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Union Village and the Shakers of Warren County, Ohio
The Last Fifty Years of Union Village
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This article is a part of a series titled "The Last Fifty Years of Union Village Shakers" which are original stories and articles by Katherine Lollar Rowland about the last Ohio Shakers, their life, the way it was in the declining years of Union Village, and also of their contacts with the greater community of Warren County when they were no longer able to be self-sufficient. Other articles in the series will be added as they are completed.

Contact Katherine Lollar Rowland if you would like to comment about this article or other Shaker items.

A Talk prepared to present at Wren Court, Otterbein-Lebanon, June 21, 2005
Katherine Lollar Rowland

Much has been written and said about the early years of The Shakers, whose formal name was the United Society of Believers in the Second Appearing of Christ. In fact, members of the communal villages referred to themselves as "Believers," although they became generally known as "The Shakers," and are still so-called to this day in the great flowering of interest in Shaker buildings and artifacts throughout the world..

In the 1770s Ann Lee and a small group that had originated in the "Shaking" Quakers in Manchester, England, arrived in the United States. In his definitive book, The Shaker Experience in America, Stephen J. Stein lists 1780 as the "opening of the Shaker gospel in America." Ann Lee, although illiterate and therefore having written no inspirational literature, was a charismatic leader and the group soon began to grow. They first settled near Albany, New York, at what was then known as Niskeyuna and later became Waterveliet.

In May of 1781 Ann Lee and some of her followers left Niskeyuna to spread the word about their new religion. They met with resistance and even violent opposition from already established churches and townspeople before returning to Niskeyuna in September of 1783. Ann Lee died December 8, 1784.

However, new leadership came forward, and the movement had remarkable growth. Shaker communities were formed in several areas in New England. Joseph Meachem became the leader of all of the villages and chose Lucy Wright as his partner in the ministry. During this time the movement was more formally organized and the structure for the church set up with Mount Lebanon, (sometimes called New Lebanon) New York, as its center. Meacham died on August 16, 1796, and Lucy Wright took over the leadership, which she held for 25 years.

The above brief outline brings us to the founding of Shakerism in Ohio, for it was Lucy Wright who sent out the missionaries that resulted in the founding of Union Village , here in Warren County. In the first years of the 19th century there was a great upsurge in religious fervor, called by J. P. MacLean, in an article in the 1902 issue of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publication , "the Great Kentucky Revival, a wild carnival of religion." This was especially evidenced in camp meetings where whole families came to stay as long as a week to hear the preaching and express their religious emotions in ecstatic dancing and speaking in tongues At one such camp meeting at Paint Lck, Kentucky, one of the speakers was Richard McNemar, brilliant Presbyterian minister from Ohio who had established a church near Beedle's Station, which is now generally considered to be the first permanent settlement of Warren County.

Three Shaker Missionaries, John Meacham, Issachar Bates and Benjamin Seth Youngs on January 1, 1805, left New Lebanon, New York, and walked all the way to the camp meeting at Paint Lick and were invited to speak. From there they came north to Turtle Creek. They stayed at the home of Malcolm Worley just a couple of miles away from Richard McNemar's Presbyterian Church.

Within a few days Malcom Worley and Richard McNemar were both converted to Shakerism and most of the Presbyterian congregation followed suit, giving their land to the new communal Shaker community, at first known as Turtle Creek, later called Union Village. And so this year, 2005, is the 200th anniversary celebration of the founding of Union Village, the first Shaker community in The West, and the one that was to be come the center of others that were soon founded in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan.

At first the converts lived in log structures, and the Worley and McNemar homes. But it all grew and prospered very rapidly through their hard work and diligence. In the first two or three years, about 370 persons had joined. By 1823 Union Village had a population of about 600, by far the largest of any of the 16 Shaker villages in the entire United States. Eventually the people lived in large groups called "families," with large structures as residences, with separate spaces for men, women and children, a well as numerous farm buildings, meeting houses, mills, etc. A dozen of these families were scattered around what became around 4500 acres of land which the Shakers owned and was called Union Village. Center Family was approximaely where the Campus Center of Otterbein-Lebanon Retirement Community now is.

