Filed Under Religion

North Union Shaker Village

"The Valley of God's Pleasure"

In 1811 Jacob Russell moved his family from their home in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, into the wilderness of the Connecticut Western Reserve. Upon his arrival, Russell purchased 475 acres in Warrensville Township, founded by the Daniel Warren family from Ackworth, New Hampshire, in 1808. Ralph Russell, the ninth of twelve Russell children, first visited his parents' tracts of land in 1811. After his visit, he returned to Connecticut to lead 18 other Russell family members to the Northeast Ohio settlement in 1812. Between 1818 and 1821, Ralph Russell experienced a whirlwind of life events. In 1818 he married Laura Ellsworth, a childhood friend from Connecticut. Then in 1821, the patriarch of the Russell family, Jacob Russell passed away.

Ralph Russell was stricken with grief due to the loss of his father and traveled to Lebanon, Ohio, to seek spiritual guidance from the Union Village Shaker Community in 1822. Russell was so moved by the beliefs and teaching of the Shakers that he returned to his family's settlement and began converting family members to his newfound religion. Russell converted three of his brothers to the religion, and they dedicated their family, land, and belongings to the North Union settlement, land within modern day Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights. The first official meeting of the North Union Shaker community occurred in 1828, where 36 members signed the Covenant, officially dedicating their lives to Shakerism. Oddly enough, Ralph Russell's name does not appear on the Covenant. Russell and his family later moved away from the community to Aurora, Ohio, where he lived until his death in 1866.

Visitors to meetings of The United Society of True Believers in Christ's Second Appearing named them "Shakers" or "Shaking Quakers" due their sporadic and erratic movements during worship. Although it was not their official name, the Shakers across America adopted the nickname and used it in the marketing of their products. The Shakers were one of a number of utopian-minded sects that originated in the "Burned Over District" in western New York and were inspired by the Second Great Awakening, such as the Oneidas, Millerites, and Mormons. Founded by Mother Ann Lee, who immigrated to the United States from Manchester, England, in search of religious freedom in 1774, the Shakers were known for their communal living, pacifism, celibacy, and equality amongst all people. Within their communities, men and women were viewed as equals. Men and women leaders, called Elders and Eldresses, were viewed as having the same level of power within the community. The Shakers enjoyed a reputation as hardworking and industrious people who lived their motto of "Put your hands to work and your Hearts to God."

At their height of membership in the 19th century, the Shakers occupied a total of 24 settlements in the United States. Shaker settlements worked within certain industries not only to put their hands to work, but also to provide for community members and generate economic stability for the community. North Union was no exception. The North Union community, who named this place "The Valley of God's Pleasure," was known for bee keeping, broom making, textile production, blacksmithing, animal husbandry, and harvesting seeds and herbs used for cooking and medicinal purposes. The community made sure that all of the needs of the community members were met before selling their products and services to the "outside world." For North Union, interaction with the outside world usually consisted of doing business at markets in downtown Cleveland and at Doan's Corners (East 105th and Euclid Avenue - present day University Circle).

Shaker communities were divided into different families where familial ties were dissolved, and everyone became a Shaker brother or Shaker sister. North Union was divided into three families: Mill, Center, and East. These families were relatively autonomous as each had its own Elder, Eldress, Deacon, and Deaconess. The Mill family was closest in proximity to and worked in the community's mills, and the East family oversaw childcare and education for new converts. The Center family was the most spiritually advanced and served as the administrative center for the whole community. North Union took in orphans and runaways. After completing a "novice period" and signing a covenant to give up all their personal belongings, new members were assigned to a junior family order. Each family played a significant role in the development of North Union, which reached its peak membership of 300 Shakers by 1850.

In 1843, the North Union Shakers claimed that Jesus Christ visited their community for three months. Nonetheless, by the 1870s any residual excitement from the purported visit had surely dwindled in the North Union Shaker community. Although the North Union Shakers took in orphans and runaways, it was not enough to overcome the repopulation challenges resulting from their celibate beliefs. Along with the decrease in devout dedication to Shaker beliefs after the Civil War, the lure of industrialization pulled the younger members away from the community. The remaining members decided to move to southwestern Ohio Shaker colonies, and the North Union settlement officially closed in 1889. Also, it has been suggested that Brother Joseph Slingerland influenced the sale of North Union in order to strengthen Union Village and bolster that community, which continued until July 1920.


Shaker Sisters Drying Yarn, 1876
Shaker Sisters Drying Yarn, 1876 Source: Shaker Historical Society
Hand-drawn North (Mill) Family Map.
Hand-drawn North (Mill) Family Map. The Mill family was also known as the North Family since they were located the farthest north in the North Union settlement. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Hand-drawn Center Family Map
Hand-drawn Center Family Map Source: Shaker Historical Society
Hand-drawn East Family Map
Hand-drawn East Family Map Source: Shaker Historical Society
1874 Map of North Union Shaker Settlement
1874 Map of North Union Shaker Settlement Source: Shaker Historical Society
Article About Alleged Second Coming of Christ
Article About Alleged Second Coming of Christ This Cleveland Press article described the North Union Shaker lifestyle and Jesus Christ's alleged visit to the North Union Community in 1843. That year was also when the Millerites in western New York expected Christ's second coming. Source: Shaker Historical Society Creator: Cleveland Press
Second North Union Meeting House
Second North Union Meeting House This North Union Meeting House house was dedicated on November 29, 1849, replacing the first meeting house that was built in 1826. The house stood on the east side of Lee Road, a few hundred feet north of present day Shaker Boulevard. The building had seating for the general public, floor space for ministry, a men's apartment and a women's apartment that led into the hall, and two rooms upstairs for the Elders and Eldresses. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Center Family Settlement Buildings
Center Family Settlement Buildings The Center family was considered the most spiritually advanced within the community and oversaw the Mill and the East families. Source: Shaker Historical Society
Meeting House Interior
Meeting House Interior Men and women sat on opposite sides while the Head Elder presided over the meeting, and the Head Eldress followed by saying a few words. The wooden pegboards along the walls were used to hang bonnets, hat, cloaks, coats and chairs from their stretchers to keep the floor space clear after meetings. Source: Shaker Historical Society
East Family Members
East Family Members The East family was also known as the Gathering Order in the North Union Community on what is now Fontenay Road in Shaker Heights. This settlement was the first to be given up when membership dwindled, and the community needed only the Mill and Center Farms. The East Family buildings were rented out in 1885 to German farmers who paid $600.00 in rental fees. Source: Shaker Historical Society


16740 S Park Blvd, Cleveland, OH | Location of Shaker Historical Museum


Marilyn Miller, “North Union Shaker Village,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 17, 2024,