North Union Shaker Site
Backstory and Context
Ralph Russell, a local of the modern day Shaker Heights area, convinced his family to convert to the Shaker sect and established the North Union Shaker Settlement in 1822 with just over eighty individuals on 1,000 acres of donated land.
In 1826, the group dammed Doan Brook, thus creating the Lower Lake and establishing a gristmill and a sawmill. Later, in 1854, the community built a second dam creating the Upper Lake, and constructed another mill. Also called 'The Valley of God's Pleasure', the colony peaked around 1850 with about 300 settlers. The Mill family was established about 1826 to run the mills, which produced lumber and milled grain. The Gathering Family was established in the community.
Around 1831, as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church) moved their headquarters to Kirtland, Ohio, missionaries from the church (sometimes Joseph Smith, the founder, would go with them) proselyted at this Shaker Community, along with other ones and converted many Shakers to the LDS faith. One of the prominent preachers of the Shaker faith, Sidney Rigdon, joined the LDS and played critical roles in the LDS church's early history in Ohio, Missouri, and some in Illinois until his attempt to take over control of the church failed and he was excommunicated.
As the Shakers practiced celibacy, the colony faded away and was closed in 1889. In 1905, the land was bought by brothers M.J. and O.P. Van Sweringin who envisioned the first garden-style suburb in Ohio for the site. The brothers constructed homes, set aside land for churches and schools, and planted trees. None of the buildings from the North Union Shaker community remain.
Of the land that had been owned by the Shakers and was donated to the City of Cleveland is the Shaker Lakes Parklands. The park includes lakes created by the Shakers, walking trails, the Shaker Historical Museum, and an archaeological site where the Shakers' houses had been demolished.
Today, only one "society" remains in the control of the last Shakers, located at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Glouchester, Maine.