The Shaker Museum was founded in 1950 by John S. Williams, Sr. on his farm in Old Chatham, New York. Beginning in the 1930s, Williams traveled extensively to then-active Shaker communities and, often with help from the Shakers, purchased and was given fine examples of their arts, industries, domestic life, and spiritual artifacts. His approach was that of an anthropologist documenting the decline of a culture. Today the Museum’s object and library collection, numbering over 70,000 items, is considered the most comprehensive Shaker collection and is a prime resource for scholars and curators. The Museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums since 1972.
In 2004, the Museum became the owner and steward of the North Family site at Mount Lebanon Shaker Village, consisting of 10 remaining Shaker buildings on 30 acres, part of the Mount Lebanon Shaker Society National Historic Landmark. The Museum’s efforts are underway to restore the site and relocate there. Toward that end, the Museum facility in Old Chatham closed to regular visitors in 2009, with seasonal exhibits and programs now offered at Mount Lebanon.