Canterbury Shaker Village: Simple Living with a Clear Purpose

The Shaker Table Restaurant at Canterbury Shaker Village

Are you looking for a beautiful U.S. National Park that is a short drive from Boston? Canterbury Shaker Village makes a perfect destination for a road trip through New England. Canterbury Shaker Village has over 700 acres of forests, fields, gardens, and nature trails along with 25 buildings that you can explore. Visiting this historic village will let you experience over 200 years of Shaker history. The national park showcases the Shakers’ ingenuity in innovative design, their entrepreneurship skills, and the aspects of their simple life in how they embraced the learning, reflection, and renewal of the human spirit. Here is everything you need to know about Canterbury Shaker Village.

What is a Shaker?

The Shakers were part of the Protestant faith and broke off from the Quakers in England during 1747. After several members sailed to America, they settled in New England and created their ideal community. A community where they could worship how they wanted, which included spiritual dancing. Their dancing was seemed to be too ecstatic and frenzied, which led them to be called the Shaking Quakers and eventually just Shakers. The act of dancing brought a communal relationship with God for the Shakers. And dancing became a powerful symbol of the Shaker culture.Picture of a Shaker Gathering at Canterbury Shaker Village

Shakers believed that God existed within all people, which led many to be sympathetic to injustice and think and practice pacifism. They lived a life of celibacy, hard work. Simplicity in what they wore, how they talked, and how they behaved was the purpose of a Shaker. They devoted their “hands to work and hearts to God,” quoted by the founder Mother Ann Lee. Shaker’s also believed in intellectual and artistic development within the community for both women and men. Equality of the sexes which was unheard of during that time.

Since the Shakers led a celibate lifestyle, many adopted children or raised orphans until adulthood. They called themselves Sisters and Brothers with the Elders in charge of their village. Their communal living shared everything while keeping men and women separate. Dwelling houses, working, and schooling were all separated by gender. The communities were purposefully located to be away from city life, the rural the better, and they thrived in it. The Shakers of Canterbury were the most successful communitarian society in American history.

Canterbury Shaker Village InformationSunshine at the Canterbury Shaker Village

Canterbury Shaker Village is situated less than an hour and a half away from Boston in New Hampshire. One of the last surviving Shaker communities, Canterbury became a National Park in 1993. When you arrive, go to the Carriage House first. The Carriage House has the Admission and Museum, which is a great place to start. The Carriage House is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. There is so much to do in this village-like browsing the galleries filled with Shaker furniture and exploring the buildings showcasing Shaker life back in the 1800s. You can watch craft demonstrations of the Canterbury Shaker trades or explore the gardens and nature trails. Make sure to check open times for the individual buildings as they vary. General admission is free as a member; otherwise, the admission fee is $20/adult.

Carriage House, Admissions, and Museum Shop at Canterbury Shaker Village

Carriage House, Admissions, and Museum Shop (1825)

Canterbury Shaker Village Guided TourCreamery, Brethren's Shop, and Carriage House on the right at Canterbury Shaker Village

The guided tours are highly educational and take you through a number of the Shaker buildings. A 75-minute “Shaker Story Tour” takes you through the Laundry, Chapel, and the Dwelling House. Another tour option is the “Meet the Shakers” tour that lasts 60-minutes. This tour takes you through the Meeting House, Carpenters’ Shop, and School House. And every month, a staff member offers a 60-minute tour highlighting a different part of the Shaker’s life in Canterbury. Check at the Visitor Education Center for tour days and times.

Meeting House

Front of the Meeting House at Canterbury Shaker Village

Meeting House (1792)

The Meeting House is the oldest, Moses Johnson-style Meeting House, still in its original location. The Meeting House is where the Brothers and Sisters gathered. The guide on our tour showed us some Shaker Songs. Then he went through some of the dances that the Shakers did. It was interesting to see how simply plain this room was. The cloakroom was where they would hang their cloaks when they entered the building. The chairs, when not in use, hung upside down on the wall, and there was one wood-burning stove in the room. The chairs were set up as they would have been 200 years ago with women on one side of the room and men on the other. The seats were not that comfortable so, hopefully, they didn’t have to sit very long in those wooden seats. A tour guide explaining the history of the meeting house and the ShakersInside the Meeting House

Side view of the Meeting House at Canterbury Shaker Village

Dwelling House

Dwelling House at Canterbury Shaker Village

Dwelling House (1793)

The Dwelling House is where you can see the Shakers’ daily life back in the early 1800s. This building is the only 18th-century Dwelling House existing today. You can see group meeting rooms, exhibits with Shaker furniture, and even what a communal bedroom looked like. Each gallery within this building showcases a different part related to Shaker’s daily life. Brother's Bedroom in Shaker Village

ChapelGroup gathered in the Ministry Shop at Canterbury Shaker Village

Part of our tour took us to the chapel, and again you can see the separation of the chairs. This room would be the place where the Shakers worshiped. The organ they played is pretty impressive. I would have love to hear someone playing music on this organ.Organ at the Canterbury Shaker Village

LaundryFolding Room in the Laundry

The laundry was interesting. I can’t imagine this being my job every day, but people did it. They washed their laundry in large sinks by hand until they came up with and patented a washing machine. The Shakers pursued innovation and progress where they could. They even designed elevators to move the laundry between floors. After the laundry was washed, it was put on the tall drying racks and then sorted into their individual baskets with their initials. Old Fashioned Washing Machine

Finished Laundry Sorting RoomRobe and laundry basket

Education of the Shakers

School House at Canterbury Shaker Village

School House (1823)

The founders of the Shaker community felt strongly that there was a necessity of a thorough education for the children in Shaker homes. The first glimpse of a school in Canterbury was in 1793, but they had no schoolhouse. At first, only boys received instruction in reading and spelling. Girls were not allowed to participate until 1805. At that time, they were allowed to attend one hour, six evenings a week, for lessons on penmanship. In 1817, girls were allowed to go to school in the summer while boys went in the winter. And in 1823, when the schoolhouse was built, the 12-week terms were started. There were 30-50 boys schooled during the winter and the same amount in the summer for girls.

