“…one might suppose it would stand for a thousand years…”

Jacob Glover, PhD, Program Manager

“The House is built of so dureable materials, that one might suppose it would stand for a thousand years, unless it was shaken down by an Earth quake, or something of the kind…” – Pleasant Hill Ministry to New Lebanon Ministry, August 16, 1830. IV: A054, Western Reserve Historical Society.

A view of the 1824-1834 Centre Family Dwelling’s east facade.

The 1824-1834 Centre Family Dwelling (CFD) is the most imposing, impressive structure the Shakers constructed at Pleasant Hill. At over 21,000 square feet, the CFD was one of the largest limestone buildings in the Commonwealth when it was completed in 1834, as well as one of the most architecturally significant. From its elegant balustrade and dormer to its breathtaking second floor meeting room, the CFD undoubtedly represents the pinnacle of the Shaker’s architectural achievements at Pleasant Hill.

And yet, despite the grandiose design and awe-inspiring nature of the structure, there are many elements and characteristics of the building that go unnoticed to most visitors to Shaker Village.

On a quick walk through the CFD, for instance, you might miss the subtle embellishments on the dining room columns that represent a departure from traditional Shaker design that avoided these decorative features because they were not necessary to structural integrity.


With nearly 80 residents in some years, there was a need for efficient storage space in the CFD. This large, built-in unit on the third floor provided an efficient way to store out-of-season clothing.

Or what about the built-in cabinets and drawers in the brothers’ and the sisters’ bedrooms that provided needed additional space for communal living? Did you notice which types of storage units the brothers and sisters preferred? The peg rails are seemingly everywhere, but did you see the lower peg rails in the sisters’ closets? What were those used for? Speaking of closets, why are there windows built into interior walls?

Other distinctive features abound. A dumb-waiter system that carried food from the cellar kitchen to the dining room made the job of preparing communal meals much easier. What about clean-up? The construction of the 1833 Water House directly beside the CFD played an integral role in helping the sisters clean-up after meals by providing clean spring water directly to the kitchen area. The list, as they say, could go on and on.

Beyond these original features of the CFD, there are even more caveats and hidden features due to the historic restoration and preservation of the structure that have taken place at Shaker Village since the 1960s. Beginning in 2017, work began on the building to install climate control and electrical lighting systems that have been integrated into the historic edifice in ways that are reversible and organic to the buildings 1850s appearance. The results? Ah, come on, we can’t reveal everything here…

Intrigued? Come to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill and explore this beautiful structure on your own, or take a guided tour to discover our favorite nooks and crannies! The Centre Family Dwelling is open from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm daily (and until 8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday), and the daily tour, Top to Bottom: The Centre Family Dwelling, runs throughout the fall and winter.

Check our website for a tour schedule and times. We’ll see you soon!

“‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free…”

Jacob Glover, PhD., Program Manager

By all accounts, most readers of this blog, and probably anyone who has heard any examples of Shaker Music, will recognize the lyrics quoted above. Many of you all probably even hummed the tune along as you read these memorable words. Written in 1848, Simple Gifts is undoubtedly the most recognized song attributed to the Shakers.

Popularized by Aaron Copland’s 1944 composition Appalachian Spring, the melody entered the canon of American popular culture. Subsequently, English songwriter Sydney Carter used the same melody with his own, original lyrics to write the hymn “Lord of the Dance” in 1963—a tune that American congregations have sung in worship ever since! From there it gets complicated, but to put it simply, popular musicians, car companies, the American Olympic Committee and many other groups have utilized the melody in one version or another for their own purposes.

Due in large part to its popularity, Simple Gifts has come to be synonymous with Shaker music as a whole. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

As a group, the Shakers have written over 20,000 songs since their founding in 18th century England. At Pleasant Hill, songwriters and singers proliferated and produced a stunning collection of American music that still resonates to this day. Many of these songs, in fact, were notated in beautiful hymnals that we currently have in our archival collections!

Instead of traditional music notation, the Shakers used ‘letteral’ notation, so that all members of their communities could participate and sing along. –“A Hymn Book, Containing a Collection of Ancient Hymns…Compil’d and Recorded by Paulina Bryant,” Item 361, Library of Congress Shaker Collection

It’s not just the sheer volume of Shaker music that’s impressive. The Shakers also wrote many different types of songs (hymns, anthems, marches, celebratory songs, and more) over the years, and different eras of Shaker history often led to remarkably different creations. Within the Shaker societies, active participation in worship through both singing and dancing was vital to community life. More than just a social and creative outlet for the Shakers, music also served devotional and instructional purposes while providing structure to the very rhythms of their daily life.

Shaker music can also shed fascinating insight into the lives of individual songwriters. The Pleasant Hill community, in fact, was widely regarded by other Shaker settlements as possessing quite a number of members with exceptional musical talent.