With the Civil War period came major changes, in Union Village, the Shaker communities as a whole, and, of course, in the entire United States. Because of their beliefs, the Shakers did not participate in the fighting, but the war was hard on them in many ways, especially to those in Kentucky where armies from both the North and the South passed through properties at Pleasant Hill and South Union, needing to be fed, as well as causing extensive damage.

After the Civil War the whole Shaker movement went into a rapid decline from national influences, such as industrialization, as well as internal factors. In his book,
Shaker Experience, Stein states that "By 1870 all factions in the United Society agreed that drastic steps were needed to offset the 'universal declension in the religious element." By 1880 the population of Union Village had gone down to 165, by 1890 it was 44. In 1910 there were 24 left when it became necessary for them to sign a petition to close Union Village. When the property was sold to the United Brethren Church in 1912 permission was given for a few of the residents to continue to live at Center Family for another ten years. . The last ones did leave in 1920.

A few years ago, I became interested in these last years of Union Village when the Otterbein-Lebanon Archives/Museum Committee, of which I was a member, was told that at the time of the closing Union Village, journals and other records had been taken to Canterbury in New Hampshire; also that Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine, had at least one journal of Union Village's later years. So I went to New England, for my first look at the big, restored Shaker villages, and to learn what I could about Union Village from records in Canterbury and Sabbathday Lake libraries.. I also went to Hancock Village in Massachusetts and Mount Lebanon in New York State. Back here in Ohio, I have had access to the extensive Shaker collection at the Warren County Historical Society, and help from the Genealogical Society, and others, in my quest to learn what life was like for the residents in the last Fifty Years of Union Village. Also to learn about people in the larger Warren County community whose lives were involved with those of The Shakers at a time when the Believers were no longer able to be self-sufficient.

So, to find out what life was like in the last Fifty Years at Union Village let us look at the lives of some of the leaders who actually controlled the lives of all the others, this being a communal society, even though surrounded by the great democracy of the United States.. The leadership of the Shaker movement had long been established with the top authority resting in The Ministry, then Elders, Deacons and Trustees to conduct the various concerns of the Church and Society which fell under their respective jurisdictions. Since the Shakers believed in the equality of the sexes, each of these positions were always shared by a man and a woman. With declining numbers in the Last Fifty Years there was not always sufficient persons to fill all of the positions and sometimes individuals handle more than one post, which sometimes resulted in poor management..

Elder Joseph R. Slingerland, who took over leadership at Union Village in 1890, has often been cited at the outstanding example of mismanagement. However that may be, he certainly instituted interesting and far-reaching innovations at Union Village. In modern terms, it seems to me he might be called either an entrepreneur or a CEO out of control.

John Ramsey Slingerland was born in 1844 in New York City. Ten years later he was admitted to the Church Family at New Lebanon. It is surmised that somewhere in his childhood his name was changed to "Joseph," perhaps because there were too many "Johns" already at New Lebanon. Censuses list him in various occupations, some reports say he was trained as a physician. In 1888 he was sent from Mount Lebanon by the Central Ministry to visit all the Western Societies, including Union Village. He returned to Mount Lebanon but on April 19, 1888, he was sent back to Union Village to make his home, and was appointed Second in Ministry on May 12, 1889. A little over a year later he was made First in Ministry, with Oliver C. Hampton, as Second. So, with the support of the Eastern Ministry, Slingerland set out to make repairs and improvements on a gigantic scale, although against the better judgment of some of the local leaders at Union Village. Of all of Elder Slingerland's grand schemes the one of which we can be most aware today was the "modernization" of the Center Building which was built in 1810 with typical Shaker simplicity into the ornate structure we now know of "Marble Hall." To quote from an article written by Mary Lou Conlin, "The building was architecturally true to the Shaker values of simplicity and functionalism. But the simple structure was turned into an architectural conglomerate with turrets, arched window, scroll saw ornamentation and mansard roof. It was the kind of Victorian excess that William Dean Howells, in his first Shaker novel, The Undiscovered Country pictured as 'material tokens of social decay.'" I have seen one other of the Shakers' late 19-century attempts at attracting new converts by a modernization process - the Trustees' Office at Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts. That one was done in a much less pretentious way, with none of the ornate exterior and elegant interior of marble floors and walnut woodwork at Marble Hall..

