Beginnings of a renovation at Mount Lebanon Shaker Village


Photo Gallery | Grounds cleaned up at Shaker Museum work day

NEW LEBANON, N.Y. -- Efforts are underway to restore a unique piece of Shaker history.

A little more than a dozen volunteers lent a hand at Mount Lebanon Shaker Village on Saturday for a work-day at the Great Stone Barn.

It was related to a multiyear, $2 million project to restore the dairy barn and "compost factory" located in the village's North Family section.

"The reason [the barn] is so important is because of the agricultural practices," Museum President David Stocks said. "This was the first time anyone used New England mill technology in agriculture."

Measuring 50 feet wide, four stories high, and 200 feet long, the barn was built in 1859 over a 18-month period, Stocks said. A massive fire in 1972 left only the massive masonry walls of soapstone and bluestone.

When the Shaker Museum and Library purchased the 30-acre site in 2004, Stocks said, the organization made it a priority to relocate from its site in Old Chatham. In addition to completing several renovations, the organization recently purchased 60 acres of pasture originally used by the Shakers.

On Saturday, volunteers picked through weeds and cleared growth that sprouted inside the barn.

One volunteer was Ben Russell, a senior at University at Albany.

"My girlfriend works here as an intern giving tours and asked me if I wanted to come help out," he said.

A double major in religious studies and philosophy, and someone who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty, Russell acknowledged the site's historical importance and massive scale.

"I wouldn't know how to build a barn," he added.

Interior and exterior masonry work has been completed on the Great Stone Barn by Allegrone Construction Co., of Pittsfield, Stocks said.

"We rebuilt the top three feet of walls," said Peter Watson, a trustee who participated in Saturday's cleanup efforts. "We were able to recreate the original roof lines because we had the original hand-drawn plans."

The organization is fundraising for a second phase, Stocks said, which would restore the floors and cap the roof and make the barn into a performance space. The museum is hoping to use a $500,000 grant from the state in addition to $250,000 in private donations and fundraising.

Historic documents give insight into the Shaker community's belief of form following function as well as sustainable agriculture, Stocks said.

Hay was dropped off at the present-day Darrow Road entrance to the east, Stocks said, and mixed with grain before being sent down a series of chutes to the cattle. Manure was transported by carts on a rail system to a "manure vault" at the barn's west side, where it was composted over the winter and used to fertilize the crops, gardens and orchards.

"Shakers believed everything they had was a gift from God and it was their religious duty to care of it properly," Stocks said.

For more information on the Mount Lebanon Shaker Historic Site, visit or call (518) 794-9100.

To reach Edward Damon:
or (413) 663-3741 ext 224.
On Twitter: @BE_EDamon


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