A Shaker Village on a Snowy Day

The Shaker round barn was built in 1829 to house diary cows. The shakers operated a diary farm there into the 1950s. Photo courtesy, Hancock Quaker Village

The Shakers built the round stone barn in 1829 to house dairy cows. They operated a dairy farm there into the 1950s. Today the number of Brethren has fallen below a handful, and the last few Shakers reside in Maine. Photo courtesy, Hancock Quaker Village

A memory. I am racing across New York State after a blizzard. I have been searching for historical records on Abraham Galloway, the fiery young slave rebel, radical abolitionist and Union spy who will later become the subject of my book called The Fire of Freedom.

On this trip, I have already visited the New York State Archives in Albany, the Omar Bradley Special Collections Library at West Point, the Schlesinger Library at Harvard and, in Boston, the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Archives.

The whole region got 16 inches of snow and as much as six inches of solid ice. When I left West Point, I had to make a mad dash across New England trying to stay ahead of the storm until I reached Boston, where, I figured, I could always take the subway if the storm closed the roads. I drove fast, worked frantically and didn’t take time to eat so the storm did not catch me.

Now I am done in Boston and I am on my way back to the Albany airport. The storm has passed and the snow is beautiful, though some of the roads are still icy. I am feeling relaxed for the first time this trip.

As I approach the New York state line, I pass the Hancock Shaker Village, the historic “City of Peace” near Hadley, Massachusetts. Even if you have not been to Hadley, you might still recognize the incredibly beautiful round stone barn there.  It is one of America’s most famous vernacular buildings.

The Shakers are of course long gone, at least the ones here, and all but a few have come and gone everywhere. But the whole village looks picturesque in the deep snow and I have never been to a site of a Shaker settlement.

I would love to learn more about the Shakers. I only have an hour to spare, but I cannot resist stopping. I tell myself I will be quick and not get distracted.

The beauty of the barn, the grace of the Shaker furniture and art, the single-mindedness of their religious vision and the way that they created a whole world to embody that vision– it is all irresistible.

Dazzled by the story of those now long-gone Shakers, I lose all track of time. I miss my flight home and have to spend another night in Albany.

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