Such an undignified name for such a solemn place: the Shaker cemetery in Harvard, Massachusetts, one remnant of the industrious community of Shaker non-genealogical families that resided in this beautiful Massachusetts town from 1769 until the First World War. But that’s what people call it. I had a hankering to see it the other day, and so I drove to Harvard and asked for directions, because it’s a bit off the beaten path (I never use my phone for navigational purposes on a road trip; that would defeat the whole point for me–it’s either wander or inquire): oh, the Lollipop Cemetery? Just drive towards Ayer and take a right on South Shaker Road. And so I did and there it was.
The gate was locked, and I didn’t want to trespass on this sacred ground, but I think you can comprehend the lollipop characterization of these cast iron markers, which replaced the original stones from 1879. Here is a close-up of an individual marker from a wonderful site where you can research both the cemetery and its inhabitants, as well as a rather haunting photograph from Clara Endicott Sears’ Gleanings from Old Shaker Journals (1916). The Harvard Shaker community closed down in the following year, and the cemetery was deeded to the town of Harvard in 1945.
Boston patrician (with Salem roots) Clara Endicott Sears (1863-1960) became devoted to preserving the memory and material of the Harvard Shakers as their numbers dwindled to single digits. She had already established one of America’s first outdoor museums adjacent to her summer home on Prospect Hill a few miles down the road after she realized that a farmhouse on her property had been the site of Bronson Alcott’s short-lived Transcendentalist experiment when the few remaining Shakers in Harvard began selling their buildings.Clara bought the original 1794 office building and moved it to her hilltop museum, uniting Transcendentalist and Shaker visions (and later those of Native Americans and Hudson River Valley artists). Following this path, I drove over to the Fruitlands Museum, passing a few more Shaker structures along the way.
Ruins of the Old Stone Barn and the South Family Building, Harvard Shaker Village.
The interpreters at Fruitlands emphasized “community” as the theme tying Transcendentalists and Shakers together rather than any Utopian dream, which seems appropriate to me, especially as the latter were entrepreneurial workers and the former were idealistic intellectuals. The relocated Shaker office is a testament to the aesthetic and industrious pursuits of the brothers and sisters; I came away overwhelmed by the sheer drive of young seedsman Elisha Myrick, who left the Harvard community, like many of his brethren, around the time of the Civil War. I just felt sorry for the Alcott children, who had to endure a cold and hungry 6 months in the farmhouse just down the road.
At Fruitlands: Shaker artistry and industry, the Alcott Farmhouse, and artist-in-residence Carolyn Wirth’s 3D take on Shaker gift drawings, installed in a grape arbor.
Driving out past the town common, I was waylaid by some beautiful houses: Harvard is really gorgeous, and calm. I drove back to Salem thinking (not for the first time) that perhaps it was a little too busy (and loud!). I hope I’m not turning into my great-great-great? grandfather, who sold everything (including a beautiful Tudor house), and left his family and friends in England for America, and the Shaker community of New Lebanon, New York.
Just a few Harvard houses: this first one was once a tavern, I presume.
August 26th, 2016 at 6:12 am
Beautiful photos. I am putting it on my list! Thank you.
August 26th, 2016 at 6:26 am
I love the arbor with the Shaker Tree of Life sculpture incorporated! Having grown up in a town that was founded by Shakers and still has a Shaker museum we visited regularly we had that image all around us.
August 26th, 2016 at 7:03 am
I thought you would enjoy reading or at least find interesting this particular blog entry. I’m sure you know about the place already but I thought you might like reading the story.
Sent from my iPhone
August 26th, 2016 at 7:32 am
“It’s either wander or inquire” — love that.
August 26th, 2016 at 8:19 am
The Shakers had a beautiful sense of simplicity and style.
August 26th, 2016 at 2:25 pm
[…] We are always interested at the FORUM about what visitors from out of town or out of state say and think about our town of Harvard especially regarding our historic preservation. Sure, we watch our ‘stats’ on who is visiting us and what our ‘hit rate’ is from day to day (the number of Internet travelers that visit our website), but we were especially delighted to hear from Donna Seger today who had recently visited our website. And, she actually came to town for a ‘real’ visit. Returning home, she published an article on her blog (Streets of Salem) about her experience. Take a look. I think you will find it interesting: https://streetsofsalem.com/2016/08/26/the-lollipop-cemetery/ […]
August 26th, 2016 at 3:14 pm
Check out this museum house which is for sale in the Harvard village of Still River! It’s a gem and needs the next “Steward in Time” to farm or ranch this historic Patriot farm from 1782: http://www.oldhouses.com/16569?searchlist=16569%2C26002%2C25316%2C25777&searchname=located%20in%20Massachusetts&&searchdest=%2Flistings%2FMA
August 26th, 2016 at 4:46 pm
What a great blog posting!
