Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Driving around the area, you may have noticed a number of different streets named Shaker Road. Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, and Enfield all have Shaker Roads. Today none of these roads intersect, but at one time all of these roads led to the Shaker community in Enfield, Connecticut.
Though it is not named on the map, the path from Williams Street to the Shaker settlement (modern-day Shaker Road) appears on early maps of Longmeadow.
The Shakers were (and still are) a Utopian Protestant sect promoting and practicing pacifism and simplicity in dress, speech, and manner. They practiced communal living, believing that it was possible to form a more perfect society on earth by their actions. Races were equal and women were considered equal to men, although work assignments were assigned by gender. Sexes were kept physically apart, and Shaker buildings are distinctive in design, having separate doors and stairways for men and women. Starting in the late 1770s, Shakers established at least 18 settlements in the Northeast, Ohio, and Kentucky.
Enfield Shaker Community
Founded in 1792, the Enfield Shaker community was the only Shaker settlement in Connecticut. It was located in the northeastern section of Enfield, just south of East Longmeadow near the present-day intersections of Route 220, Cybulski Road, and Taylor Road.
Hartford County, Connecticut Smith’s wall map, 1855
The Enfield Shakers were divided into groups known as families: Church Family; North Family; South Family; West Family; and East Family. Each family had both male and female members, adults and children.
Shakers were celibate, so they needed to adopt children and recruit converts into their community in order to maintain their membership numbers. Shaker families adopted orphans and children from distressed households, educating them and raising them to adulthood. Those who were adopted were given a choice when they turned 21 – either stay within the community or leave.
Martha Pease, a member of the North Family, was one of these children. She and her siblings had been adopted into the Enfield Shakers. While she decided to stay with the Shakers, her brother, Hezekiah, did not. Hezekiah moved to the eastern part of Longmeadow, married, farmed, and lived there until his death in 1886. A detailed and interesting history of the Enfield Shaker community can be found here.
The Shaker community was intentionally self-contained and we can find little evidence that it interacted much with either Longmeadow or East Longmeadow – except to pay taxes. The Church Family and North Family expanded their land holdings north into Massachusetts and the 1891 Valuation shows that Mr. Van Dusen and George Wilcox, elders for their respective families, were responsible for paying property taxes in Longmeadow.
1891 Valuation of Longmeadow
In 1835, the gunpowder factory that became the Hazard Powder Company was built on the Scantic River. This area of Enfield, which was about 4 miles south of the Shaker village, is now known as Hazardville. Over 78 years of operation, the Hazard Powder Company had 17 devastating gunpowder explosions. The shock waves and sounds from exploding munitions, which were heard in Longmeadow and as far away as Hartford and Northampton, would have reverberated through the quiet neighboring community of Shaker pacifists just 4 miles away.
The last Shakers left Enfield in 1917 and their lands now house the Enfield Correctional Institute. The Enfield Shakers Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, includes 15 of their former buildings. Due to security concerns at the prison, you are not allowed to visit the site, or even stop your car to take pictures of the buildings.
The Enfield Historical Society has a collection of artifacts from the Enfield Shaker community. Many of these are on display at the Martha A. Parsons House Museum.
At last count, two Shakers still remain and they live at the Sabbathday Lake community in Maine.
1831 Map of Longmeadow
1880 U.S. Census
1891 Valuation of Longmeadow
Hartford County, Connecticut Smith’s wall map
New Haven Register: Sat. Apr. 9, 1887
Connecticut History: Enfield's Shaker Legacy
National Park Service: History of the Shakers
Smithsonian Magazine: There Are Only Two Shakers Left in the World
Contributed by Elizabeth Hoff, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
Originally published October 1. 2020