Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Sodus Bay Phalanx— Finger Lakes Utopia

Original Shaker home
Several structures remain from the Utopian communities that once inhabited Sodus Bay in Alton. First there were the Shakers followed by the Fourierists. Today the land has been reclaimed by the Cracker Box Palace Farm Animal Haven ( a farm animal rescue organization.

It is hard to imagine that there was a time in our region’s history when it played a dominant role in societal experimentation. Yet New York State was the home to several Utopian communities, most notably the Shakers and the Oneida Community. Shakers, the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearance, were an offshoot of the “shaking Quakers" so called because of their ecstatic dancing. The Oneida Community was a Perfectionist community that believed humankind could achieve perfection and that communal living fostered it.

The Shakers were Millennialists who foresaw that the second coming of Jesus Christ was imminent and it would herald a thousand year golden age for humankind; In other words a radical transformation of the earth, an apocalypse of sorts. They saw hope and wonder, in sharp contrast to today’s survivalists and preppers that load up on guns and supplies ahead of what they envision as societal collapse.

The establishment of a Shaker community in Sodus Bay not only provided rich and fertile farmland, but a resting place for Shakers traveling between settlements in New England and those in Ohio and Kentucky. 

Believed to be Shaker Barn.

In 1826 1,331 acres of land were purchased for $12,600. The community would grow from 72 members to 150 by 1836. A meeting house was built in 1830-31 followed by a large house in 1833-35. Ultimately 13 houses and 10 barns occupied the land. 

But in 1836 when New York State proposed building a canal from Sodus Bay to the Seneca Lake that would bisect the Shaker lands the decision was made to move. In November of 1838 they sold their land to canal promoters and purchased 1,692 acres in Groveland. It took 2 years to move. 

The economic crisis of 1837 created a long lasting recession that would eventually squash the Sodus canal plan. The Fourierists were able to purchase the former Shaker land at a good price in 1844.

Original Shaker Structure
Charles Fourier was a French mathematician, physicist and philosopher whose vision was inspired by the dehumanizing consequences of the Industrial Revolution. Several consider him to be the first climate change believer for hypothesizing that the earth’s atmosphere traps gases and helps heat the planet.

Fourier believed in God and reincarnation and that humankind along with the earth was evolving. Phalanxes were communities freed from property ownership where people could pursue their interests. It was felt that if individuals were not encumbered by capital and private property that they would live in harmony and make a better community. 

As Joscelyn Godwin notes in Upstate Cauldron, Eccentric Spiritual Movements in Early New York StateFourier felt that once harmony took place amongst people friendly competition would replace war, children would no longer see a distinction between work and play, and everyone would be rewarded for their work. This harmony would cause the earth to shift on its axis and in the process the rest of the solar system would rearrange itself in a more harmonious pattern.

While the phalanx promoted freedom of religion, schisms developed between the religious and secular members. People began sequestering the private property they had donated. Eventually the religious members left and it was not long before the experiment ended. The Sodus Bay Phalanx lasted a little over 2 years, 


With the help of the Genesee Land Trust, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and individual donations the Cracker Box Palace Farm Animal Haven was able to purchase this historic site in 2013. It consists of 627 acres and is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

While the Utopian dream at Sodus Bay may be gone, it has been replaced by the dream of a better life for animals.

Cracker Box Palace 
6450 Shaker Road
Alton, New York 14413


Rudy M. Baum; ‘Future Calculations. The first climate change believer’, Distillation, Science History Institute, Summer 2016. 

Conversations with historian Bruce Farrington and his blog Historic Sodus Point.

Joscelyn Godwin, Upstate Cauldron, Eccentric Spiritual Movements in Early New York State.

John H. Martin, Saints, Sinners and Reformers, The Burned-Over District Re-Visited, ‘Chapter 6, ‘Sodus Bay and Groveland’, Crooked Lake Review, Fall 2005.

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