PS: You passed my road on the way to the cemetery,) 🙂
You’re right; Harvard is calm and relatively quiet. The Shaker Village has been dutifully preserved, and has the last remaining Shaker stone building in existence. It’s along Shaker Road past the cemetery, and across from the other giant communal house.
Sadly, it’s hard to get any funding to preserve the building. The Harvard Historical Commission has been repeatedly vexed by a small minority of district residents, including a certain Selectman who doesn’t like having a Historical Commission review his own projects!
Many of us left the HHC due to the backhanded threats we received from some of the BoS members. It’s been a long history of some deplorable “bench-clearing” events, I’m afraid to report. From downright neglect of the town’s historic districts and municipal properties to the cutting of funding, we’ve seen it all. I, myself stepped down as a Commissioner because the solid planning and path we had charted for the town’s districts was waylaid utterly.
Still, a lot of work needs to be done, and we’re hoping to continue maintaining Harvard’s Shaker Village District as well as the Common District. It’s hard when some of the elected folks in town are clearly not on board with preservation efforts. I suppose Salem has had its share of preservation battles, eh?
Some of the history is lost forever, and that reflects very poorly on elected officials who chose things like removing architectural features to save a quick buck.
When you return, check in with Joseph Therriault at https://historicharvard.wordpress.com He is a wealth of information and can show you where the old spring house is, among other very interesting gems that are hidden in plain sight here in Harvard.
Also, feel free to contact me; I can take you on a walk through the “Emerald Necklace” that starts at the top of the common and ends at Bare Hill Pond.
I’d be glad to show you around!
August 26th, 2016 at 7:10 pm
Thank you, Scott–I may take you up your offer! Obviously I only scratched the surface of Harvard. I will return the favor if you come to Salem but don’t come in October! We do have quite a few preservation battles because development pressure on Salem is constant and increasing; it’s very frustrating. I did check out Joseph’s blog and intend to return frequently.
August 27th, 2016 at 9:51 am
I’ve been to Hancock Shaker Village a few times.
It does sound like an undignified nickname, for the cemetery, I agree but the Shakers definitely had a sense of humor. They had a code of conduct but they weren’t totally Puritanical and might have actually enjoyed a light hearted chuckle at the endearment before brushing it from their shoulders.
I’m saddened to read the good Scot Roy’s remarks about the town’s neglect of the properties and the other ensuing drama. But your post was a refreshing reminder of a people whose lifestyle I have a fair amount of respect for.
August 27th, 2016 at 9:59 am
I agree with you, Nathanielle–the Shakers were definitely not Puritans! (Actually I’m not quite sure the Puritans were “Puritans” either!)
September 13th, 2016 at 11:55 am
Argh! You wrote this while I was out of the country on vacation! I saw it and couldn’t get to it until now! (Of course, by mentioning I was in France, I will lose all your sympathy.)
Most Shaker villages I’ve visited ripped up the individual gravestones and put up a large communal one, which is another reason why Harvard’s is exceptional. The legend is that some Shaker gravestones were gaudy, and later Shakers became embarrassed, though the one cemetery with individual markers I’ve examined at leisure, the South Family one at Enfield, N.H., is quite plain, and I’ve heard others say photographic evidence proves the legend is false.
For a somewhat different experience, you should go visit what’s left of Shirley Shaker Village nearby, on the grounds of the prison there. Though I believe you must arrange that through the Shirley Historical Society. But don’t let that stop you: their next tour is in October, a PERFECT time to leave Salem for a day. (chuckle)
September 13th, 2016 at 12:03 pm
I wondered where you were! I hope you had a great trip. Thanks for your insights–gaudy Shaker graves, I can’t imagine it! And yes, I am taking all recommendations for places from which to escape Salem to–I’m not staying around like last year. Shirley does sound perfect.
September 13th, 2016 at 12:43 pm
Well, the Shakers did run to some worldly splendor at the end of the 19th century on occasion; the “Marble Hall” office building at Union Village in Ohio being the most notorious example.
And yes, it was a good vacation in many ways, including history, whether it was Versailles, the effects of storms on the eastern shore of East Anglia, medieval fortifications in Normandy, or the 18th century history of the university in Strassbourg. Though we did miss the “Norman Salem:” La Haye-du-Puits, which had a witch hunt and hangings in 1669-70.
September 13th, 2016 at 1:10 pm
Wow, sounds great–did they call themselves the Norman Salem or is that just you?
September 13th, 2016 at 1:40 pm
That’s me; I meant it humorously. From what I’ve read (one not-very-detailed article online), the usual village tensions were involved. Ironically, one of the main accusers became one of the suspected witches and was tortured on that account.
September 13th, 2016 at 2:21 pm
Oh Good, I wouldn’t want to see a Norman village turn itself into Witch City!
July 26th, 2020 at 4:04 pm
We knew a family that lived in Ayer. They took us to this cemetary. Now I think they were pulling our leg by telling us that the people (Shakers) buried there were buried standing up. That it was their custom. Don’t remember why tho. The family has since moved away and/or passed away so can’t ask them for an explanation.