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Round Stone Barn
Courtesy of Bret Morgan

Established in 1783, Hancock Village thrived as an active Shaker community during most of the following two centuries. Divided into six family groups along north-south and east-west axes, Hancock was a typical Shaker community with communal dwellings, craft shops, a meetinghouse, and barns. Like most Shaker communities, the design for the buildings at the Hancock village were driven by function and utility. No extra materials or time were wasted in their construction. Emphasis was placed on efficiency, and although architecturally conservative, at the same time they are quite intriguing. The Round Stone Barn, the most notable Hancock building, is an architectural gem and the only Shaker barn of its kind. Built in 1826, its circular design was a model of efficiency and a curiosity to Shakers and "the world's people" alike, including farmers and progressive thinkers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. The elegant beauty of its simple form and details typify Shaker design. In the past, the barn was a center of community activity. Hay was unloaded from wagons into a wooden lined central storage area on the top floor spanning 95 feet in diameter. One level down, 50 or more cattle were kept in stanchions, posts used to secure the animals, which radiated outward from a central manger. Finally, at the bottom level lay the manure pit, accessible by wagon. Unfortunately, this architectural model of efficiency succumbed to fire in 1864. The wooden interior and roof were quickly rebuilt thereafter, with the whole building undergoing complete restoration in 1968.

Interior of building in Hancock Village and the Round Stone Barn
Interiors courtesy of Bret Morgan

The largest Shaker museum in the east, Hancock opened as a living history museum in 1961. It contains 20 historic buildings, extensive gardens, and a significant collection of Shaker artifacts. The Round Stone Barn continues to impress visitors and scholars alike with the ingenuity of the Shakers. The village also includes Shaker craft demonstrations, historic breeds of livestock, and its restored 19th-century water system. The Center for Shaker Studies, opened in 2000, offers two exhibition galleries to the public, one dedicated to Shaker gift drawings.

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The Hancock Shaker Village, a National Historic Landmark, is located at Rte. 20, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The Village is open daily year round, but closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day; there is a fee for admission. For more information call 413-443-0188 or visit the website.

 

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