It was important to dry clothes as soon as possible. Fabrics become musty when left wet too long. The North Family’s wash house included a mechanical water-powered extractor – something akin to the spin cycle on modern washing machines – an outdoor drying yard, a drying attic, and a heated drying room. The North Family’s drying room was probably purchased in the 1879 from the Troy Washing Machine Company in Troy, New York. Usually, heat to dry clothes in these drying rooms was provided by steam pipes connected to a boiler, but the Shakers used hot air channeled through a large pipe that collected heat radiating from the boiler used for heating wash water. When the drying room was not in use this heat could be channeled to the second floor of the Wash House where it was used to dry fruit.
The Wash House also had a substantial dry-yard conveniently located just outside the wash room in the cellar. It had several hundred feet of clothes line mounted on iron pipe. The whole yard was shielded from nearby road dust by a strategically planted hedge of Norway spruce. This hedge was not intended to grow to full maturity as it now stands. In the spring of 1892, “The evergreen hedge west of the laundry cut down” and replanted to be a more effective dust barrier.
On hot rainy summer days, when no one wanted to stoke up the boiler for heating the drying room, the Wash House had a lift that carried damp clothes from the wash room to the attic where they were hung to dry.
Shane Rothe (they/them) joined Shaker Museum in July 2023, working with independent curator Maggie Taft on an exhibition for the new museum space in Chatham. Shane is an artist as well as a curator and continues to create in the mediums of painting, sculpture, writing, and performance. Shane holds a BFA from CalArts and an MA in art history and curatorial studies from the University of Chicago.