The Shakers at Mount Lebanon led the largest and most successful utopian communal society in America for 160 years, from 1787 to 1947.
From this central community developed the Shakers’ ideals of equality of labor, gender, and race, as well as communal property, freedom, and pacifism. From Mount Lebanon also grew the now famous Shaker aesthetic of simplicity, expressed in their objects, furniture, buildings, and village planning.
With over 6,000 acres and 100 buildings, Mount Lebanon Shaker Village was a driving force in the agricultural, industrial, commercial, and institutional activities of its day. The Village was divided into smaller "Family" groups (Church, Second, Center, North, East, South, and so on.), each with its own leadership, members, and commercial activities. As the Shaker community declined in population in the early 20th century, the site was gradually sold to various private owners, including the Darrow School, which still inhabits Mount Lebanon’s Church and Center Families, and the Abode of the Message which inhabits the South Family's buildings.
Mount Lebanon was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and was recognized by the World Monuments Fund in both 2004 and 2006 as one of the 100 most significant endangered historic sites in the world.
The North Family today houses the museum and consists of 11 buildings on 91 acres. The iconic North Family Great Stone Barn – measuring 50’ wide, four stories high, and nearly 200’ long, was a testament to the ingenuity, faith, and perseverance of the Shakers. In September 1972 the barn was totally gutted by a catastrophic fire, leaving only its four massive masonry walls standing.
In 2001, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon was awarded a Save America’s Treasures grant to investigate the feasibility of acquiring and preserving the site for the public benefit. The museum retained a nationally-prominent design team led by Cooper, Robertson & Partners of New York City, and Robert Silman Associates, structural engineers, to perform a comprehensive historic structures and cultural landscape assessment, and create a Master Plan for reuse of the site. 30 acres and the 11 remaining buildings of the North Family were acquired by the museum in 2004. In 2014, the museum added 61 acres with the purchase of the North Pastures adjacent to the Great Stone Barn. Restoration work is ongoing at Mount Lebanon while the museum continues to develop and expand public programs at the historic site.