People enter the Great Barn to do morning chores at the Shaker Village in New Gloucester this month. The barn was originally two separate structures, built in the 1830s. They will undergo a multi-year restoration, funded in part by a $500,000 grant from the National Park Service Save America’s Treasures program. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A traveling crew of timber framers arrived in the hillside village in 1830 to lift the heavy wood beams into place.

It was no small undertaking.

The Shakers who lived at the Sabbathday Lake village in New Gloucester needed more space as their farm and community grew. They built two barns – one to stable horses, the other for oxen and hay. The brothers who worked there every day joined the buildings together in 1891 to create a great barn.

More than a century later, the iconic structure is still central to life in the Shaker village. It’s the first building visitors see when they come to learn about Maine agriculture, Shaker culture and the long history of people who worked and worshipped here.

Shaker Village leader Brother Arnold Hadd Submitted photo

Brother Arnold Hadd and Sister June Carpenter are now the only Shakers living on the property, the last active Shaker community in the world. They maintain a tree farm, vegetable and herb gardens, hay fields, pastures, a flock of sheep and several Highland cattle.

“We have worked this land since 1783. Farming is a part of our daily routines, it shapes our theology and is even expressed in our songs. It is our life and our lifeline, as it is for so many others,” Brother Arnold said.


The barn is essential to their work, Brother Arnold said, and “not only symbolizes who we are and what we do, but it also symbolizes through farming heritage our shared commonalities with all farmers across the entire Northeast. It represents a harmony between the built environment, the natural world, the animal kingdom and the climate.”

But the building is tired.

Decades of erosion, frost and decay have taken a toll on the 150-foot megastructure, which sits on stone footings. A few years ago, a tractor fell through the floor as the 50-ton hay crop was moved into the barn.

Now, the barn will get new life through an extensive restoration designed to preserve it and create new opportunities for visitors to learn about Shaker traditions that continue today.

Brother Arnold sweeps out a sheep stall inside the barn at the Shaker Village in New Gloucester. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


Brother Arnold hopes the restoration, to be completed over the next three years, will preserve it for the century to come. The work is funded by donations and a $500,000 Save America’s Treasures grant, awarded last week by the National Park Service. It was among the largest awards from the $24.25 million in grants given to 80 projects in 32 states and the District of Columbia.


“That barn is probably, for me and Brother Arnold, the most special building here because it represents so much of the consecrated labor that has taken place here for over 200 years,” said Michael Graham, the Shakers’ farmer and director of the nonprofit Shaker Museum and Library. “It’s very easy to become nostalgic about this, but it’s also very real in those spaces.”

The barn restoration is the latest in a series of projects the Shakers have undertaken to repair some of the oldest buildings in the village. That work started last year with repairs to the slate roof of the 1883 dwelling house and continued this month with work to stabilize the yellow garage that has housed the Shakers’ vehicles since they bought the first car in town in 1910.

The Shakers have been developing a comprehensive plan for their community that they believe will create a sustainable model for the future, preserve buildings and expand their social missions. They hope it also will connect the larger community to the village, its history and the traditions of the Shakers who have lived at Sabbathday Lake for more than 230 years.

They have ambitious, $10 million plans for projects to restore the barn and herb house, open 1,200 acres of land for public use, create a visitors’ house to welcome guests and open a farmers’ market featuring small local producers.

The barn restoration is expected to begin next year. The Shakers are still working to meet the match requirement for the Save America’s Treasures grant, but are optimistic they will have the money soon.

Dan Boyle of Preservation Timber Framing paints the bell tower of the dwelling house at the Shaker Village in New Gloucester. The slate roof was recently repaired and is part of a multi-year restoration effort at the village. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The great barn will temporarily be separated back into two buildings when the work begins. The 80-foot hay barn will be raised onto 10-foot temporary supports while a permanent frost footer is installed beneath. After it is lowered back onto the new foundation and reattached to the front barn, the focus will shift to repairing the original timber frame construction. Preservation Timber Framing of Berwick, which has done restoration work at the village for decades, will replace the damaged parts of the frame piece by piece.



The Shakers are best known as the composers of more than 10,000 songs and the designers of furniture revered for its simplicity and high quality.

“They are those things, but the Shakers themselves self-identify as farmers,” Graham said. “Their ties to the land run deep, they are multi-generational, and they’re at the very core of the rhythm of life that happens here every day.”

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Awakening, more commonly known as the Shakers, was founded in England in 1747 and brought to North America in 1774 by Mother Ann Lee. Over time, they established 18 communities, including two in Maine.

Shakers practice communal living where all property is shared. They are pacifists who live a celibate life in imitation of Christ and practice social, economic and spiritual equality for all members. Worship and work are deeply entwined.

