and looms, Orren Haskins of the Mount Lebanon Shaker community was the consummate Shaker craftsman. Considered one of the finest master cabinetmakers in Shaker history, Haskins' life spans the peak of Shaker activity and the height of classical Shaker design and craftsmanship. This first of its kind exhibition will feature a selection of 25 objects made by the Mount Lebanon Shaker craftsman between 1833 and 1890. Objects will be curated from the Shaker Museum and Library's collection and others will be on loan from public and private lenders. The exhibition's curator Erin M. Budis will contextualize Haskins' furniture, tools and textile equipment within the larger framework of Shaker studies, nineteenth century American history and American furniture design. An exhibition catalogue will accompany the show, and the Museum will host educational programs and a lecture series on Shaker history, design and craftsmanship.

The Emma B. King Library, named for the Shaker Eldress who transferred the major remaining Shaker archive to the Shaker Museum Foundation in 1962, contains 40 linear feet of manuscripts including over 150 diaries and journals, 45 covenants from 12 communities, 50 volumes of music, 150 volumes of inspired visions in addition to financial records, deeds, maps, and legal records, theological essays and correspondence. The library collection also includes 300 Shaker publications, 500 tracts and catalogues, 23,000 labels, maps, broadsides and serials. The historic photograph collection includes over 3,000 cabinet photos, carte d'visite, stereoviews, postcards and snapshots from c. 1869 to the present, and including material from all Shaker sites.

Exhibits & Special Events:



Open late April to early November from 10-5. Closed Tuesdays. Holiday Shopping and Polar Bear Tours, November and December, Fridays through Sundays 12-4:30 PM, Polar Bear Tours at 2 PM. The Shaker Museum and Library Gift Shop overflows with items for sale inclusing Shaker oval boxes, baskets, chair kits and tape, cards, herbs, food and books on a range of Shaker topics. For information on Shop sales or to receive a free catalog please call us.

Admission & Directions:

Membership: Benefits include free admission, Shop discount, newsletter, and invitations to special events. For information on membership please call (518) 794-9100, ext. 100.


From New York City: Taconic Parkway north to Rt. 295 exit, right on Rt. 295, left at East Chatham Post Office. In Old Chatham follow County 13 one mile west to Shaker Museum Road.

From Albany and NY Thruway: I-90 to exit 11E, right on US 20, right on Rt. 66 south near Brainard. At Malden Bridge turn left, then turn right onto Shaker Museum Road.

From Boston: Mass Pike to B2 exit, left on Rt. 295, left at East Chatham Post Office. In Old Chatham follow County 13 one mile west to Shaker Museum Road.


Ministry Dinning Room

exhibit inside SM&L's Main Exhibition building. The collection pieces are from the Northeast Shaker communities and date prior to 1850.

Shaker-made buckets.

On display inside SM&L's Main Exhibition building. Photo credit: Paul Rocheleau.

Key Personnel:

Mary Ellen W. Hern, Executive Director

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