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Protecting a Treasured Cultural Landscape in Maine 

12-09-2015 17:35

Located directly in the line of suburban sprawl spreading outward from Portland in southern Maine, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, a National Historic Landmark, is one of Maine’s most important and intact cultural landscapes. Home to the world’s only active Shaker community, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village is the only place of its kind where farming, forestry, and tourism sustain a Shaker community. This 1,700-acre property is a key heritage tourism destination in southern Maine and is included on the National Park Service’s Shaker Historic Trails.

Rising taxes and increasing costs to manage the farm and maintain the collection of historic buildings forced the Shaker community to take action for the future. They chose to sell their development rights in exchange for easements, enabling them to continue to own and manage their property and maintain their traditions without succumbing to the pressure to subdivide and sell for residential development.

To accomplish this, a coalition of historic preservation and conservation organizations and government agencies joined with the Shakers to secure the future of this property. Maine Preservation (holder of the preservation easement), the New England Forestry Foundation (holder of the conservation easement), the Friends of the Shakers, the Royal River Conservation Trust, the State of Maine, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture worked together with the Trust for Public Land to design, implement, and fund this vital conservation and preservation project. The Trust for Public Land held an option agreement to acquire the easements, which provide permanent protection of the land and historic buildings. Land-Vest conducted the appraisal to determine the value of the easements that were purchased in order to provide the Shakers with necessary funds to conserve their land and buildings.

Combined project costs totaled $3.95 million. The 18- month capital campaign received public funding from the Land for Maine’s Future Program and the Federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program as well as private donations from foundations and individuals. A campaign committee made up of representatives of the various organizations met regularly throughout this period. Three endowments were funded as a result of the campaign: both the preservation and conservation easement and a separate building fund managed by the Shakers with advising provided by Maine Preservation.

Thanks to the Shaker’s careful stewardship for more than 200 years, the property’s significant historic and cultural values remain intact and of great importance to the people of Maine, New England, and beyond. The village has 19 historic buildings and structures dating from the 1790s to the 1930s, including the only active Shaker Meeting House in the country and the cemetery. Six of the historic buildings are open to the public. The Shaker Library, housed in the 1880 Shaker Schoolhouse, contains a collection of manuscripts, books, and ephemera for scholarly research, while the Shaker Museum is the largest repository of Maine Shaker culture, containing 13,000 artifacts including furniture, tin and metal wares, tools, and textiles.

The village attracts more than10,000 visitors per year from around the region and across the country. Activities include guided tours of the buildings and museum, nature walks, and craft demonstrations and workshops on herb gardening, spinning, woodworking, and more.

With several hundred acres in active agricultural use, the Shaker’s fertile farmland is an important part of an integrated farm market and an integral part of the area’s farming community. The property serves as a unique showplace of Maine agriculture, as it is both a working farm and a place to learn about the state’s farming history. The village’s land also offers exceptional recreational opportunities for hiking, hunting, fishing, cross country skiing, nature study, and picnicking. Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village is a living example of America’s rural economic and agricultural history, and is a cherished community resource for students, historians, and visitors from across the nation. This project illustrates how utilizing easements to protect properties with important historic and natural values offers challenges and benefits above and beyond building-only preservation projects.

Publication Date: March/April 2007

Author(s):Roxanne Eflin