The religious sect known as the Shakers was formed in England in the 17th century but reached its peak in the United States, where the Shakers settled self-contained villages along the Eastern Seaboard. Followers of a prophet called Mother Ann Lee, they pursued an austere lifestyle of hard work and deprivation.
Hardly hermits, however, the Shakers were thrifty and industrious, and became known for the superior quality of their crafts, including boxes, baskets, and furniture. Alas, one of the requirements of the religion was a strict separation of men and women—at all times. So once new recruits stopped entering the religion, it slowly died out. The last three remaining Shakers now live in seclusion in Maine .
At one time, however, the Canterbury Shaker Village once held more than 300 Shakers employed in various businesses. Now the site is a museum (288 Shaker Rd., Canterbury,603/783-9511, www.shakers.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily mid-May–Oct., $17 adults, $8 children 6–17, free children 5 and under, $42 family) showcasing 200 years of life in the village through guided and self-guided building tours and demonstrations of Shakers at work. To learn the secrets of their craftsmanship yourself, sign up for a day-long class in basketmaking, woodworking, or other traditional trades.