The Oregon Trail

Heading east from Albany across the Hudson River toward the Massachusetts state line, US-20 follows Columbia Avenue through the warehouse and factory town of Rensselaer, then climbs a long retail-lined hill past innumerable liquor stores, mini-marts, gas stations, and motels into the Taconic Mountains. Also here is the full-throttle dirt oval of the Lebanon Valley Speedway (518/794-9606), with racing throughout the summer.

After this barrage of contemporary culture, the tranquil hillside remains of Mount Lebanon Shaker Village, on the south side of US-20 a few hundred yards west of the Massachusetts border, come as a welcome relief. Of the 20 Shaker communities once scattered over the eastern United States, practicing a passionate but celibate form of Christianity, Mount Lebanon was the head ministry, founded here in 1785. The community endured until 1947, and some two dozen historic buildings still stand, including a 192-foot stone barn—the largest stone barn in the world when constructed in 1859—and a no-frills but cleverly constructed 1854 washhouse boasting hidden wall drawers and perfectly fitted floorboards. All the craftsmanship is testimony to the Shaker edict, “Hands to work, hearts to God.”

The Shaker Museum (202 Shaker Rd., 518/794-9100, Fri.-Mon. 11am-4pm mid-June-mid-Oct.) has the world’s most extensive collection of Shaker-related items, from Shaker seed catalogs and pieces of Shaker furniture to the woodworking tools and devices used to make them.