A simple one-line entry in Center Family journal of September 24, 1897, announced a project of mind-boggling dimensions: "The hedge company commences plashing in our 10-l/4 miles of hedge." In another of his attempts to attract new converts, Slingerland contracted with a Dayton firm to provide and plant Osage orange hedges along all of the roads. Another entry on October 13, 1897, says "the brethren are about done setting gate posts along our 10-1/4 miles of hedge which extends E, W, N & South along our public roads." The price was $1 a rod, coming to $3,280 for the 10-l/4 miles. The same firm contracted to trim the hedges twice a year for one cent per rod. At present there are a few old, gnarled Osage orange trees scattered around the area what was the Shakers' 4500 acres, possibly descendants of those hedges planted in 1897, and I am pleased to have an Osage orange walking stick made for me by an Otterbein resident Ted Westervelt in the wood working shop situated in what was Center family of Union Village at that time.

I became interested in another of Slingerland's projects through tantalizing references in the Center Family journal to the name "Wickliffe," "trips to Wickliffe," "sending things to Wickliffe," etc. The journals, like all diaries, were abbreviated notes of day to day activities, never gave details, usually referred to persons as Elder Joseph, Eldress Emily, etc. So getting the complete story and finding just to whom the entry referred was like a puzzle, finding bits of information here and there until the complete story unfolded. It turned out that Wickliffe was the name of a town in northeast Ohio in the grape growing country along Lake Erie.

One might think that since there was a Shaker settlement - North Union - in the Cleveland area that this vineyard undertaking might have been under their management. But not so. North Union was sold and closed in March of 1892 and the major purchases of land for the Wickliffe vineyards were made after that. About that time raising grapes along the Lake had become a most successful business and apparently Slingerland thought it would be a good investment, possibly with the funds secured from the sale of North Union.

Most of the management of the vineyards was handled by William C. Ayer, "assistant to Elder Slingerland on farms and all outside interest of Society." Elder Ayer traveled back and forth between Wickliffe and Union Village countless times taking care of things. Considering the difficulties of communication and transportation at that time, journal entries show almost unbelievable activity: (It wasn't until July 23, 1897 that phone service was established from Union Village to Lebanon and distant points. They got their first car in June, 1910)

Dec. 1, 1896 - Elder William and Q. Bone (official of bank in Lebanon) go east of Lebanon to purchase some horses for vineyards.
Dec. 2 - Elder William purchases a pair of English Shire mares to send to Wickliffe.
Dec. 3 - Elder William to Franklin via Lebanon to ship car of horses to vineyards
Feb. 19, 1897 - To Franklin with ducks and chickens to be expressed to Wickliffe
May 30, - Elder William to Cleveland to see about building grape packaging house at Wickliffe, also about electric line on Lake front
Aug. 29 - Elder William starts for Cleveland to manage the grape crop up there, making wine, etc. Reports a good crop.

In summary, Union Village bought almost 1000 acres in Lake County and planted them to vineyards and orchards. They built a large processing plant along a railroad siding. The first crop was harvested in 1897 when 4 carloads of grapes went out daily, 2700 baskets per shipment. The grapes sometimes spoiled en route. So at great expense the packing houses were converted into wineries and cellars where presses were installed and the juice run off into great vats - sold as grape juice and also as wine. All of this was accomplished with hired labor, including a wine maker. Some money was made but it was decided to change from grapes and vineyards to apple orchards, and selling apple butter and apple sauce. In 1910 Slingerland decided to abandon the experiment and sold the property. All property transactions, by the way, were in the name of individuals involved, such as Joseph Slingerland or William C. Ayer, not, as might be expected, in an organization name, such as Union Village, or even Wickliffe Vineyards.

At the same time as all of this, of course, the operation of the Union Village farmland was going on, also under Slingerland's and Ayer's management. Most of the residents had been consolidated into Center Family and the empty buildings from the other families were rented to tenant farmers. But large gardens and orchards at Center Family were still maintained by the aging Shaker men. There seemed to be a great interest in the big English Shire draft horses. Agreements were made with tenants Foley and Melampy to raise Shire colts and a journal entry of August 13, 1897, says that Elder William went to Shelby and Bellfontaine to purchase a stallion. August. 14 entry says that new stallion Lord Alfred arrives. Another entry says that Elder William purchased two colts for Whitewater, the Shaker village near Harrison, Ohio, which Union Village fostered. Although the journal entries indicate that others in the Warren County area were breeding English Shire horses, I have found only sketchy information about them. However, a great deal of current information is available on the world wide web from the American Shire Horse Association in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The Shires are described as one of the largest horses in the world but that their kind and quiet disposition earns them the endearing title of Gentle Giants.

