Navigating A Year of Change

Melissa Williams, Development Coordinator

Today marks one year since Shaker Village reopened to the public after a temporary, three-month closure. It’s been a year like no other for all of us and we wanted to take a moment to say thank you.  We are especially grateful for your continued support over the past 12 months as you have shopped, dined, stayed, explored and donated.

Shaker Village is a nonprofit organization and we maximize our income to preserve Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark and share the legacy of the Pleasant Hill Shakers. We continually reinvest generated revenue and charitable donations into the 34 historic buildings, the grounds, Preserve and education. Our balanced financial approach to historic preservation and programming has helped sustain the Village and create an engaging guest experience. When we closed in March 2020, we did so with limited financial resources on hand. It was a challenging time for the organization and our staff. Our most pressing concern was when we could reopen, what the Village experience would look like and if we could generate enough income to fund critical operations.

The historic turnpike was quiet while the Village was temporarily closed.

Adapting to the New Normal
Early on our team committed to telling the story of Pleasant Hill in new ways that could be accessed through our digital media platforms. As we reached out to our donors and guests with stories of the Shakers and the historic preservation work that continued during the closure, we received an outpouring of care and concern.

In the last 12 months, we have welcomed more donors to our community than ever before with gifts ranging from $5 to $10,000. Collectively our 1,200 donors generously contributed $1.8 million, which funded one third of our fiscal year operating expenses. Your support enabled Shaker Village to bring our staff back and reopen to the public on June 15th one year ago.

Masked up guests explored the Village and checked out the newly installed educational waystations.

Peaceful Through the Pandemic
Throughout the pandemic guests have remarked that Shaker Village has been a peaceful retreat in an otherwise uncertain world. With 3,000 acres to explore, there is ample room to practice social distancing. A record number of guests visited to hike the trails, stay in one of our 72 historic hotel rooms at The Inn, dine outdoors at The Trustees’ Table and enjoy Music on the Lawn and other socially distanced programming.

Recently a donor enclosed a note with her gift that read, “My new favorite place.”  As guests have returned, more and more have shared this sentiment and enrolled in our Annual Passholder program. The Passholder programs provides an avenue for guests to support Shaker Village but also offer great perks such as free admission. At present more than 1,300 individuals and families have expressed their commitment to Shaker Village by becoming a passholder. The revenue generated has enabled Shaker Village to rethink educational programming and introduce virtual workshops, innovation stations and more.

While Shaker Village has a physical presence in the land and historic buildings located here at Pleasant Hill, it has always been the people that make it a special place. That was true when the Shakers lived, worked and worshipped here. It was true in the 1950s and 1960s when private citizens organized and fundraised to preserve Pleasant Hill, and it remains true today. 

One year after reopening, Shaker Village is here because of your generous support. Thank you for donating. Thank you for visiting. And thank you for supporting this powerful place.

Funding Historic Preservation

Melissa Williams, Development Coordinator

Planning for Preservation

The master preservation plan for Shaker Village lays out short, mid and long-term goals to care for the property’s 34 historic buildings and 3,000-acre cultural landscape. From a fundraising perspective, this plan can seem a bit daunting when you add-up the amount of funds needed to achieve our goals! To help fund historic preservation projects, the Shaker Village Board of Trustees launched a comprehensive capital campaign in 2014. To date, Shaker Village has raised over $14 million towards the $25 million goal for historic preservation, to enhance visitor education and to strengthen the Shaker Village endowment.

Historic preservation can be a costly endeavor. That cost goes up the longer a structure sits and deteriorates without maintenance or regular upkeep. This makes sense considering we would expect the cost to rise as the extent of damage increases. It also highlights just how urgently some of our 34 historic buildings need attention. But what damages these buildings in the first place?

Exterior of West Lot Dwelling.
Old Stone Shop masonry before repairs.
Water at Work

We are fortunate in Kentucky to experience all 4 seasons, but this means that buildings are exposed to a wide range of temperatures, rain and snow. Over time the weather and environment cause damage to materials and surfaces, such as wood, stone and plaster. Water is a particular concern because wet materials can rot, mold and mildew; frozen water expands and can cause cracks or displace materials; and humidity introduces water to interior surfaces.

Floor board repair in the Meeting House.
Wear and Tear

Regular use of the buildings, which can have a positive impact on preserving them, can also have detrimental factors. The Shaker buildings are the most valuable items in our collection and most enduring testament to the Shaker legacy at Pleasant Hill. We could lock the buildings and ask our guests to observe them from a distance, but that would be an injustice and diminish the guest experience, which relies on the ability to move within the spaces where Shakers lived, worked and worshipped.