Patsy Williamson was one such individual. Born an enslaved person in North Carolina, Patsy was brought to Pleasant Hill in 1812 by her enslaver and family. Within a year, the Shaker community had purchased her legal freedom and Patsy quickly became an integral member of the growing sect. Patsy would spend the rest of her life as a good and faithful Shaker—and prolific songwriter—in Mercer County.

One of Patsy’s most exceptional creations, Pretty Mother’s Home, speaks to some of the core tenets of Shaker theology and her belief that one day she would have a “pretty home” in Heaven. These ideas—and the fact that they were shared through music—would have been eminently familiar and relatable to Shakers living in disparate communities across America at this time.

The 1820 Meeting House at Pleasant Hill was built to allow the Shakers to worship in their unique style. During services, the Shakers used no musical instruments. They regarded human voices as the ideal instruments for worship.

To hear Patsy’s song (and many others!) that together comprise a buried treasure of American music, come out to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill and take part in our daily Shaker Music program that runs in the 1820 Meeting House at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm daily throughout the year.

I promise, there’s more to Shaker music than simple gifts, no matter how free they may be!

Water House Preservation…Part 2!

William Updike, Vice President of Natural and Cultural Resources

Many of you may recall we began working to preserve the 1833 Water House, just east of the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling, last summer with a major structural repair to the front of the building. Read more on that here! I am excited to tell you that within the next two weeks we will begin to start work on the second phase of this project to preserve one of the most important buildings at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill!

The south facade of the 1833 Water House was repaired in the summer of 2018.

The Water House contained the water tank the Pleasant Hill Shaker’s used to provide water to the village. Water was pumped uphill, from a spring, to the storage tank where it was distributed throughout the village in a piping system similar to how many of us get water to our homes today! This was one of the first waterworks west of the Allegheny Mountains, and one of the earliest in the nation.

Our work will involve making repairs to, and replacing as necessary, the roof rafters to remove the noticeable sag in the roof. Once that is complete we will make any other necessary structural repairs, and replace approximately ¾ of the siding. Much like a roof, siding is a sacrificial surface, and eventually reaches the end of it serviceable life.

We have already built new window frames and sashes for the upper gable windows, and have those ready to install. We also built a new front door. Most of the windows and the door of this structure were built during prior restorations, and our new versions are made of more resilient wood to provide many years of service in years to come. Once we complete all of the carpentry, we will install a new roof and paint the building! We look forward to reopening the building for guests to enjoy later this fall!

This project was made possible by generous donations from individuals who love Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, and help us care for this important site. If you would like to join us in this effort, please click here to donate!

Kentucky’s “Storybook Wedding” Destination

Rebecca Wilson, Catering & Event Sales Manager

When you book a wedding with Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, your experience is tailor-made for you. From a marshmallow roast in front of a cozy fire in the evening with a hayride, to bourbon tastings, picnics, private tours and more, Shaker Village offers an array of enjoyable activities for each loving couple.

Shaker Village has a broad variety of event spaces on its 3,000 acre property, although many couples have taken advantage of the retreat-like locations of the West Lot Dwelling and Meadow View Barn.

“When I think of our wedding, I think of it as an accumulation of events from the time we arrived on Friday until we all said goodbye Sunday morning. Having the West Lot be our home for the weekend allowed for so many amazing memories with our loved ones. The ceremony in the courtyard to the back of the house was an incredible experience! The intimate space allowed for unique participation from our guests, where I was able to incorporate Shaker-style bench seating and viewing areas on the two-story porches.”

When Megan and Casey visited Shaker Village for the first time at Craft Fair a few years ago, she fell deeply in love with its beauty and charm. When they began planning their wedding, she knew she wanted to incorporate their love of the outdoors and historical buildings. It was also important to them that they made their wedding weekend a celebration and experience for all their loved ones to cherish. The West Lot Dwelling at Shaker Village provided a gathering place for them, and the village accommodated all of their guest’s needs during the memorable weekend celebration. Family and friends were able to stay on the grounds, experience all the fun activities Shaker Village has to offer, and enjoy spending time with one another.

Food has always been a uniting force for Megan’s family, and the family-style meal they would share together was one of the most important details of their wedding. The southern farm-to-table dishes created by the chef is elevated in the most delightful and rustic way. Knowing that the ingredients that the chef would serve would be right out of the Shaker Village garden, Megan requested that the chef create a signature vegetable dish of her choice from what was available to her that day. Although the chicken dish and red wine braised short ribs were outstanding, the guests could not stop raving about the vegetables!

