HARVARD -- It's their major fundraiser -- tours of beautiful Harvard homes. This year, however, there'll be a twist.
In a first of its kind event, the Harvard Historical Society is hosting a tour of eight Shaker-era structures, including homes and buildings in Shaker Village, on South Shaker Road and the Shaker office at Fruitlands Museum. The society's collection in Still River will also be open.
Ticket holders will be able to visit all of the properties on Saturday, Sept. 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ticket holders will also be granted entry to the Fruitlands Museum, 102 Prospect Hill Road, and the Harvard Historical Society's collection, 215 Still River Road, for a second day, Sunday, Sept. 16.
There will be a limit of 400 tickets sold. All funds raised benefit the Harvard Historical Society.
The tour is being billed as a "once in a lifetime opportunity." Since the homes are privately owned, only selected rooms will be open to the public.
The rooms chosen will be "the most historically significant portions" reflective of Shaker design or Shaker life, said Judy Warner, the administrator for the society's board of directors.
"When you go in a home, there will be an interpreter there," said Warner. "The interpreter will be someone who knows something about the history of the house and will be able to answer some questions."
The doors to the Harvard Historical Society at 215 Still River Road will also be open that day.
With an advance ticket purchase at least two weeks before the tour, a program guide will be provided by mail listing all the properties on the tour. It's a change from prior years, when the addresses of the homes on the tour were a guarded secret.
"We never gave out addresses before, but here everyone knows its Shaker Village. So it is all the Shaker houses in the village ... but not everyone knows that not all the houses in Shaker Village are Shaker vintage," said Warner.
"We're going to have a program that you'll get in advance of the tour that will have detailed descriptions and history of each house and information about the Shakers in general and specific things to notice in each house. That way people will know what they're looking at and can do some homework."
Warner said each house provides a different window into the past. The "Square House" in Shaker Village will be on the tour and famously served as a home where Mother Ann Lee and her followers stayed in the summer of 1781 upon arriving in Harvard.
The "Meeting House," the "Second House," the "New Office," the "Herb Shed," the Shaker Cemetery and Holy Hill, and the "Sisters' Applesauce Shop" are among the landmarks included on the Harvard Historical Society's Shaker Home Tour.
Warner now occupies the "Sister's Applesauce Shop" as her home. Visitors will view the first floor kitchen where applesauce was produced by the Shakers and the second floor space where Warner theorizes Shaker women dried herbs, sprouted seeds, and performed their handwork.
"The Sisters made quite a bit of the income for the village as time went on and they sold their fancy work in the community like bonnets and little sewing kits and baskets," Warner said.
The Shakers' presence in Harvard stretched from just after the American Revolution until 1918 when they left the village for Canterbury, N.H.
Behind Warner's house used to be the "Brothers' Shop." It's now gone but a photo of it is on display at the society's Still River museum. The Sisters' Shop and the Brothers' Shop was part of a larger South Shaker Road neighborhood.
"If one was deciding to be a Shaker, you came and lived in the "South Family," Warner said of the "Dwelling House" on South Shaker Road. "There were a lot more buildings over there -- there was a bee house and a pig house."
In a nutshell, there's a lot of Shaker history to see and experience during the tour.
"This has generated a lot of out-of-town interest. We tried to advertise to Shaker enthusiasts because this has never happened before -- that you could tour all of these houses," said Warner.
Unlike past years, there will be no artisan sales of arts and crafts items in the homes on the tour.
Tickets are $75 each and can be purchased by calling Toni at 978-456-8657, downloading a ticket purchase form at www.harvardhistory.org, or by visiting Fruitlands Museum.