Because we use these buildings daily, doors and windows are opened and shut, floors and stairs are walked on and walls are touched. Over a long period of time, regular use will cause the buildings to show wear if they are not regularly maintained.

Across the property, the building conditions vary. The restoration work in the 1960s was just the beginning of our tasks as a nonprofit to preserve them. It is an ongoing project that will never quite be completely done.

The Old Stone Shop.
The North Lot Dwelling in 2012.
Working the Plan

Earlier this month I wrote about the full-scale preservation projects completed since 2016. Since completing this work, these buildings require regular maintenance to keep them in pristine condition.  In 2020 we established the Building Preservation and Maintenance Endowment to help fund this ongoing task and prevent these buildings from slipping into a state of deterioration in the future.

You’ve also read about several of the preservation projects in progress. To date we have fully-funded large-scale preservation projects for the 1817 East Family Dwelling, 1821 Ministry’s Workshop and 1811 Old Stone Shop, and we have partially-funded large-scale projects for the 1809 Farm Deacon’s Shop, 1835 East Family Wash House, 1824 Tanyard and 1813 Old Ministry’s Shop.  Fundraising for the four latter projects continues with a combined goal of $600,000.

Thirteen additional large-scale preservation projects are planned over the next five to ten years with a total cost of $3.7 million at today’s cost of materials. The scope of work ranges from $15,000 to $1.5 million, with most needing a new roof and repairs to windows, doors, woodwork and masonry. A small handful of these buildings (1847 Cooper’s Shop, 1816 North Lot Dwelling and 1850 West Lot Wash Lot) are of high concern because of the degree of their needs. The Cooper’s Shop, for instance, features exhibit space on the first floor and overnight lodging on the second, and is the highest fundraising priority because water is infiltrating the building through the siding, roof and windows causing significant damage and a cycle of constant maintenance.

Building Infrastructure

Over the years, SVPH has also been working to upgrade the infrastructure that serves the Village. This includes the heating and cooling systems and the water treatment plant. Theses systems were originally installed in the 1960s when the nonprofit organization formed. While some areas of these systems have been upgraded through the years, the majority has not.

For example, in 2017 the 1824-34 Centre Family Dwelling and the 1820 Meeting House were switched to a geothermal heating and cooling system that is more sustainable, efficient and cost effective.  However, there are seven buildings in the West Family area that are heated and cooled by a boiler/chiller system which is generally described as being in “fair condition” overall. Components of this system were installed in 1966, and although the boilers and chiller have been replaced since that time, the ones currently in place are critically past their expected useful life. The cost of reconfiguring and replacing this complex system has a starting cost of $1.5 million.

Continuing the Work

When our nonprofit organization turns 60 later this year, we’re going to celebrate the commitment made in 1961 to preserve this powerful place. Over the years, you have told us how much Pleasant Hill means to you… all of those times you visited with your family, stayed overnight with loved ones, attended events and sang around the illuminated tree on a cold December night.

We won’t be daunted by the costs and challenges associated with preserving Pleasant Hill for future generations. Instead, we will be inspired by your personal stories and we will carry on with the important work we do here so that Pleasant Hill and the story of the Shakers will continue to inspire guests for many years to come.

Learn more about preservation at Shaker Village and how you can support these efforts.

Ever wonder what lies behind a closed door? Learn how our guided tours take you to rarely-seen areas of the Village.

If You Build It…

Billy Rankin, VP of Public Programming and Marketing

This is the fifth part of our behind-the-scenes look at the development of Local Economies, Global Impacts, a new exhibition that will open this summer at Shaker Village.

In previous posts we introduced three main goals that the team at Shaker Village keep in mind when developing any new exhibit:

  1. Tell a Meaningful Story
  2. Connect with Different Audiences
  3. Be Relevant

Today we’re going to get our hands dirty, as we enter the fabrication phase of this exhibit!

Floor plans like this provide a quick touchpoint to cross reference the graphics, artifacts and built environment of an exhibit space.
A Little Help from Our Friends

Over the last several months the Shaker Village team has been researching and reviewing content, examining artifacts and working on the design of Local Economies, Global Impacts. This project was not undertaken alone. We’ve partnered with outside scholars and a nationally-recognized exhibit design firm. We’ve funded the project through private donations and a matching grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

It’s hokey, I know, but it really does take a village.

We’re now entering the all-important fabrication phase, where each component of the exhibition will be constructed and fit together. Strategic partnerships will be as important as ever.

