Digging Darrow

Darrow is home to the ruins of America's biggest Shaker settlement. We investigated the rise and fall of their remarkable attempt to build a new utopia

123.9% Funded
£12,390.00 Pledged
£10,000 Goal

Hello America! Over the course of three years, DigVentures headed to the beautiful Berkshire mountains in New York State to crowdfund the scientific excavation of the biggest Shaker settlement in the USA.

In 2018, we also helped to launch a brand new initiative supporting American military veterans (AVAR) as they transition to civilian life through participation in archaeological fieldwork. And National Geographic was on boardtoo!

Darrow, located on Mount Lebanon, New York, is home to the biggest Shaker settlement in America. In 1966, the site was named a National Historic Landmark, and in 2004 and 2006 it was recognized by the World Monuments Fund in as one of the top 100 most significant endangered historic sites in the world. The land was sold to Darrow School in 1937, who have been carefully guarding the site ever since.

The Shakers

The Shakers arrived in America in the 1700s, and in 1787 established themselves on Mount Lebanon. They soon became one of America’s wealthiest and most rapidly expanding new groups.

But it didn’t all start like that. Originating in Liverpool, north west England, the group were fleeing persecution, and decided to follow their founder Mother Ann Lee to a place where they believed they would be free to live as they chose.

Mount Lebanon became 
their first and largest settlement in the United States, and the spiritual centre of Shaker society. They believed in racial equality, female leadership and the swift adoption of technological innovation – and they were extremely successful.

With numbers swelling, plenty of food, and communities working together to build huge meeting houses, the Shakers took great strides forward and created very profitable endeavours, from agriculture to pharmaceuticals. Many of their innovations, such as their distinctive architecture, sleek furniture, wheel-driven washing machines and mail order business models, live on in American culture today.

But their incredible success didn’t last. Numbers started dwindling and the settlement shrank. As one of the most famous attempts to build a new utopian society, their story – and the beautiful historic site they left behind – is a unique opportunity to understand what drove them, what contributed to their decline, and what this says about the development of the young United States of America itself. Our new archaeological investigation provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really dig deep and reason with the evidence.

American Veterans Archaeological Recovery

Taking part in archaeological fieldwork is a powerful experience. It’s methodical, structured and generates teamwork and camaraderie. American Veterans Archaeological Recovery (AVAR) is an organization dedicated to helping American military veterans with disabilities transition to civilian life through participation in archaeological excavations. It will take the project to a whole new level of significance.

DigVentures helped AVAR train serving soldiers from Fort Drum in Jefferson County, New York, and local veterans in transferable skills. Teamwork and social activities will also deliver mental and physical well-being benefits. Part of our joint research is also exploring how the training and pastoral care aspects of archaeology can provide positive, measurable change for people.

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