Slingerland's next project went even farther afield - all the way to the state of Georgia. As former rules and regulations were relaxed Shaker leaders began to look for places to establish colonies in warmer climates. To do this the leaders themselves would spend winters in prospective places in Georgia and Florida. In November of 1897, Elder Joseph Slingerland, Eldress Lizzie Downing, Office Deaconess Julia Foley and William Ayer, Elder of the Center Family, made a brief trip to Georgia to find a site for a colony. They selected two contiguous plantations, Hopeton and Altama, located approximately 13 miles from the port of Brunswick. Two months later these four took others down to take possession of the land and establish the colony.

Things were moving along very well with the farms but there no one was converted to becoming a Shaker and that was one of the primary purposes of the endeavor. William Ayer and Julia Foley eloped and were married in Savannah on April 12, 1898. Vast amounts of supplies and equipment had been sent from Union Village to Georgia. Now the route was reversed and accounts tell of long strings of loaded wagons leaving for the return journey. As an interesting post script to this: Through my Shaker websites I was recently contacted by a couple and their daughter who have recently purchased a portion of the Shaker property at White Oak, Georgia, and are trying to establish whether or not the house that they bought was built by the Shakers.

I cannot close this part of the story without thinking how devastating it must have been to the other Union Village Shakers to have William Ayer leave. The journals had been filled with entries about Elder William handling many, many things. It must have left them with a sense of personal bereavement as well as with terrible chaos in the operation of the farmlands at Union Village which were so essential to their being able to stay in the only home they had.

Slingerland went on as First in Ministry at Union Village, with Elizabeth Downing, First in Ministry on the Sisters side. The two took a trip to Florida in October, 1901, did not return to Ohio until April of 1902. On June 10, of 1902, the Central Ministry at Mount Lebanon, removed them both from their positions at Union Village. In 1904, Slingerland sued Union Village to reclaim personal money he said he had invested in the Georgia property. In 1907 he was admitted to the Church Family at Hancock Village, Massachusetts, left there in 1917, died in September of 1920 at South Union, Kentucky. Elizabeth Downing had died at South Union in 1903. Another attempt was made to establish a southern colony, that one in Florida sponsored by Mount Lebanon.

It became the responsibility of James H. Fennessey, to try to get Union Village out from under the financial chaos that followed all of the above. Actually, there was more. Slingerland had bought a hotel in Minneapolis and invested in a cemetery in Tennessee.
And an ill-advised loan to a furnace company in Dayton was still outstanding from the reign of Matthew B. Carter, the previous First Minister. There had also been an arson fire in South Family.

James H. Fennessey was born around 1854 in Cincinnati, became an orphan at a very early age. He joined Union Village in 1882, became the farm deacon in 1887. He was a man of integrity and great ability and as Trustee was able to free Union Village of debt .
However, it was too late to save the Village because of the diminished numbers and advanced ages of the members. Judge James Allen Runyan, of Lebanon, who had been the Shakers' lawyer for many years, was appointed Receiver in 1910. Judge Runyan, and his wife and friends, were very helpful to the remaining Shakers, were instrumental in their getting their first automobile, which was a source of great joy to the residents The Shakers had always been forward-thinking and there are reports that they wanted to buy an airplane to use in their travels.

The Central Ministry in Mount Lebanon wanted to sell Union Village but the local members resisted and there was much unpleasantness. James Fennessey was the guiding Trustee through all of that until after the United Brethren bought the land and buildings of Union Village. The last sisters went to Canterbury in New Hampshire in 1920 . A few others dispersed to various places.

James Fennessey was the only one to stay in Warren County, living at first at the Golden Lamb in Lebanon, then returning to stay at Otterbein, and finally back to Lebanon where he had care until he died in September of 1928 at the home of Mrs. Hannah Waggoner.
Dr. King, the Otterbein superintendent, handled the arrangements for his funeral service and also the settlement of his estate. In a codicil to his will Fennessey had left money to establish a scholarship at Otterbein College in Westerville, near Columbus. The service was conducted by Rev. Lamy, the minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the church which, incidentally, I, as a little girl of ten at that time, attended.

