Canterbury Shaker Village

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Summer vacations have always been a quiet affair for me. I live in southern New Hamsphire, in a rural community that endures six months of winter by envisioning the dazzling months of June, July, and August that always await us. There are other seasons to travel, but summer, for me, has been a chance to stay home.

This year, my wife and I had another good reason to stay at home. We had a new house. A project house, at that, which we purchased in early May and by mid-May was proving to be a complete time suck. So, when we decided to take a week off in early July, we had a pretty good idea of how we’d be spending our time.

But amidst all that painting and hefting, we needed an excursion, an excuse to break away from the projects and just drift. We found it at the Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire.

The necessity of the visit was in part shaped by our mobile 20-month-old son. His favorite hobby in the world is to run, and the big outdoor spaces throughout the village offered him the kind of grassy fields and gentle sloping hills that catered to his favorite pursuit just fine.

canterbury shaker village nh

One of the few times my son stopped long enough from his running to pose for a shot.

My interests, and my wife’s, too, however, were, shall we say, different.  History and architecture were our two big selling points. The quick history of Canterbury goes something like this: The Village established in 1792, the seventh of what would ultimately become 19 Shaker communities created in the United States. At its height, in the mid 1800s, Canterbury boasted more than 300 Shakers. The Village became a museum in 1992 when Canterbury’s last Shaker, Ethel Johnson, died.

Today, it’s a thriving tourist attraction, replete with an expansive gift shop, restaurant, frequent craft demonstrations, and guided tours. It is, in many respects, the perfect escape,  offering visitors the chance to leave the smart phone in the car, put on their walking shoes, and stroll back to another time and place. After a week of hard work, we welcomed the opportunity for something different.

One of earliest stops proved to be perhaps my favorite: The Syrup Shop. Contrary to its name, this building was used not as a place to make sweets, but as a grain storehouse and distillery for producing herbal medicines. Canning was also a big part of what was done here.

The outside of the Syrup Shop. Today the building is still used by the museum’s gardeners for drying and preparing herbs cut from the nearby gardens.

A shot of the area where the Shakers did much of their canning.

The Meetinghouse was the Shakers’ house of worship. Canterbury’s was built in 1792 by Moses Johnson, master builder. He built eleven similar Shaker meetinghouses and ours is one of the six remaining examples of his work. Like all of his other meeting houses, Canterbury’s is marked by separate front entrances for men and women.

Our tour group, entering Canterbury’s meeting house. Men on the left, women on the right.

Beyond venturing into the museum’s buildings, we also loved the chance to stroll the Village grounds and check out the gardens.

At the time of our visit in July, many of the gardens were a riot of color. Here, blooming poppies help frame the back of the property.

The blooming flowers included a bursting row of Elecampane.

One of our favorite detours was exploring the path behind the buildings that brought us to the pump house and a gorgeous little pond.

Finally, as a family who heats with wood, we were of course impressed with Canterbury’s preparation for the coming winter. The New England winter, as we are often reminded, really isn’t that far away.

That’s a woodpile any New Englander can appreciate.

Have you ever visited a Shaker community?


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