Our mission is to connect our neighbors and friends to our collective past by sharing the story of Shaker Heights. By collecting, preserving and being a leader in our community, we link the past with the present to inspire the future.
Our vision is to be a community resource that encourages and facilitates civic engagement by immersing residents in our rich history.
Shaker Historical Society
The Shaker Historical Society is a non-profit organization established in 1947 to provide stewardship for our region's significant history by nurturing respectful discovery, preservation, collection, and public dissemination of the history, traditions, and heritage of the North Union Shaker sect, Shaker Heights, Warrensville Township, and the surrounding areas.
When the Society was founded, the primary focus was preserving and sharing the heritage of the North Union Shaker community through exhibits and school-based programs. Without a dedicated location, SHS moved frequently during its first 20 years. Previous locations included the Onaway School, Moreland School, Boulevard School, and a storefront on Lee Road. In 1969, SHS trustee Frank Myers donated his family home at 16740 South Park Boulevard to the State of Ohio on the condition that the house be used as a permanent home for the Shaker Historical Society. SHS moved into the new location in the fall of 1970.
With the additional space, board members and staff began to expand exhibits with galleries dedicated to Warrensville Township and the Van Sweringen brothers. However, the focus remained on the Shakers, and even today, three of our four permanent exhibit galleries feature Shaker history and objects. Looking to the future, the current board and staff are working toward new and reorganized galleries that tell a more comprehensive and inclusive story.
The home of the Shaker Historical Society is situated on the grounds of the former North Union Center Family's apple orchard and vegetable garden. In 1910, architect Daniel Reamer designed this residence for Louis Myers, a real estate agent for the Van Sweringen Company, and his wife Blanche. They raised their two sons, Eugene and Frank, in this house, which was one of the first homes built in the new development by the Van Sweringen brothers. The Myers also accessed their property via a drive on Shaker Boulevard that is still used daily by pedestrians.
The Shaker Religion
Originally known as the United Society of True Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, the Shaker faith encouraged communal living, celibacy, pacificm, confession of sin, and the belief that God was a dual personality. This personality was conceived as a masculine spirit embodied in Christ and a female element manifested in the spirit of Mother Ann. As a result of this belief, the Shakers actively practiced equality of the sexes in all their activities, putting them far in advance of their time.
The Shakers labored efficiently and skillfully, making advances in agriculture, furniture making, spinning and weaving, and marketing. Their inventions include the clothes pin, washing machine, rotary harrow, circular saw, flat broom, pocket stereoscope, steel pen nib, and rotary oven. It was the Shakers who first sold seeds in packets rather than in bulk. Shaker furniture, distinctly sturdy, light, and utilitarian, is still admired today and holds enduring appeal for its design and craftsmanship.
After the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution had a devastating impact on the Shakers as they could not compete with cheaper factory-made items. With the advent of railroads and telephones, Shaker villages no longer offered companionship and protection against a hostile world. Declining interest in religion also made it difficult to win converts.
Only a few Shakers remain today, but their philosophy and ideals still have an influential impact. Sister Mildred of Sabbathday Lake in Maine said, “the principles and ideals which the Shakers were first to expound have gone out into the world, and, like a pebble dropped in the water, we cannot measure the distance of the influence they have borne. First in so many things we now take for granted -- sex quality, relgious and racial tolerance, and so forth -- Shakerism is not dying out, nor is it a failure.”
The North Union Shakers
The Shakers at North Union were peaceful, hard-working, and industrious farmers and craftsmen who settled in what is now Shaker Heights, Ohio. Ralph Russell, the son of Revolutionary War veteran and early Warrensville Township settler Jacob Russell, established a Shaker colony on his land after visiting the Union Shaker Village near Lebanon, Ohio and converting to the faith. The first meeting of the North Union colony was held on March 31, 1822. Three Shaker families were established: the Mill, Center, and East Families. The Mill Family, also known as the North Family, operated and oversaw the community’s mills. The Center Family governed the entire colony, managed farming operations, and operated the woolen mill near Horseshoe Lake* upon its construction in the 1850s. The East Family, or Gathering Order, oversaw childcare and education for new converts.
As the colony grew in the 1830s-1850s, the Shakers dammed Doan Brook twice to create Lower and Upper Shake Lakes and constructed a five-story stone gristmill that was the largest in northern Ohio at the time. Membership peaked in 1850 with 350-400 members. By 1870, the colony began to decline and the three families consolidated. Only 27 members remained in 1888, and by 1889, the North Union Colony officially ended with remaining members joining Shaker colonies in southern Ohio. Artifacts from North Union were auctioned off, many of which would become part of SHS’s collection. In 1892, the remaining 1,366 acres of land of the North Union Colony were sold to the Shaker Heights Land Company for $316,000.