Fennessey is buried in the Shaker plot in Lebanon Cemetery. The only grave stone on the big plot (aside from the large marker with the simple word "Shaker") is one to James H. Fennessey, now so hidden under a large evergreen bush that one has to search to find it.

At the time of his death, much appeared in the press praising Fennesssey, "the last Shaker," and reciting his accomplishments. The Cincinnati Enquirer said that he "possessed a keen intellect, exceptional business ability, and an ever-gentle and friendly disposition." Before his death, Memoirs of the Miami Valley, Biographies of Warren County, published in 1919, devoted almost two pages to his "life of probity, industry and fidelity to responsibilities."

But that's not all. There are many more interesting characters and aspects to life at Union Village during the Last Fifty Years: Among them, Oliver D. Hampton, called the "Chronicler of Union Village," for the many learned papers he wrote during his lifetime of positions of authority, including many as a teacher.

One, out of many interesting stories about Oliver D. Hamtpon concerns an incident in 1870 when he had secured permission from Waynesville village officials to hold Shaker services in the village hall. This was at the time when the Shakers began to seek converts to fill their diminishing numbers. According to an article written by Denis Dalton in The Waynesville Gazette, in 1997, "crowds of four and five hundred spectators packed Hay's Hall on June 4 and 5, 1870." Elder Hampton and his group said "if any of you ever feel like giving up the world and ascending to a higher plane, come to us, and we will ensure you a welcome." The article ends by saying that, although Sister Ruth Webster was overcome by spiritual emotion and had to stay in Waynesville for a week, "no one was converted.."

And Eldress Catherine Allen, who came to Union Village near its final days after many years in the Central Ministry in the East. She was part of a group at Mount Lebanon who in 1905 sponsored a World Peace Conference and was in touch with distinguished people in many nations. And Leopold Goepper, who kept a diary of his dreams and his daily struggle to improve his spiritual life. Geopper was a physician who had divorced his wife and left his family to live with the Shakers but always kept in close touch with members of his family who came to visit him and whom he went to visit. .

And of day to day events. Of making a Shaker doll for a blind girl and of giving a big loom to a school for the blind in Cincinnati. Of their travels to other Shaker communities: Whitewater, near Harrison, Ohio; Watervliet near Dayton, North Union near Cleveland, and Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Of opening a U.S. post office in 1881 (the first one in charge was Matilda A. Butler) and of operating it until 1901. Of countless trips to the Union Village railroad station near what is now a giant flea market on St. Rt. 63. Of planting and reaping and coping with natural calamities and with illnesses.

I cannot close without telling you about one very special lady: Eldress Clymena Miner. Clymena was born at Painesville, Ohio, in 1832, and went into North Union with her parents and siblings in 1838. She became a deaconess in Mill Family at North Union in 1858, and in 1866 an Eldress. In 1889, after North Union was closed, she was moved to Watervliet, at Dayton. Watervliet, in turn, closed in 1900. Members had very little say in where they were moved, but Clymena was strong enough to hold her little group from Watervliet together to live all together at North Family at Union Village.

J. P. MacLean said of Clymena Miner "She is a bright, vivacious lady, and is as pleasant a person as one would desire to meet. She is well informed and an excellent conversationalist." Clymena was very helpful to McLean in his writings and collecting of Shaker materials which are most helpful to Shaker scholars at the present time. She died on May 19, 1916 and is buried in the Shaker lot at Lebanon Cemetery. In her will she left her estate to Union Village. Judge J. A. Runyan was the administrator. Although two nieces were contacted in northeast Ohio, they received no money. The net of almost $6,000 went to Arthur Bruce and Irving Greenwood, the Trustees from the East who handled the closing of Union Village.

This is only the beginning of the stories I want to tell to honor the courageous people who lived the Last Fifty Years at Union Village, seeing their way of life slipping away from them. Chapter 13 "Exodus ~ Leaving Ohio ~ in the book Wisdom's Paradise by Cheryl Bauer and Rob Portman covers more of the story. And, by the way, if you haven't read the complete story of the history of Union Village as set forth in their book, I recommend that you do so. It is really excellent. It can be purchased here on Campus.

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This page created 24 June 2005 and last updated 22 May, 2008
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