Herb House Cultural & Traditional Arts Center

A Campaign to Preserve Simplicity, Love, and Community, now and for the future
Sabbathday Lake Shaker Herbs Antique Sage Tin
The Shakers’ herb business started in 1799 as a communal enterprise that involved Shakers of all ages and skill levels. Very little has changed through two centuries.

Community Supported Agriculture

The Shakers identify as farmers. Their history, heritage, traditional arts, and social mission reflect their cultural ties to the land and forest. In recent years, the Shakers have developed new public programs about their farm and agricultural traditions. Local-audiences and families have responded in unprecedented ways with overwhelming interest. The Shakers see that it’s time for their community to grow.

They’re showcasing and expanding their rich, 250-year old agrarian heritage through one of the largest capital projects ever undertaken at Shaker Village. The rehabilitation of their vacant 1824 Herb House will create a year-round, viewable, working herb production facility where living Shaker culture will blend with work-study programs, new employment and volunteer participation, therapeutic goal-centered learning programs, and community alliances that reach far across Maine and beyond.

Sister Mildred with herbs - Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village
THE PROCESSING AND PACKAGING OF HERBS AND HERBAL TEAS HAD OCCUPIED MANY OF US, OFF-AND-ON, ALL FALL LONG. ALTHOUGH THE PROCESSING IS WITHOUT A DOUBT HARD WORK, IT ALSO AFFORDS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR CLOSE FAMILY FELLOWSHIP. WHAT MIGHT AT FIRST SEEM TO BE MERE LABOR BECOMES, IN FACT, THE OCCASION FOR SHARING, BOTH SOCIALLY AND SPIRITUALLY. -SISTER MILDRED BARKER, 1973

The Herb House

Colonists brought herbs to the North America and gained vast knowledge from indigenous peoples about the medicinal properties of countless native plants. As early as the 1790s, the Shakers were among the first European settlers to cultivate and harvest these plants on a large-scale.

The Herb House at Sabbathday Lake is the fourth oldest structure at Shaker Village, the sole remaining example of its kind in our nation, and monument to an era when the Shakers at 18 Villages pioneered the commercial production of herbal medicine and culinary herbs in America.

Under decades of competition from pharmaceuticals and national westward expansion, the Shakers’ herb business collapsed in the 1910s. One-by-one Herb Houses were demolished by the Shakers except for the one at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.

The 1960’s “Back to the Land” Movement brought many opportunities to the Sabbathday Lake Shakers under the leadership of Sister Mildred Barker and Brother Theodore Johnson. They revived their farming heritage and traditional folkways to create valuable occupations for themselves and outsiders. This opened gateways for new audiences, scholars of all ages, and seekers of Shaker life. The Shaker Community grew with renewed purpose, energy, and vision.

The revitalization of the Shakers’ early herb business was a natural extension of their vision. While historic gardens were reclaimed as extensive herb beds, the Herb House had fallen into disrepair from decades of underutilization so the headquarters of the business were located in a few unused seasonal rooms in the Sisters’ Shop.

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A Look Inside the New Herb House

First Floor

Entrance Hall

The old woodshed door on the front of the Herb House will lead visitors into a multi-purpose space. Most days, gardeners, college interns, and volunteers will be going about their daily work of processing freshly-harvested herbs for the drying attic while visitors come and go. Other times, group tours or school classes will be engaged in hands-on activities like take-home windowsill gardens, packaging seeds, and discussions of herbalism and sustainable methods of growing.

The space is capable of accommodating 40 people.

The Sabbathday Lake Shakers grading apples

Agricultural Gallery

A room historically used by the Shakers to sort tons of apple crops each year will become a free, self-guided gallery featuring artifacts and accounts of the Shakers’ farming history from the beginning of their settlement into the present day. This will be the second-largest gallery at Shaker Village and the first wholly-dedicated space to contextualize the herb business within the Shakers’ long-standing contributions to agriculture. Among a collection of more than 100,000 items, many artifacts, photographs, and accounts deep in the collection will be seen for the first time ever.

Second Floor

Shaker Village Herb House Capital Campaign - Drying Attic

Drying Attic

FDA regulations, limited egress, and fire codes prohibit general public audiences from touring the 2,100 square-foot herb drying attic, which has been an integral part of the Shakers’ herb business for two-centuries.

Architects and design consultants adapted preservation techniques to achieve an important educational experience. A portion of the ceiling at the top of the second floor staircase will be removed and in-filled with an 8’ x 8’ structural glass plate that provides views of the wooden herb-drying racks used in the attic above.

Shaker Products Storeroom

Arriving on the second floor, guests will have the opportunity for quiet reflection while they explore the scope of herbal products produced by the Shakers and their community of personnel, while learning about culinary herbs and historic/modern uses of plants raised by the Shakers. Products will be available for purchase at a small, self-checkout register.

