Monday, June 15, 2009

Groveland Shaker Community

I have always been interested in the Utopian Societies of the mid 19th century. While more religious, perhaps, than Utopian, I find the Shakers fascinating. With hands to work and hearts to God they believed in Cleanliness, Community, and Chastity. They were also great innovators-while they put those hands to work they devised the most efficient ways to do so. You can thank the Shakers for clothespins, seed catalogues, the circular saw, and more. There aren't too many Shakers left (the whole celibacy thing coupled with the advent of orphanages) but there are Shaker buildings around. In 1836 some of the Shakers living in the Sodus Bay, NY Community felt the outside world was getting too close as the Erie Canal was built. Looking for a more remote spot they found Groveland, in the village of Sonyea, NY. It took them 2 years to move, but they enjoyed 60 years in this beautiful location. However, as the 19th century was drawing to a close, membership in the Shakers was in a decline. Due to diminishing numbers as well as fire and theft from dishonest trustees, the Groveland Shaker Community sold the land and buildings to the state of New York after being assured that the land would be used for charitable purposes. In 1892 the Shakers moved to the Watervliet Shaker Community and in 1894 the Groveland site became the Craig Colony for Epileptics.

I had heard that there was still a building or two still there, although they could not be visited as they were on the grounds of the Groveland Correctional Center. Still, there was a sign. So after visiting the Abbey of the Genesee I led my parents on a search for the remains of the Groveland Shaker Community-or at least the NY state sign indicating where they once were. It was a tiring trip-the road we needed to turn west on was closed, so we had to drive all the way into Dansville, then back up. We went through Groveland-so sign of a sign or prison. I told my parent-keep your eye out for a blue sign...or the prison. I felt like Hyacinth Bucket looking for mounds and depressions to indicate her Iron Age remains. Then we saw a sign for Sonyea. OK, nothing in Groveland Center-maybe it's here. Finally we saw a prison. And a blue sign. But not a sign about Shakers. Then we passed the prison and right in front I saw a blue sign. Dad turned around and I got out to take a picture. I saw a corrections officer in a truck patrolling, watching us. I didn't get the prison in the picture-just the sign. I couldn't see any Shaker buildings though. My dad drove into the entry of the prison, to turn around. Sure enough, the guard approached us and asked if we needed help. Dad just asked for directions to the next location, but I then explained that I took a picture of the sign about the Shakers and said the reason we came was to look at that and try to see the building. He pointed down the way and told us to take the next road, go down it and we could see an actual Shaker Building. It pays to ask. We followed his directions and I got to see this Shaker building, the remains of the Groveland Shaker Community.

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