Supplies were limited, and the Shakers had to be resourceful. They used wood or bark to write on until later when they could get paper. The students wrote with goose-quills until 1847 when the Shakers purchased steel pens. The students preferred the artistic look of their writing with quills instead of using the pens. Lead pencils showed up in the community in 1825.

The children studied penmanship, spelling, and reading initially. Arithmetic was added to the lessons in 1814. Geography was introduced to the curriculum in 1817. And in 1825, they included the study of Physiology. The children were able to trace the passage of food through the digestive tract, name the bones and muscles of the body, and trace the circulation of the blood. The next subject introduced was Government (my least favorite subject). The children were able to understand governmental procedures, and how town meetings and the National government were run (even though the Shakers did not vote). As progress was happening outside their communities, the Shakers brought in more books to study from, such as Geology, Elocution, and Botany. In 1870, Free-hand drawing, single and double-entry bookkeeping, and algebra were introduced in school.

Instruction increased over the years to six hours a day, and thirty-six weeks a year. The Shakers emphasized individual instruction over large classes and allowed students to advance at their own pace. This practice permitted each child to build a solid foundation for the future. Unfortunately, the Depression in 1934, brought the schooling in the Shaker community to an end.

Recreation of the Shakers

The Shakers were passionate about the arts, which included drama, music, and dancing. They would perform elaborate scenes with over a hundred characters and only 30 people playing all of them. These performances were staged over Christmas, Easter, and the middle of summer. They had an orchestra to entertain the group with several members joining in, including young children playing the harmonica. The Shakers devoted one evening a week to learn folk-dances. And Monday night was designated game night, where they played checkers, Parcheesi, and dominoes.

Some of the outdoor activities they enjoyed were croquet, ping-pong, and tennis. In the winter, they enjoyed going on sleigh rides and throw popcorn parties where they made popcorn balls. It is neat to see how some traditions don’t change at all over the years. My grandma and mom both made popcorn balls for us when we were kids. Horse Sleigh in Stable BarnHorse carriages in a Shaker barn

Canterbury Shaker Village BuildingsCarpenters' Shop on the left, Brethren's Shop and Creamery on the right in Canterbury Shaker Village

Where to Eat at Canterbury Shaker Village

Box Lunch & Farm Stand at Canterbury Shaker Village

Box Lunch & Farm Stand (1819)

If you get hungry while you are exploring this large National Park, there are plenty of eating establishments for you to choose from. There is the Box Lunch & Farm Stand, where you can enjoy snacks, baked goods, sandwiches, and soup. The Creamery houses the Cafe where you can get light lunch options while eating in a traditional Shaker atmosphere. There is also the Shaker Table Restaurant, which is home to the Lakes Region Community College Culinary Arts Program. You can call 603-708-1192 for reservations.

Gift ShopGift Shop at the Visitor Ed. Center at Canterbury Shaker Village

A must-stop on your visit to the village is to the gift shop located in the Museum Store. You will be able to see the Shakers’ entrepreneurship skills on full display. Some of the items for sale are handmade in the village, such as oval boxes, baskets, or brooms. Other items for sale are specialty foods, textiles, soaps, candles, brass sleighbells, and beautifully made cards. I was able to pick up a beautiful, Shaker oval box to take home.

Photographing the Canterbury Shaker Village GroundsRolling fields in New Hampshire

With over 700 acres of forests, fields, and gardens, you can find some amazing nature photographs. Remember to bring your hood for your lens as there is limited shade around the village. More photo tips:

  • Try not to put the horizon in the center/middle of the photo. It should be a third from the top or a third from the bottom (Rule of Thirds)
  • If you are getting lens flares, try to reposition yourself to the side or use your lens hood
  • Set your camera for Aperture Priority for landscapes (f/11 or f/22: ideally f/16)
  • White Balance: Daylight Setting
  • Set your ISO to 100 if it is a sunny day
  • Focus roughly a 1/3 into the image
  • Use layers to create depth in your composition
  • Remember, Simpler is better!

SummaryWoodland Path by a stone wall

I loved my visit to Canterbury Shaker Village, but it was too short. As I was on a tour with Country Heritage Tours, this visit was structured in-between visits to other attractions in New Hampshire. Just enough time was spent to get a taste of what this village has to offer, which left me with wanting to see more. I so want to go back and spend more time exploring more of the buildings and grounds.

Canterbury Shaker Village receives tens of thousands of visitors each year, making this U.S. National Park one of the most popular destinations in New Hampshire. Will you be one of those visitors this year or next?

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Further Reading

If you are coming to New Hampshire or New England for a visit, check out these posts for further travel inspiration:

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