The Second Meetinghouse was the religious center of the Shaker community at Mount Lebanon. The largest Shaker meetinghouse in America, the building was erected between 1822 and 1824 to accommodate the rapidly growing community of worshippers and visiting onlookers. Architects and builders who were members of the community at Mount Lebanon, including Nicholas Bennet, Anthony Brewster, and Amos Bishop, spearheaded the building project and infused it with the Shaker spiritual principles of simplicity and utility. Although guided by these men, the entire community was involved in the process. A Mount Lebanon resident noted in a diary entry that, “all societies seemed interested to aid in the building down to the least child.”
The plain architecture of the Second Meetinghouse showcases functionalism, a hallmark of Shaker design, and it reflects the gendered and hierarchical separations that shaped Shaker life. The simple exterior is distinguished by a semi-circular barrel roof and multiple sets of doors. The building’s three entryways on the south side of the building—the left door was used by Brothers, the right by Sisters, and the middle door by Elders—allowed its members to practice core tenants of their faith as they entered and exited the meetinghouse. Non-Shakers visiting the community entered through a seperate entrance on the east side of the meetinghouse. In addition to facilitating worship, the various doorways demonstrate the high value that the community placed on orderliness.
Like other Shaker meetinghouses throughout the country, the exterior was originally painted a bright white in accordance with the Shaker religious law which specified that meetinghouses “should be painted white without, and of a bluish shade within.” The Meetinghouse would have glowed, even amidst the colorful array of neighboring buildings.
The community actively worshipped in this building and animated the interior with their dancing. Deemed the “Shaking Quakers” by the public, worship in meetinghouses featured a great deal of movement. The Second Meetinghouse at Mount Lebanon facilitated this aspect of Shaker religion by featuring an expansive interior space measuring around 78 by 63 feet with 25-foot ceilings. The large meeting room supported lively religious exercise by excluding supports like columns, allowing members to move about uninterrupted. It also featured particularly sturdy foundations in order to support the dancing and marching common in Shaker worship.
The building has since been converted into the Heyniger Memorial Library of the Darrow School.