An interactive digital kiosk will allow visitors to curate their own learning experience while exploring the Shakers’ historical collections of herb-related accounts, marketing materials, oral histories, and cultural traditions.

Shaker Village Herb House Capital Campaign - Workroom Rendering

Herb Production Workroom

Staff, volunteers, interns, and students will process and produce more than 75 varieties of culinary herbs, herbal teas, and herbal products. Visitors will glimpse into this room and others to discover a lively and diverse community of people committed to the continuation of Shaker traditions. Through observation and conversation, visitors will appreciate how the Shakers continue handcrafted, small batch production to supply national and international demand for their goods. Any preconceptions of the Shakers as a small, cloistered community will likely be shattered while awareness will be raised about community alliances, program partners, and first-hand gateway participation.

Ground Floor

Shaker Village Herb House Capital Campaign - Interior Rendering

Gathering Space

A reconstruction of an 1880 woodshed addition on the back of the Herb House provides a critical connector between the original building and its new ground floor level. Inside this woodshed addition will be a gathering space for master-class workshop participants, round-table discussions, retreat participants, community organization meetings, and more.

Large, architecturally-neutral glass dividers and doors transmit natural light deep into the building, connect the community of people engaged in learning experiences, and maintain acoustical “order” among the spaces in the tradition of the Shakers.

Shaker Village Herb House Capital Campaign - Architectural Drawing

Commercial Kitchen Classroom

The Commercial Kitchen Classroom is designed for mixed-use, modern-day practicality, programs, production, education, and community alliances. It will be an extension of the herb business, a cooking and baking workshop, a test kitchen, and production space where Shakers, staff, and community partners will jointly develop products while gaining transferable skills.

Shaker culinary master classes will be taught by Brother Arnold Hadd and other well-known heritage cooks, preserving and sharing the rich culinary heritage of the Shakers, which is connected directly to Shaker herbal traditions. Visitors may audit and observe these ongoing programs while they tour the building. Interactive digital kiosks will provide educational access points to the Shakers, their traditional culinary arts, calendar of events and workshops, and valuable first-hand perspectives from participant and instructors.

Shaker Village Herb House Capital Campaign - Architectural Drawing

Traditional Arts & Production Studio

Basketry, soap-making, textile arts, book binding, broom-making, printing, garden design, and herbal wreaths are just a few of the dozens of classes that will be offered in this permanent, year-round classroom space. Onsite and virtual participants will engage in the rich craftsmanship, methods, and techniques of the Shakers and other renowned traditional craftspeople.

This permanent classroom space will replace temporary make-shift spaces used elsewhere in Shaker Villages. It will provide year-round educational experiences to audiences of all types and ages, and an important source of income for Shaker Village and independent traditional arts instructors.

Outdoor Kettle & Plaza

At the base of a defunct chimney beneath the Herb House, there is an original 19th century Shaker-designed cooking hearth called an arch-kettle. This 40-gallon iron cooking pot and its wood-fired brick stove chamber will be relocated to an outdoor plaza behind the Herb House. There, it will be a fully-functional, safe, heritage facility for Shaker food production (applesauce, apple butter, canning, preserving, etc.) and crafts (natural dyeing). It will also be featured at high-volume events, such as Maine State Open Farm Day, Harvest Festival, and more.

21st Century Shaker-Welcome

The rehabilitation of the Herb House fulfills Shaker dreams that were cut-short by Brother Ted’s untimely death in 1986 and Sister Mildred’s passing in 1990. They envisioned the Herb House as a type of cultural center that welcomed a community of Shaker enthusiasts engaged in shared work and shared learning alongside of the Shakers themselves.

The Herb House will achieve this vision and it will deliver new gateway experiences for audiences of all types and ages. It marks the first in a series of projects designed to sustain Shaker Village in new, mutually-beneficial relationships with the people of Maine through social enterprise, local community alliances, and programmatic growth.

The Herb House is the first in a series of large-scale preservation projects that are coupled with programming aimed at delivering low-cost, high-value experiences. Repeat, ongoing, year-round engagement and learning are the leading themes and goals.

A roadside farmers’ market and café on the brow of the south hayfield will promote the Shaker farm, local producers, and farm-to-table programming.

More than 1200 acres of Shaker property will open for the first time with outdoor recreational trails and a 500-acre wildlife refuge centered around the Shaker bog.

A fully accessible, year-round welcome center near the Shaker Store in a reconstruction of the original 1795 Trustees’ Office will become the centerpiece of gateway educational orientation to the Shakers, their property, and their experiential programs.

Donate Today to the Shaker Village Herb House Capital Campaign
Shaker Village Herb House received National Endowment for the Humanities Grant

National Endowment for the Humanities Awards $750,000 to Shaker Herb House Cultural Center

The $750,000 Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant requires a 4:1 match and your donation will be included in that match!