“Everyone is knowledgeable, professional and kind. I could not have hoped for a more special and unique venue than Shaker Village! Like Casey and I, our guests fell in love with its beautiful surroundings and interesting history. They enjoyed the hotel accommodations and all the activities Shaker Village has to offer during their stay. Shaker Village allowed us to create a magical experience for every person involved, and the memories of our weekend will be cherished by all.”

If you are interested in finding out more about creating your special day at Shaker Village, please contact our Event Sales department at 859-734-1558 or email: weddings@shakervillageky.org!

Credits:

Photography: Desiree Fromm
Make-up: Britt Moses
Hair: Heather Cole Thomas-Blake Hair Studio
Bouquets: Flowers by Marnie and Jenny
Cake: Martine’s Pastries
Coordinator: Rita Matney
Rentals: Bryant’s Rent-All, Purdon’s, and VenYou Event Rentals

Lessons from the Past, Visions for the Future

Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator

As we have shared in previous posts, Shaker Village recently completed a large-scale preservation project in the “spiritual center” of the Village, focusing on the 1820 Meeting House and the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling. While the historic buildings of Pleasant Hill make an immediate impact on visitors, the artifacts, images, documents and interpretative materials that can be placed inside the buildings really bring the Village and the Shaker story to life.

Guests participate in an experiential Shaker music program in the 1820 Meeting House.

A great example of how preservation efforts and interpretive programming go hand-in-hand to share the legacy of the Shakers is the Music Program that occurs twice daily in the 1820 Meeting House. The Meeting House was used by the Shakers as a place for the entire community to gather for Sunday worship. Music and dance were integral parts of their worship activities, and the Meeting House was specifically designed with this in mind. Just as the Shakers once sang and moved through this space, our music interpreters do so today. These programs not only tell the spiritual story of the Shakers, they illustrate the stunning engineering of the building in a way that leaves every visitor awestruck.

It is our goal to provide a guest experience across the historic site that inspires our guests through stories, activities and exhibits that connect to Shaker heritage and American history. With 3,000 acres and 34 historic structures, providing a cohesive and comprehensive guest experience takes a lot of thought and care to develop. Over the past few years, we have taken multiple steps to conduct and prepare a long-range interpretative plan for permanent and temporary exhibits, as well as outdoor interpretative signage and interactives. This program planning process was underway and ran parallel to the preservation of the Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House, another example of how preservation and programming work together at Shaker Village.

The 1824-34 Centre Family Dwelling, during preservation in 2017.

The preservation of the “spiritual center” of Pleasant Hill was funded by a generous gift from the Lilly Endowment and through a Community Development Block Grant from the State of Kentucky. Shaker Village relies on charitable giving for the implementation of most large-scale preservation projects that take place on the property. The same is true for many programming projects, such as the site-wide interpretative plan and corresponding exhibits.

The 1815 Carpenter’s Shop, as the new Welcome Center, is the first stop for guests visiting Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

One of the first steps in this interpretive plan was to consolidate daily admissions, overnight check-in, a craft shop and additional historic interpretation into one, easy to use Welcome Center for village guests. Through a generous gift from the James Graham Brown Foundation, the 1815 Carpenter’s Shop underwent exterior preservation work and an interior remodel to become the “jumping off point” for guests to discover the legacy of the Kentucky Shakers at Pleasant Hill.

Plans for exhibits in the Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House include the display of over 450 Shaker artifacts.

Over the last two years, Shaker Village has also received funding for the creation of the interpretative plan through private donations from generous individuals. The resulting plan, titled The Enduring Legacy of Shakers in America, is a comprehensive exhibition staged with sub-themes and topics that can be implemented across the site as buildings and spaces are readied, and funding is available.

A key theme of the exhibit plan is to introduce the stories and personalities of individuals who lived as Shakers at Pleasant Hill.

At this time Shaker Village is raising money for the implementation of the permanent exhibits that will go in the 1820 Meeting House and the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling. These exhibitions are vital to our mission because they will provide both guided and self-guided visitors a new, and at times unexpected, interpretation of the Shakers and their community at Pleasant Hill. They will also engage our visitors in examining political climates, cultural shifts and economic trends through the 19th and early 20th Century, and deriving lessons from this history that are relevant and impactful to modern audiences.

Exhibit designs have been geared to have many sensory and tactile elements to create engaging experiences within each space.

You can help make these exhibits possible with a tax-deductible donation of any size to the Exhibits Fund. By making a gift as a new donor or by increasing your renewal gift, you can double your impact this fall. Your donation will be matched dollar for dollar by the Shaker Village Board of Trustees!

As a guest of Shaker Village, you support this nonprofit organization and its mission every time you shop, dine, stay, explore or donate. We rely on, and appreciate, your generosity. It really does take a village to preserve and share the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers!

For more information on our programs, services and other philanthropic opportunities, please call the Development Office at 859.734.1545.