There have been Shakers at Sabbathday Lake since 1783, when a group of missionaries from the Shaker community in Alfred came to New Gloucester. As the community grew, the Shakers built a meetinghouse for public worship, a communal dwelling house, barns and mills.


They brought with them a deep knowledge of herbalism. As they traded with Indigenous people, the Shakers learned about native plants and their medicinal properties. The Shakers, who would become known for their innovation, pioneered the production of medicinal herbs in the United States starting in 1799. They grew herbs, dried them in the attics of herb houses, then packaged them in tin canisters or paper-wrapped bricks and shipped them to customers.

The business exploded in popularity in the 1830s, but the Shakers were largely edged out of the business by the end of that century. The herb houses in Shaker communities outside of Maine were torn down or repurposed for other uses, leaving the Sabbathday Lake Shakers with the only traditional herb house.

The herb business at Sabbathday Lake limped along into the 1910s and, by the 1930s, only a few culinary herbs were sold at the village store. It was revived in the late 1960s and today the herbs grown, dried and packaged at Sabbathday Lake are sold online, at farmers’ markets, in stores and at Shaker museums in other states.

The original herb house, built in 1884, is one of the oldest buildings on the property. For years, it has only been used for storage. It doesn’t have heat and isn’t usable in its current condition, Graham said. The Sisters Shop, formerly used for laundry, is now the headquarters for the herb business.

The Shakers plan to breathe new life into the herb business, and the village, with a $4.3 million restoration project to transform the building into the Shaker Herb House Center. Earlier this year, the project secured the Shakers’ first federal grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities. The $750,000 grant will be allocated over three years as the Shakers raise matching funds. So far, a capital campaign has raised more than $800,000.

“It took a community of people to build Shaker Village,” Graham said. “It’s going to take a community of people to help restore, stabilize and preserve it for future generations.”


The new center will provide free, self-guided access for visitors to see the daily operation of the business, demonstrations of folk traditions and a space for master classes in herbalism, agriculture, culinary arts and traditional crafts. Work is expected to begin next year and take up to three years. When it is done, nearly all of the 8,000-square-foot building will be open to the public year-round.


The Sabbathday Lake Shakers first opened a museum and library in 1931 and it quickly became a roadside attraction for vacationers traveling along Route 26, which used to run through the village. In recent decades, the Shaker village has been open during the summer for tours and the Shakers hosted workshops, fairs and concerts. But tourism had been declining about 10 percent each year before the pandemic forced the village to close to visitors for two summers.

Greg Morgan places a level on a steel beam before workers raise the Yellow Garage at the Shaker Village in New Gloucester. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

It was open this summer, but things weren’t quite the same. Like many businesses and organizations, the Shakers struggled to find people to give tours after some staff and volunteers decided to retire. Graham said visitors are starting to find their way back to the Shaker village, but foreign tourism has been nonexistent.

“One of the hurdles we need to overcome right now is so many people in Maine know exactly where we are because, as they’ll tell us, they’ve driven by us for years and sometimes decades,” Graham said. “We need to give these folks a reason to stop.”

Last week, as Graham sat on a porch and talked about the future of the village, several cars with tourists pulled into the dirt parking lot. The visitors stopped at the store and some walked past the dwelling house, the row of white buildings and barn, but there was no one available to give a tour.


Graham stopped to talk to an out-of-state couple who had hoped to learn more about the Shakers. He apologized they couldn’t see more, but shared with them the history of the yellow garage, which is now lifted 8 feet off the ground while a crew from Preservation Timber Framing stabilizes the structure.

The garage, Graham told them, was built by Brother Delmer Wilson and Brother Eben Coolbroth after the Shakers bought their first car, a used Silent Selden. They painted the garage yellow with paint gifted to them by the Rickers, who owned the Poland Spring Hotel.

Graham would like more opportunities to share these stories with visitors and connect people to the Shakers. Future projects include opening about 1,200 of the Shakers’ 1,800 acres of land in New Gloucester and Poland with public walking, snowshoeing and ski trails.

The Shakers plan to build a visitors’ house at the southern edge of the village that will feature the work of traditional artists and the first documentary ever made by the Shakers.

They also want to build a farmers’ market and café to give local farmers and producers a place to sell their goods to the public. That market will be built next to an apple tree planted by the girls’ caretaker in the early 1900s to make sure passersby had something to eat.

Brother Arnold and Graham know the plan for Sabbathday Lake is ambitious, but they are encouraged by the outpouring of support it has already received. Members of the Friends of the Shakers, a nonprofit founded in 1974 to support the village, have been enthusiastic about the projects and have given generously to support them, as have people the Shakers are meeting for the first time, Graham said.

Beyond highlighting the historical significance of the Shakers, Graham hopes all of these projects will allow people to see the ongoing presence and relevance of the Shakers through personal and lasting connections.

“This is our step into the future,” he said.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.