The two closest Shaker communities to Cincinnati are also the most difficult to see.
The White Water Shaker Village isn’t open to the public on a regular basis, though there is a dedicated group of people trying to change that. And Union Village – the largest Western Shaker community – has all but been erased.
The only structure that remains (that I know of) is now the marketing office for the Otterbein Senior Life retirement home (see photo at right).
Union Village, about 30 miles northeast of Cincinnati, was once a bustling area of commerce. The Shakers there sold seeds and brooms and were an important part of the abolitionist activity in the area before the Civil War.
While the village is gone, some of its furniture was saved.
On Saturday, I took Welsh chairmaker Chris Williams and Megan Fitzpatrick to Harmon Museum in Lebanon, Ohio. This charming and tidy museum doesn’t attract lots of tourists, but it has an impressive collection of Shaker furniture and objects that were rescued from Union Village.
Many of the pieces display the characteristics of typical Ohio-made pieces, including the table legs that are turned and taper at the floor. Some of the chairs and rockers in the collection were downright astonishing, and I wonder where they were made. And there were some impressive casework pieces, including secretaries and built-ins.
If you find yourself in the area, I recommend a stop. It’s a few minutes off Interstate 71. In the meantime, here are some photos of a few of the pieces that caught my eye.
— Christopher Schwarz
5 thoughts on “Union: The Lost Shaker Village”
Chris, shouldn’t the expression ” has all but been erased” be written as “has been all but erased”?
I know you care.
All the best….
I love shaker. I have 3 books filled with shaker furniture. I have made a few and love how simple they are. they do there job without any fanciness.
Some 20 years ago I bought a Shaker style dropleaf table which I believe to be at least 19th century, much like the one in your last photo except it has simple turned legs. It is solid maple, a 24” wide single board top 1/2” pegged into the side rails on all four sides; each drop leaf is over 18” wide and also single boards. It is remarkable to me that there is so much ribbon figuring in all of it. Top and sides are a full 1” thickness. The seller was a young woman friend who was selling off most of here parents’ furniture, none of it of much interest to her; I don’t think she was willing to take more than $30 for it though I bought other pieces from her that were not antiques or anything special. I have not been willing to part with this piece because it is so beautifully made. It has been refinished probably because the original finish had considerable wear.
Obviously, this is a blog for woodworkers. I am curious though about the other items that may have been made by the Shakers that would have survived, such as metal items. I don’t see much of that. Thank you for the pictures. It is interesting to compare the local styles.
If you’re ever passing through Illinois on I-74, South of the Quad Cities there is a nicely preserved Swedish Communal Society Village, Bishop Hill, settled in the 1840’s. Some really nice architecture and several museums with a nice collection of furniture, among many other artifacts. Exhibits in the Old Steeple Building include a joiner’s bench, tool chest & tools. And another includes a huge great-wheel wood lathe!
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