Enfield Shaker Museum Collection

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Scroll down this page or click here to read occasional articles about the museum’s collections and preservation activities.

Collections Mission:

The Enfield Shaker Museum’s collections help fulfill our primary objectives as a preservation and educational organization. The Museum collects objects made by, used by, or illustrative of the individual and collective lives of the Enfield Shakers, the New Hampshire Bishopric Shaker communities, and Shakerism in general. Objects in our collection range from the most common of everyday objects used by the Shakers, to our largest artifacts–the buildings and the site itself.

Objects in our collection receive care to ensure their survival in perpetuity.  Beyond the important work of preserving physical artifacts, we also preserve through our collection the opportunity for future research and education. The body of knowledge of the Shakers is continually expanding, and what we know today will certainly be increased over time.

For our visitors today, artifacts on display create a tangible, visible connection to the Shakers who formerly lived here. Shaker material culture is a fascinating introduction to the history of the individuals who formed this unique communal society in Enfield, New Hampshire.

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Curator’s Blog:

Enfield Shaker Brother Nelson Chase’s Patented Folding Stereoscope

September 24, 2020

Today the museum was delighted to participate in a virtual program hosted by Hancock Shaker Village entitled “Shaker Collections from the Virtual Vault.” The program included presentations by Hancock Shaker Village, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, South Union Shaker Village, and the Enfield Shaker Museum.

Enfield’s presentation highlighted an interesting object from the collection, Enfield Brother Nelson Chase’s patented folding stereoscope. Mildly vexed by technical difficulties during the original program, you can now watch a complete version of this presentation on Youtube.

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1882 letter and likely author, Abraham Perkins

Museum Receives donation of 1882 Letter from the Shirley (MA) Historical Society

September 3, 2020

The two-page letter is written in ink on both sides of a single piece of lined paper in a beautiful hand. The letter begins “Enfield, N.H. May 7th, 1882” and is addressed to “Beloved Elder William,” likely Shirley (MA) Shaker Village Elder William Weatherbee. The letter is not complete so there is no signature, but the writing is believed to be that of Enfield Elder Abraham Perkins.

The letter is a beautiful addition to our collection and constitutes an excellent insight into the life of an Enfield Shaker on that day. If you would like to view the letter, I’m happy to announce that it is now possible to view it online. The museum is in the process of creating an online collections database as part of a NEH grant through the CARES Act, and this letter is included in a small number of artifacts and photos that have been made available as we develop the site. Follow this link to our collections database to see the online object record, photos, a pdf scan of the letter, and a transcription. While you are there, have a look around and let us know what you think, you have the chance to be one of our first Beta testers!

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Enfield Shaker preservation 1854 Cow Barn historic photo

Preservation Wednesday:  1854 Cow Barn Gets a Fresh Coat of Paint

June 10, 2020

Painter Ken Morin has just finished giving the south side of the 1854 Cow Barn a much-needed fresh coat of paint.  At 140 feet in length, this project was a considerable undertaking, even before considering that Ken worked through the recent heat wave with temperatures reaching 93 degrees.  The barn looks great, congratulations to Ken on a job well done in challenging conditions.

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Brethren's East Shop exterior. Enfield Shaker preservation

Preservation Wednesday:  Brethren’s East Shop Interior Pine Paneling Arrives

May 27, 2020

Today Joel Currier of Currier Farms in Danville, VT delivered some incredible pine paneling for use in the Brethren’s East Shop interior.  Joel cuts all this pine from his family property, kiln dries it, and mills it using custom made cutters designed to exactly match the bead of original boards found in the building.

The boards range from eight to sixteen feet in length and are up to 20” wide.  The first-floor walls will be sheathed with this pine from floor to ceiling, the second-floor from the floor to three inches above the windowsills, with lath and plaster above.

An original piece of wall sheathing found in the building indicated that it was not tongue and groove, as is sometimes seen, but rather both boards are grooved and they are installed with a separate spline inserted into the grooves.  Joel also provided bundles of splines to be used when the boards are installed.

The exterior transformation of this building, with its bold color, has made a huge impact on the site, it will be exciting to see the interior begin to be transformed with the installation of this beautiful pine soon.

