History

Main Buildings, Alfred Shaker Village, from a postcard c.1915. Credit: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Main Buildings, Alfred Shaker Village, from a postcard c.1915.
Credit: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1875, the Alfred Shaker Community (called the “Holy Land” community) built the Shaker Wood, Lumber Storage, and Carriage House. This building, moved from its original site and refurbished, now houses the Alfred Shaker Museum. (“Holy Land” was one of the longest lasting Shaker communities: 1793-1931.)

In 1931, the Brothers of Christian Instruction purchased the property from the Shakers, and they are still in residence. Today, eight original Shaker buildings and a beautifully maintained Shaker cemetery remain on Shaker Hill.

Timeline and Some Facts About the Alfred Shakers

  • 1783 — Founding: John Cotton influenced James Jewett from Enfield, NH to open the gospel order in Alfred. Early converts included John and Sarah Barnes.
  • 1785Father James Whittaker visits.
  • March, 1793 — Gathered into the Gospel Order.
  • Swapped land with the Rickers; opened the Poland Spring community.
  • 1808 — populated the Gorham community
  • 1823 — Reached peak population of 200.
  • In early years, there was much turmoil within the community. Alfred remained under the Bishopric of NH from 1831 to 1859.
  • 1848 — Elder Joseph Brackett composes the hymn “Simple Gifts.” In 2015, the Town of Alfred voted to designate “Simple Gifts” as the official Town Song.
  • 1870 — The Alfred community attempted to sell its holdings and move to Kansas, but that effort failed.
  • 1872 — Sold a large tract of land called “Mast Camps.” The money was invested and used to upgrade the buildings and to reinvigorate the community. At that time there were three major Families: Church, Second, and North.
  • 1900 – 1920 — Eldress Mary Ann Walker & Harriet Coolbroth take in a number of young women. Greater focus on spirituality.
  • 1901 — The Church Family Dwelling House burns, along with the Meeting House and Ministry Shop. Only the Dwelling House was replaced. This fire left the Alfred Shakers in debt.
  • 1912 — The rebuilt Dwelling House burns.
  • 1926 — Community buildings are put up for sale.
  • 1931 — Community members move to Sabbathday Lake; property sold to the Brothers of Christian Instruction.
  • 2001 — Minnie Green, last of the Alfred Shakers, dies at Sabbathday Lake.
  • At its peak in 1823, Alfred had 200 members on 2400 acres. The community produced woven cloth, seeds, herbs/medicines, brooms, brushes, horsehair sieves, spinning wheels, oval carriers, fancy goods, and wagon wheels. The community also had a saw mill, a grist mill, and a tannery.
  • Key individuals: John Vance, Harriett Coolbroth, Henry Green, R. Mildred Barker
  • Number of buildings that remain today: 8 (look for the dates on the buildings)
  • Although Alfred was always considered on the fringe geographically, economically, and spiritually, the community ultimately became a saving grace of Shakerism in the 20th century.

For More Information

See our Links page for more information about the Alfred Shakers, including “Simple Gifts.”

Shaker Communities of Maine by Charles E. Waterman, from Sprague’s Journal of Maine

Alfred Shakers in the History of York County, Maine by W. Woodford Clayton

Student Essay Content Winners

Each essay submitted to our annual Student Essay Contest explores some aspect of Shaker life or history. Peruse our collection of winning essays for more historical reading.

Museum Hours:

Museum Hours: 1 PM – 4 PM on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and by appointment.

Closing for the season on November 15.

Admission: Free. Donations are gratefully accepted.

We are dog-friendly. Well-behaved dogs on leash are welcome in our building.

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FASM meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 7 PM at the Alfred Shaker Museum. The public is invited to our meetings (unless announced otherwise).

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