Bringing Shaker Legacy to Life with a New Museum and Event Space

Carol Reichert was knee-deep in abandoned tree branches on her new property, between Darrow School and the Message House on Darrow Road in New Lebanon, when she came across an incredible find. She recalls: “I started snooping around, clearing brush and I saw rocks. I moved more brush and there was more stone.

She had discovered the largely intact foundations of an 8,000 square foot Shaker barn and hay ramp that had burned down in the early 1900s.

It wasn’t the only find on the 78-acre property, now dubbed the Sassafras Farm Ruins. Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, he was part of the Second Family community at Mount Lebanon, the Shakers’ holiest site. After the religious sect left the land in the mid-1900s, it changed hands for decades and eventually fell into disrepair – so much so that a treasure trove of historic structures had buried itself under layers of tree branches. trees and debris, from rusty farm tools. to refrigerators and hundreds of pounds of brush.

Reichert, who lived in Boston with her husband, Jerome Shereda, was looking for a historic property that she could renovate into a public place. A few Google searches for “historic renovation”, “dilapidated”, “Catskills” and “Berkshires” resulted in a real estate listing in Columbia County titled “Brethren’s Workshop”.

The handsome stone building was one of three on the property — along with the Chair Factory, where the Shakers built their iconic seats, and a 1940s cottage — that were still recognizable. The rest was covered in mounds of dirt and snow. Reichert was immediately smitten.

Shereda’s reason for entertaining a property that needed a nearly complete overhaul? “I love being married to Carol,” he jokes.

A sunken garden and objects falling from the sky

The Sassafras Farm Ruins will host a wide variety of events, from private parties and weddings to live concerts and dance performances.

Carole Reichert

In 2020, the couple embarked on transforming the abandoned farmhouse into Ruins at Sassafras Farm, a museum with accommodation and event spaces. Two years and around $2 million later, the venue is set to open in June.

The museum, located in the Chair Factory building, will feature hundreds of artifacts found on site, including farming tools, a large concrete counterweight, hardware, glass tonic bottles, photos and Shaker panels. Many objects were unearthed from their resting places by Reichert’s metal detector. Some fell from the sky, so to speak, like a Shaker pillbox that fell out of a hole in the ceiling during renovations.

Reichert found so many bottle shards, mostly from medicinal preparations, that she enlisted the visual arts faculty and students at the Darrow School to create a custom mosaic on one of the barn walls. .

“I just can’t bring myself to get rid of everything we found out,” she says. “Even though it is broken and mangled, I feel like it needs to be used somehow. We want to do everything we can to capture what happened here and pay tribute to the people who built this place.

The rest of the property will feature other invaluable finds. A long-buried cooler. The ruins of the sisters’ workshop, which was also consumed by fire. A dam built by Shaker with a tiny waterfall. A medicinal herb garden. Even a sunken garden, built by perfumer Mary Chess Robinson, who owned the property in the 1940s, to mimic the ruins of an English garden.

One constant will remain: “We don’t want to change the footprint of anything. It creates a deeper appreciation for what the Shakers have done,” Shereda says.

Accommodation will be available in the former Brethren’s Workshop, which will accommodate 10 people in chic, minimalist rooms. True to the Shaker ethos, no space will be wasted, with built-in dressers and closets, and bathrooms adorned with two-tone flower tiles – a nod to the Shakers’ seed-distributing business – tucked between rooms.

There will also be comfortable accommodation for two in a corner of the garden below, in what was once a smoking room.

There will also be comfortable accommodation for two in a corner of the garden below, in what was once a smoking room.

Carole Reichert

The kitchen will feature floor-to-ceiling glass doors, to make the most of the hills of Mount Lebanon. There will also be comfortable accommodation for two in a corner of the garden below, in what was once a smoking room.

The Sassafras Farm Ruins will host a wide variety of events, from private parties and weddings to live concerts and dance performances. The first, “An Evening for Ukraine”, held last weekend on April 30, was a fundraiser with live music, food and drink in favor of World Central Kitchen, the non-profit organization of celebrity chef José Andrés, which helps feed Ukrainians affected by the Russian invasion.

Reichert and Shereda also plan to offer classes and workshops, such as outdoor yoga and painting, and guest experiences like adding to glass mosaic or metal detecting to find extra pieces. of Shaker history. “I know the ground is full of artifacts,” Reichert says.

A network of footpaths winds through the property and surrounding woods, including to Shaker Cemetery, where approximately 40 community members are buried under a single stone marker emblazoned with the word Shakers. The goal of opening up so much of the property, the couple says, is to allow visitors to experience Shaker’s history and innovation as deeply as possible.

Shereda thinks the public will embrace the space and the Shakers – who had remarkably progressive views on racial and gender equality, sustainability and the importance of community – the same way he and Reichert did. .

“We started learning more about the Shakers, and it became more and more fascinating. To this day, the fascination hasn’t waned.

More Hudson Valley History



About Carlos V. Mitchell

Check Also

ARM Delivers New Exhibit Gallery and Play Spaces for the National Museum of Australia

ARM Architecture has delivered a new gallery exhibition space and children’s play space as part …