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Historic photo of the Laundry building. (1813/1833) Enfield Shaker preservation

Preservation Wednesday:  Laundry Attic and 3rd Floor Curatorial Storage

May 20, 2020

This week we have a look at some projects going on in the 1813/1833 Laundry Building.  Two large rooms on the third floor which are used for curatorial storage have been the subject of much effort over the last year.  Post-Shaker partitions and wooden shelving have been removed, and 30 three-foot long units of metal shelving donated by Shaker Workshops have been installed, yielding over 450 linear feet of 18” deep shelving.  Museum volunteer, Lynn Waehler, is pictured below removing old labels from the shelving.

The arrival of this shelving is timely, as we will eventually have about 120 boxes of archaeological dig artifacts to organize and shelve.  Artifacts which have been cleaned, cataloged, bagged, and boxed by students at the Plymouth State University archaeology lab are shown organized by dig year and site, awaiting their final home on the new shelving.  Pictured are Lynn and Dick Dabrowski in the process of moving the boxes onto the shelves.

Lynn’s husband, Paul Waehler, works in the attic above, removing post-Shaker boards along the edge of the attic floor.  The attic originally had knee walls, located approximately where Paul’s right hand rests on the floor in the photo, and the original Shaker sub-floor and floor ended just outside the now-missing knee walls.  Interestingly, the area behind the walls was open to the room below.

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Enfield Shaker preservation Meeting Room cupboard door

Preservation Wednesday:  Meeting Room Cupboard Door Project

May 13, 2020

Work is nearing completion on the Great Stone Dwelling’s Dining Room, so today let’s turn our attention to another important space – the second floor Meeting Room.  As with other second-generation Shaker dwelling houses, the Great Stone Dwelling incorporated many design improvements and new technologies to improve comfort, efficiency, and harmony in the inhabitant’s communal life together.

One new feature of this, and other, second-generation dwelling houses was the incorporation of worship space within the house.  The Meeting Room provided over 2000 square feet of unobstructed floor space to accommodate the charismatic worship practiced by the Shakers at that time, and is a focal point of the design of the building

The north and south exterior walls each have 6 windows providing abundant light and architectural interest with their shutters and paneling below.  The east and west walls, in comparison, are plainer, with central doors leading from both the Brother’s add Sister’s hallways.  The broad expanses of wall on either side of these doors contains the ubiquitous peg rail and are punctuated only by small cupboard doors, one in each quadrant of the room.

These cupboards have been the focus of considerable effort this week.  Two of the four cupboard doors were in place, but two doors had been removed many years ago.  Fortunately, the museum was able to purchase these doors to return them to the site, and Tim Baker is in the process of re-installing them.

As for some of the Dining Room projects described earlier, the removal of post-Shaker trim has revealed details which have increased our knowledge of the design of these cupboards.  The cupboards utilized the space between the room and the adjacent Shaker chimneys.  The 20th Century removal of the chimneys disturbed the backs of the cupboards to differing degrees, but much evidence of their design remains.  It appears that the two north cupboards had shelves, possibly for hymnals, while the two south cupboards did not.

So far this week, Tim has been able to repair and return a span of peg rail to its original location, replace missing peg rail with reproduction stock, repair original door trim, and recreate the door casing/cupboard sides and threshold in one of the openings.  Some interesting joinery has been discovered and will be the model for work on the remaining three openings.

Because of their location along a vast expanse of wall, these simple cupboards create a powerful focal point and are an important part of the visual impact of the room.  Tim’s work in returning them to their original appearance will again remind us how small details and features, working together as part of a whole, create the unique Shaker interiors that we cannot help to marvel at, no matter how often we see them.

Like a good season finale, I will leave you with a teaser:  Stay tuned to see what Tim discovered adjacent to one of these cupboards as part of his investigation. Coming to a Preservation Wednesday soon.

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Top view of the rastrum showing initials "IY"

Isaac Newton Youngs Rastrum Pen Nib

May 7, 2020

The Museum’s Archaeological Field School in conjunction with Plymouth State University under the supervision of Dr. David Starbuck dug within the foundation of the former Boy’s Shop in 2018.  Located north of the East and West Brethren’s Shops, it can be seen in this photo taken from the cupola of the Great Stone Dwelling, indicated by the red arrow.

The foundation hole contained a rich collections of artifacts, with some areas seeming to be more artifacts than dirt at times.  Mixed in with this vast array of found items is a small brass tool that is on of the most exciting finds in our 5 years of digging.

It is part of a rostrum used in inking 5 parallel lines on paper for a music staff.  This pen nib is about an inch long and half-inch wide, with remains of wood that formed the handle.  There are 5 “tines” which are bent lengthwise into a shallow “v” and split up the center.  On the back are the initials “I.Y.” which stand for Isaac Newton Youngs, a Shaker at the Watervliet Shaker Village who made these pens.

