Sunday, May 28, 2000

Shakers gone but not forgotten

Marker to be placed

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CROSBY TOWNSHIP — Jim Innis can look across Oxford Road and into the open fields beyond and imagine what had been there — residences for boys and girls, a good-size milk barn nearby.


(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |

        “Over there by the greenery was a barn,” said Mr. Innis as he stood along the road in a brisk wind.

        A granary burned down recently, another barn was lost to time, a one-room schoolhouse came down in 1935 and other buildings have since disappeared after the Shakers themselves van ished from this community in 1916.

        But more than 20 buildings remain of what was the White Water Shaker Village, a community of Shakers that lasted almost a century in the township — 1824 to 1916.

        An Ohio Historical Marker from the Ohio Bicentennial Commission will be placed and dedicated at the Shakers' Trustee Office on Oxford Road beginning at 12:30 p.m. today, acknowledging the community that lived here for much of the 19th century and its contributions to the life and culture of the area. There will be Shaker music, speeches and art work displayed from fourth-graders from Crosby Elementary School.

        “History is so easily forgotten,” said Mr. Innis, president of the Crosby Township Historical Society, which initiated the move for a marker. “To us, it's important to emphasize a piece of history. The Shakers still represent a very interesting religious, social group. They deserve that recognition for having settled here. I want to keep that history alive.”

        The Shakers were a community defined by their religion. They:

        • Believed in celibacy.

        • Did not marry or have biological children.

        • Were pacifists who spurned military service.

        • Lived communally.

        • Believed in the equality of the sexes.

        • Led simple and industrious lives.

        There have been about 24 Shaker settlements in the United States, according to Jack Sutton, planning director of the Hamilton County Park District, which owns the former Shaker property in the township. The Shaker buildings are not open to the public.

        Shakers engaged in commerce, selling garden seeds, Shaker yarn, straw bonnets, flat brooms and produce.

        They were gracious and hospitable with outsiders, rarely turning away those who came to their doors, taking in children from orphanages or, in effect, foster children from parents who did not have the means to support large families.

        Because of their celibate lifestyle, they relied on converts to sustain their faith and culture. By the late 1800s, they had begun to dwindle in number — here and elsewhere — primarily because they were failing to attract members to replace those leaving, often to marry.

        Today, said Mr. Innis, a handful of Shakers live in Sabbathday Lake, Maine. What survives, beyond that handful, is the culture, the architecture and artifacts.

        It has been a fortunate combination of factors that coalesced to save the 20-plus buildings — many of them outbuildings — that once were part of the Shaker village here. The rural character of the township has meant little development that could have jeopardized the buildings. The fact that private families have lived in the brick structures over the years since the Shakers left have kept the remaining structures intact.

        The park district owns the structures now, but the buildings were something of a bonus when the park district bought the 1,280 acres of mostly farmland surrounding them between 1989 and 1991.

        Because the park district is primarily a land conservation agency, restoration and making the buildings accessible to the public has not been a priority. But the park district has no intention of razing the structures.

        “That's not in our vocabulary,” said Mr. Sutton. “Our board maintains that it has acquired them, it has put them into the public trust.”

        While the Crosby Township Historical Society would like to see at least one of the buildings made accessible to the public, the park district is looking into funding sources for such a project.

        “At this point, nothing has come to light as a source, but that's something our staff is monitoring,” said Mr. Sutton.

        Mr. Innis said restored Shaker villages are popular among visitors weary of a high-tech culture.

        “More and more people are looking for a sense of history,” he said.


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