Other Sites of Interest in the Area
The Strafford Town House
About 17 miles north of Hanover stands the Strafford Town House, a beautifully restored structure whose construction began in 1799. It is located on a south-facing hillside overlooking the village green and the Greek and Gothic Revival houses, stores, church, and inn, that grew up around it over the next four decades. Intended for both religious and civic use, it became solely the Town House when the Congregational Church was built across the green in 1832. A guided tour can be scheduled by calling the Strafford Town Clerk at 802-765-4411 (Monday through Thursday).
Joseph Smith’s Birthplace
24 miles northwest of Hanover, up Route 14 or I-89 is the birthplace of the founder of Mormonism. Along with the family home in Palymra, NY (where Smith received the visions that led him to found a uniquely American religion), the Sharon birthplace is a major pilgrimage site for members of the LDS Church. As their website says:
“Born in Sharon, Vermont, on 23 December 1805, Joseph Smith Jr. was destined for a life of greatness and hardship. As a young boy, he received a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ. That event changed his life and the lives of millions of others. As a result of that experience, Joseph Smith was given other divine communications. He also received an ancient record and was commanded to translate it. The translation of that record is now called The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Joseph was called as a prophet and was instrumental in the restoration of priesthood authority and the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the time of his first vision, Joseph was persecuted for his beliefs. At age 38, Joseph Smith gave his life for the cause he believed in.
“In memory of this great prophet, a granite monument was dedicated on the 100th anniversary of his birth. The shaft was sculpted from a single granite block quarried in Barre, Vermont, and is one of the largest polished shafts in the world. It stands 38 1/2 feet tall, one foot for every year of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s life. The shaft weighs 40 tons. A visitors’ center is also located on the site and provides further information on the life of this exceptional man.”
Enfield Shaker Museum
12 miles southeast of Hanover lies the Enfield Shaker Museum. Like the Shaker village whose buildings and grounds it maintains, the Museum centers on the community’s Great Stone Dwelling. At the time of its construction in 1841, the Great Stone Dwelling was the tallest building north of Boston–a granite-block rectangle about 50′ x 90′, in which the center section of the third, fourth, and fifth floors have no support on the second floor. The upper floors contain two long rows of bedrooms along the exterior walls, with a wide central hallway running down the the middle of the building. The two walls that separate the hallway from the bedrooms on either side each contain a massive bridge-truss that carries the weight of the upper floors. (The Museum has cut away sections of the walls so portions of the great trusses can be seen.) The center section of the second floor is a single fifty-foot-square room where the Shakers held communal worship with dancing; while the floor of the worship space is liberally supported by walls and pillars on the ground floor below, the bridge-truss construction of the upper floors kept this large, beautiful, light-drenched room completely uninterrupted by pillars. (Until the 1840s, public services open to “the world” were held in a smaller building which burned down around 1866.)
Founded in 1793, the Enfield village was the ninth of 18 Shaker communities to be established in this country. At its peak in the mid-19th-century, the community was home to three “Families” of Shakers. Here, Brothers, Sisters, and children lived, worked, and worshiped, practicing equality of the sexes and races, celibacy, pacifism, and communal ownership of property. Striving to create a heaven on earth, the Enfield Shakers built more than 200 buildings (including the Great Stone Dwelling, the largest Shaker dwelling ever built), farmed over 3,000 acres of fertile land, educated children in model schools, and followed the “Shaker Way.” Despite their celibate life, by the middle of the nineteenth century, the little flock of eight that had accompanied Mother Ann Lee to the New World in 1774 had grown to 18 communities with some 6,000 members. In the process, Lee’s successors had reinvented monastic living for men and women within a single community, despite most members coming from Protestant congregations, and in an overwhelmingly Protestant country. The sect’s members were largely working-class people, and their industry and inventions have become legendary.
Even at their peak, the Shakers were a vanishingly small proportion of the US’s population of 30 million or so (there were already 1.5 million Catholics in the US by then). Like all religious minorities, they met distrust and persecution; the most serious charge was that of stealing or abusing children (a charge often leveled by former Shakers whose spouses or children had chosen to stay in the community). In 1848, after 20 years of agitation, Mary Dyer and other Shaker apostates were able to persuade the New Hampshire legislature to consider a law restricting Shaker life and worship. The Shakers were in essence tried before the legislature, but they had the foresight to hire as their advocate Franklin Pierce, hero of the Mexican War, who had earlier defended Catholics’ right to worship freely in the state. The beginning of Pierce’s defense of the Shakers was preserved by a court scribe, who was then too overcome by Pierce’s eloquence to take down the second half of the four-hour speech. In the end, possibly due to Pierce’s not-so-lofty machinations in scheduling and controlling the vote, the bill was defeated in the NH House; it had never had much chance in the NH Senate. Pierce went on to become the only New Hampshireman ever elected president of the US.
In 1923, after 130 years of farming, manufacturing, and productive existence, declining membership forced the Enfield Shakers to close their community and put it up for sale. In 1927, forgoing a much more lucrative offer from a New York syndicate, the Shakers sold the site to the LaSalette Brothers, a Catholic order, ensuring the continued tradition of spiritual and communal life on the site. The LaSalettes continued the active agricultural use of the land as well as establishing a seminary and high school.
Because they planned to install a library on the upper floors of the Great Stone Dwelling, the LaSallette brothers introduced the steel columns that remain (temporarily at least) in the middle of the worship space. They also built the Catholic chapel immediately adjacent to the Great Stone Dwelling and other structures now standing mixed in with the surviving Shaker buildings; the LaSallette Brotherhood still owns and operates a shrine on the hillside across the street from the Great Stone Dwelling; their brick building across from the shrine is the former “North Family dwelling.”
Upon the sale of the property to the LaSalette brothers, the remaining members of the Shaker community moved to Canterbury, another dwindling community that was home to the surviving Trustees of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (as which the Shakers were formally organized). Some of the Enfielders complained to visitors in later years that they had never really felt at home since leaving their own community.
In 1985 the Enfield property changed hands again when the remaining buildings and grounds were purchased by a group of private investors. Volunteer efforts to rescue some of the village from development resulted in the formation of the first Museum board. Through the efforts and support of hundreds of volunteers, the Museum purchased the Laundry/Dairy Building in 1991, and has since gone on to acquire many of the surviving Shaker buildings of the former village.
Canterbury Shaker Village, more complete and better preserved than Enfield, is only 50 miles further away. Canterbury was preserved by the fact that the last two surviving Trustees, who also officially declared membership in the Society closed, left the sum total of Shaker assets to the trust which oversees its preservation. Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts (about 140 miles from Hanover) is also preserved mostly intact.
There is a community in Sabbath Day Lake, ME, which has continued to admit new members and to accommodate Shaker life to a new century. Their beautiful 1794 meeting house is still in use, its structure unchanged and the original blueberry-based caseine paint still on the walls.