Music was very important to the spiritual and social lives of the Shakers, and they were prolific song writers.  Much effort was spent teaching music in the communities and sharing music between villages.  This pen nib, likely made ca 1840 shows some of the effort expended fostering music in the villages – a product manufactured in one village, distributed to another village, in order to record music for use within the family as well as communication of songs between villages.  A great story illustrated by a unique and fascinating artifact.  Many thanks to the diggers at the 2018 Field School, and especially Brenden LaFleur who discovered this item.

The start of the museum’s 2020 Field School in conjunction with Plymouth State University has been postponed until June 1, 2020.  For more information about archaeology at the Enfield Shaker Museum or updates on the scheduling of this dig, contact education@shakermuseum.org.

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Enfield Shaker preservation laying out the orchard

Preservation Wednesday:  Laying out the Great Stone Dwelling Orchard

May 6, 2020

In addition to the restoration work on our buildings, we are also continually working on the grounds with an eye to restoring as many of the 19th Century Shaker features and layout as possible.  Towards that end, Museum Herbalist Diana Kimball-Anderson is in the process of planning an orchard for the south lawn of the Great Stone Dwelling, based on photos of the original Shaker orchard there.  Today museum board member and preservation volunteer Paul Waehler began to layout the lines for the planting of the trees. 

Paul scrutinizes historic photos and maps to plot the locations of the rows and each individual tree within each row.  Paul has honed these skills over the past few years preparing for our archaeological digs, he plots the corners of the buildings to guide us in locating our dig pits and is usually within a couple of inches of the actual foundation corners discovered during the digs.  We look forward to seeing this project progress through the coming months.

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Hands-on Circular Knitting Machine:  A short video

April 30, 2020

Enjoy this quick YouTube video showing the hands-on circular knitting machine in Exhibit Room 2 of the Great Stone Dwelling.

Enfield Shaker Quotes

Quote of the Day:  A Spring Message from the May 1897 Manifesto

April 29, 2020

With our recent late-April snowfall, a spring quote seems especially welcome.  This quote is from the May 1897 edition of The Manifesto, published monthly by the Shakers.  The Home Notes section relayed news from each community, and this quote is from Enfield’s entry. 

“We hail with joy the pleasant chirpings of the robin redbreast as his cheery song floats out upon the morning air. Altho the cold season has not been unusually severe and general health has prevailed in our Society, still we are ready to sing, – “Winter, adieu, your time is through.” ”

Photo credit:

Photo credit:  Read up on our NH Robins @ https://nhpbs.org/wild/americanrobin.asp

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Enfield Shaker preservation dining room door trim

Preservation Wednesday:  Dining Room Doorway Trim Restoration

April 29, 2020

With the restoration of the west wall of the Great Stone Dwelling Dining Room almost complete, we could not stop without addressing the door trim on the hall side, could we?  Of course not! 

The original Shaker trim had been cut away in the mid-20th Century and broad, thick replacement trim had been installed to allow the door orientation to be changed.  This week Tim Baker removed the post-Shaker trim and is making reproduction Shaker trim to restore the opening.  Shout out to Doug Henson at Pitch Pocket Woodworks of Haverhill, NH, who ran the stock for this project and hit the Shaker profile spot on.

Tim found that because the non-Shaker trim was so wide, the peg rail had been cut and would now not extend to the reproduction door trim he was about to install.  Because this is a piece of original peg rail in its original location (confirmed by nail holes behind it) we make every effort to conserve as much of it as possible.  Tim joins a piece of new peg rail to the original to make it long enough to be coped (cut to match) to the reproduction door trim.

The baseboard was not original either, so Tim is making and installing new baseboard.  Note how the baseboard sits into a groove that runs all around the perimeter of the flooring.  Tim’s attention to these details will make this new door trim the perfect complement to the ongoing beautiful restoration in the Dining Room this winter.

Update:  The new trim and restored original peg rail has been installed.  Here is a look at the original peg rail with the added piece coped to the door trim.  Museum volunteer Dick Dabrowski prepares the newly installed woodwork for painting.

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Tuesday Tour:  The Granite of the Great Stone Dwelling

April 28, 2020

This YouTube video (2:27) examines the granite of the Great Stone Dwelling.

