cf. Albany County
The Watervliet Shakers
In the quest for perfection in this life and a place where they could practice their own form of Godly worship, Mother Ann Lee (1736-1784) in 1776, led her handful of followers to settlement on a boggy farm of 200 acres in the countryside of Albany County, about six miles north of the city. This spot marked the beginnings of the Shaker movement in America, known as The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. Mother Ann Lee was the spiritual leader, considered the female counterpart of Jesus, in this Protestant religious communal society, which among other things practiced celibacy, and consecration of their time and talent to the glory of God. By the most diligent labor, they converted the soggy farmland into abundantly productive acreage. By prophecy and proselytizing, they converted many adults and adopted children, generally orphans, to be followers of their faith. They founded not only the colony of Watervliet, but several others in various sections of the country. At their height, about 1850, the Shakers numbered approximately 6,000 members, mainly in the Northeast. After the Civil War, all Shaker communities went into a gradual decline. The last Shaker left Watervliet for the settlement of New Lebanon, N.Y., in July 1938.
At the high point of their prosperity at Watervliet, circa 1840, there were four "families", in total about 350 people, living on over 3,000 acres. Each family managed its own affairs and had its own spiritual and governmental leaders, composed of both men and women of the order. The Watervliet Shakers lived in groups of buildings composed of North, South, West and Church families. The Church Family section is no occupied by the Albany County Ann Lee Home complex; the North Family buildings were burned by fire in 1927 and again in 1932. Their land is now occupied by the Shaker Ridge Country Club. The West and South Family buildings are privately owned and occupied. The buildings and most of the 770 acres of land that still remain, as well as the Shaker cemetery, have been placed on the National Register. The burying ground contains neat rows of simple white headstones, all identical, except one that is a bit larger - this stone commemorates the resting place of Mother Ann.
The Shakers are admired for their devotion to God and their tenacity to their religious beliefs, their neatness and devotion to industry; for their handicrafts, which exhibit a serene, simple beauty; for their inventions which were years ahead of their time, and for their skill in many forms of agriculture. Their dwellings and outbuildings were simple, clean-lined and sturdy. Their excellent farm produce found a ready market in Albany and their garden seeds, patent medicines, canned fruits and vegetables were shipped around the world.
In 1927, the main dwelling house of the Church family was still standing - made of wood, with its bell tower, built in 1818. To the right stood a 19th century stone building - the sisters' workshop - and beside it was a wooden dwelling house, built in 1790. To the left, there was a new meeting house, built in 1846, as well as the first meeting house of 1791 and the brick ministry house built in 1825. The meeting house of 1846 has been faced with brick and now serves as a Catholic chapel for the Ann Lee Home facility.
The West Family granary is one of the few Shaker outbuildings still in existence on the Watervliet properties. It has been converter into a residence.
"The Plan of Watervliet, N.Y."
A large map that may have been drawn in 1839 by David Austin Buckingham, a member of the Watervliet Shaker community at the time.
A portion of the map shows the buildings and grounds of the 1st Order which was known as The Church Family. The diagram illustrates the first meetinghouse as a gambrel-roofed structure, drawn to the southwest (at right and below) the dwelling house. This meeting house was built in 1791 for the Watervliet Church Family by Brother Moses Johnson of Enfield, New Hampshire. The ministry house, built in 1825, is also on the 'Plan', to the right of the dwelling house, above the meeting house (to the north). It is still standing, as is the brick trustee's office (1830) at the far south of the grounds. The 'Plan' also includes the brick shop, built in 1822, which is located in the center of the compound, to the west. These buildings are now part of the facilities of the Albany County Ann Lee Home.