The mission of the Shaker Heritage Society is to celebrate and interpret America’s first Shaker settlement and to preserve it for the benefit of future generations.
The vision of the Shaker Heritage Society is to be a nationally recognized interpretive center dedicated to educational programming regarding the Shakers, their history, their innovative spirit and influence on American culture.
About Shaker Heritage Society
Shaker Heritage Society is an education and historic preservation organization incorporated by the New York State Department of Education.
The Watervliet site (located in the Town of Colonie) is significant for numerous reasons. The garden seed industry, flat broom and vacuum sealed tin cans were invented by Watervliet Shakers. Shakers developed innovative planned communities that emphasized gender and racial equality. Watervliet served as a model for many 19th century religious and social experiments. Historical incidents at Watervliet led to many changes in New York State laws governing divorce, child custody and property ownership and recent research has proven that the community was engaged in sheltering fugitive slaves.
The landscape of the Historic District includes distinctive natural and cultural resources. Historically, the Shakers divided the area into four economically and geographically distinct “family” groupings. Of these, two are privately owned and one is no longer extant. The Society’s primary interest is in the fourth grouping known as the “Church Family,” which is publicly accessible and includes nine historic structures, an important Shaker cemetery (where Shaker founder, Ann Lee is buried), and the ruins of a gristmill. Despite heavy commercial development within the Historic District, the landscape retains much of its original rural character including an apple orchard, herb garden and open pastureland. The property also encompasses portions of Shaker Creek and the Ann Lee Pond Nature Preserve.
Shaker Heritage Society offers a wide variety of educational programs including school programs that meet numerous New York State Learning Standards, programs for senior citizens, outreach programs, lectures, craft workshops, and guided tours. All of our programs can be modified to meet the needs and interests of diverse audiences of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. The Society’s annual craft fairs in July, September and Christmas have become a community tradition that supports local craft artisans while also providing opportunities to learn more about Shaker history and the Watervliet site.
A small-scale farm program, which is run by Society volunteer, Robert Reilly, introduces visitors to Shaker agricultural traditions through the presence of heritage breeds of turkeys, chickens and oxen.
Preservation of the Church Family site and the remaining property within the historic district is a primary objective of the Society. During the past several years, the Society built an effective working relationship with Albany County to address site use and management issues. Recent collaborative efforts led to the exterior restoration of the 1848 Meeting House and stabilization of the 1856 Drying House. The Society is currently stabilizing the 1915 Shaker Barn Complex.