GSA Visit to Canterbury Shaker Village, a National Historic Landmark


Written by GSA Roz Lowen, Waterville Valley Resort Class of 2017

On May 22, 2023, we were treated to a tour of the Canterbury Shaker Village. The Shakers originated in England in 1747 and migrated to NY. Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, NH was established in 1792. No members remain and the property is now a national historic landmark.

Shakers were so-called because they prayed to music and actively danced. They believed that worship should be ecstatic.

The men were called brothers and the women, sisters. The leaders were ministry. Brothers and sisters had separate bedrooms. Although they were seated separately in the meeting house and dining room, they believed in equality. No one owned property. It was pooled. Some people who joined were wealthy, while others had been very poor. They established various industries, sold wool textiles and seeds, invested, and eventually were very prosperous. They strove for self-sufficiency, growing their own food, and establishing their own water system.

We toured 4 of the many buildings. The meeting house had separate banks of benches designated for brothers, sisters, ministry, and novices (newcomers who were provisional). There were round insets on the floor to indicate where the dancers should stand. The blue paint on the walls was the original paint, over 200 years old.

Next, we explored the Dwelling house. The bottom floor contained the kitchen and dining rooms. Upstairs were about 50 bedrooms which mainly were shared. Above that were storage rooms.

The Laundry had washing facilities and upstairs drying racks. Also in that building was the mending room. The Shakers were technically inclined and are reputed to have created the first washing machine.

Finally, we visited the schoolhouse. The main room was raised. It contained desks, smaller ones in front for the youngest children and bigger ones in the back. The walls had blackboards. The older children taught the younger ones. The schoolhouse was eventually closed down, as there were fewer children and they were taught elsewhere on the property.

This was a wonderful experience learning about the Shakers and exploring some of their legacy. There are also trails to explore the extensive property. I recommend a visit.

Additional Comments from GSAs:

It was interesting to me to learn about the details of the various buildings, as we walked about the property, and I had no idea it was such a huge complex in past years. I will surely be recommending the Canterbury Shaker Village to people I encounter who are looking for a historic site to visit in the Loudon, Canterbury and Concord areas.

A little bit about the laundry: When clothes and sheets came from the infirmary, they were always boiled in a cauldron before they were washed, as the normal laundry was for sanitation purposes. After the clothes were washed, they were brought up to the attic by a dumbwaiter to be dried on narrow sliding wooden racks, which then were slid into another room above the washroom, where the left-over steam heat rose to dry the clothes. 

The shakers were very organized, and in another attic room, there were rows and rows of drawers and closets labeled with a system that told the building, floor, and room number where they belonged. ~ Bobbie

I especially like watching the wind blow in the fields/trees and listening to the birds/cows while trying to imagine what the community was like long ago – it was truly a glorious day! It’s hard to believe at one time there were 100 or so buildings/mills/a working farm, there, etc.

I was truly amazed by:

  • How sound the structure of the buildings was;
  • The organization of the Shakers – the incredible beauty and detail of all that they made;
  • How technologically advanced they were – and how families made it to/found Canterbury of all places to settle;
  • Management/Staff/Caretakers of the Village and everyone’s dedication to the preservation of it;
  • It is able to stay open/funded by a Trust/non-profit


I’ve been to Shaker Village before but on my own.   Your passion for history came through strongly and helped me to visualize what life was like when the Village was fully operational. ~Mark

I cannot recall ever having a more engaging and interesting tour.  I have been to Canterbury and other Shaker communities before, and even took a Dartmouth Osher course on the Shakers given by an author/ expert on the subject. You put all the pieces together and made the group far more interesting and human than ever before. ~Pat

I particularly enjoyed seeing the schoolroom and hearing about how education evolved at Canterbury. The Canterbury Shaker Village is a beautiful and interesting place. I am grateful that it is being preserved and shared. ~JoAnn

We were fascinated by both the historical tour and your incredible ability to tell us a story that flowed from building to building. ~Bob & Irene

Kyle had an incredible knowledge of past and present-day Shakers, the village, and surrounding properties.  He painted a beautiful picture of life in the thriving hay day of the village. ~Margaret

Photos: GSA Bobbie Goodrich & Kathie Rice Orshak