Dining Room table leg and trestle

Great Stone Dwelling Dining Room Table

April 23, 2020

In January of 2019 the Enfield Shaker Museum received a donation that funded the purchase of one of the original Enfield dining room tables at auction at Southeby’s in New York City.  It is very exciting to have this unique artifact, one of only three remaining Enfield dining tables, returned to the room where it was designed and made to be used in 1841.

The table is yellow birch, the most common furniture hardwood at Enfield, and is a remarkable 21’ 6” long.  The top is made of two yellow birch boards each the length of the table, one 15.5 inches wide the other  19.5 inches wide, joined with a spline joint.

The top is supported by a center trestle and three legs with graceful, high arched bases.  Having only three sets of legs over this long span results in a surprisingly delicate, graceful, and ethereal look when viewed from the side.

The table is exhibited in the dining room with place settings that replicate those seen in photographs taken in the 1870’s and 1880’s, supported by information from artifacts of ironstone discovered in several of our archaeological field schools in conjunction with Plymouth State University.

This table was central to daily life of the Enfield Church Family Shakers who dined at it three meals a day for over 8 decades.  Its arrival, along with the ongoing restoration of the dining room, helps us convey the sense of what that daily life looked and felt like in the 19th Century Shaker village.

( Click here to read an article from our monthly newsletter chronicling this tables 96 year journey from its sale by the Shakers in 1923 to its return to the Dining Room in 2019)

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Enfield Shaker preservation GSD cupboard catch

Preservation Wednesday:  Great Stone Dwelling Cupboard Catches

April 22, 2020

Restoration of built-ins in the Great Stone Dwelling has been ongoing the last few years.  Visitors enjoy seeing our woodworkers working to restore the unique features of the building, repairing original components, and recreating missing features where necessary.  But in addition to all the woodwork there are hardware issues to consider as well.

Today we were excited to get our first look at reproduction cupboard door catches that have just been custom made for us.  Each cupboard door has a spring steel catch that engages with a brass tack affixed to the bottom of a shelf in the cupboard to hold the cupboard door firmly closed. While many of these catches are still in place and operable, a number are missing, and an exact replacement is not available commercially.

Museum volunteer, Dick Dabrowski, who is overseeing our restoration projects, set about to find a New Hampshire manufacturer who could reproduce these for us.  He interviewed several fabricators who were quite frankly too large to tool up for a project of this size, but found a Hooksett, NH fabricator named Ranall Metal Technology, Inc. who was willing to take on the project.

Dick provided them an original catch as a sample, and they have just delivered us 300 catches which are so accurate that it appears that we will be able to use original holes where available to mount the catches. These should keep us supplied with spring steel catches for cupboard doors for the foreseeable future.

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Enfield Shaker. North Family Trustee's Office postcard

This Week in Shaker History:  The North Family Fast Day Fire of 1856

April 16, 2020

The North Family was Enfield’s Gathering Order where new members would live while trying out Shakerism.  It is located just to the north of the Church Family, where the La Salette Shrine is located today. On Fast Day, April 10, 1856, a calamitous fire broke out as described by former Shaker Henry Cumings in an article entitled “Sketch of the North Family of Shakers”, published in the Enfield Advocate on May 16, 1913:

“April 10, 1856, being Fast day, occurred the great fire that swept away about a dozen buildings in all. The fire started in the mill, which stood where the pail shop was afterwards erected, and there being a strong wind from the north the fire was quickly swept through a row of barns, sheds and other buildings, most of them old and not very valuable but three of them were better. It seemed for a time as though it would sweep the entire group. By the most strenuous effort the long wood shed and the Stone house and the front row of buildings were saved. A new mill was erected the same year. This building was afterwards made into a tub and pail factory in 1869, and was used for that purpose til 1892, I think, when the pail machinery, engine, etc., were sold, and about a year later it took fire and burnt down.”

In this postcard image, the North Family buildings that survived the fire are seen in the center left, with the Church Family beyond and even the Second Family in the distance to the right.  The dozen buildings that were lost in the fire would have been to the left (north) of the buildings seen in this photo.

In this view of the lake taken from the hill by Col. Frank C. Churchill in the late 19th Century, the buildings in the lower right are the buildings that were built to replace the burned ones.  No photographs are known to exist of the North Family before the fire.

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Preservation Wednesday: Dining Room Restoration and Installation of the Atkins Clock Company Wall Clock

April 8, 2020

This YouTube video (1:26) looks at some of the recent restoration work in the Dining Room of the Great Stone Dwelling and the installation of the Atkins Clock Company wall clock.