Much like a major home interior renovation, constructing a museum exhibit takes special skillsets that not everyone will have. At Shaker Village however, we are fortunate to have skilled carpenters, like Terry Cowart, who can produce the cases, platforms and frames called for in our exhibit designs.

Team members from Shaker Village on a visit to the exhibit fabrication shop of Solid Light, in Louisville.

There are also many components in this exhibit’s design that our carpentry team would not be able to tackle. Printed graphics, metal work, interactive displays and large models are a few examples of items that we will outsource to professional exhibit fabricators. In Kentucky, we happen to be home to one of the best exhibit fabrication firms in the country, Solid Light. Items that will be too much for our team to bite off will be produced offsite and installed in tandem with the portions of the exhibition built in-house.

All About the Details

Have you ever heard the saying, measure twice, cut once? When you work on an exhibit design produced by one firm that will be built by two different teams working in two different locations, you measure at least half a dozen times before you can sleep at night!

Curator Becky Soules measures artifacts to ensure case designs will provide adequate space for display.

Not only do the different components need to fit together, but the location of heating vents and electrical outlets, and the swing direction of every door must be accounted for in the final product.

For the past two weeks, and for the next two weeks, our teams have been meeting to review details, compare notes, and spend some time together in each of the spaces where exhibits are to be installed. Open communication and clear guidance are keys to making sure the pieces fit together when they are finally placed in the 1845 East Family Brethren’s Shop and 1855 East Family Sisters’ Shop.

Case “schedules” are provided as a reference for fabricators, ensuring each team member has the correct number and dimensions of “typical” design elements.
Making Sawdust
Lumber orders for “typical” elements are arriving and being pre-cut for use in the exhibit.

Some details of “atypical” elements in the exhibit are still being massaged out, but construction can begin in earnest on many of the “typical” elements. These include artifact stands and platforms.

Materials that can be ordered are on the way or already onsite. We all love the process and understand the importance of each step along the way. However, in the words of Terry Cowart: “It feels good to finally start making some sawdust on this project.”

Next Month: We’ll continue our journey through the fabrication of Local Economies, Global Impacts.

Local Economies, Global Impacts is funded in part through a Museums for America matching grant, administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

Preserving Shaker Village One Repair at a Time

Shelby Jones, Director of Communications

May is recognized nationally as Preservation Month, and has been celebrated in some form since 1973 with the National Trust for Historic Preservation leading the charge. This special month allows us to promote historic places along with heritage tourism. It also lets us shine the spotlight on the people who perform the hands-on work of repairing and caring for historic sites like Shaker Village.

Terry Cowart is Shaker Village’s Carpenter, and an expert in historic restoration. His dedication and love for honoring the Shaker legacy is apparent in every project he works on. In recognition of Preservation Month, we asked Cowart a few questions about his work and the importance of preservation.

Tell us about your background, have you always been a woodworker? Did you always want to do this as a career

I’ve been involved with woodworking all of my life, and professionally since 1981. I am more of what’s referred to as an architectural woodworker in lieu of a carpenter. I’ve met many carpenters that I couldn’t hold a candle to. My partner here in the woodshop, Robert Brown, is one such carpenter who recently returned to Shaker Village.

My background is more centered around custom cabinetry, architectural millwork and moldings. My father was a cabinet maker and his father before him. It was always a given that this is the field I would pursue since when I wasn’t at school as a child you could find me at my father’s woodshop. I do truly love it.

When you’re preparing to work on a project involving a historic building how do you prepare? Is there research involved? What departments or teams at Shaker Village do you collaborate with?

Generally, we access as many historical and architectural plans and details that we have on file such as the Historic American Building Survey plans. We review any particular area or building to assess the profiles, species and method of joinery, and any damage or decay that may have affected the site. Usually, we try to use existing or reclaimed original material that we store here at the Village. This involves species identification and sometimes requires outsourcing other reclaimed materials.

Our maintenance team, lead by Maintenance Foreman Mike Brown, and paint department that includes Mike Worthington and Bobby Dixon are critical to most projects. Many of our restorations involve plumbing, electrical, HVAC and the all-important old school quality paint finishes Mike and Bobby provide. We also collaborate with the programming team in all phases of design, production, finish and installation. It really is a group effort here at Shaker Village.   

Centre Family Dwelling during a large scale renovation project. Cowart used Shaker methods of construction to assist in the project.

What are some of the challenges of working on historic spaces?

One important aspect I have learned in historical preservation work is identifying what is original construction, so that we can duplicate it to the best of our ability. The Shakers left a challenging and exacting act to follow. I am constantly humbled at the excellence and quality of even the most unseen areas of joinery. I count it as an honor to come behind to repair or duplicate their work.

What surprises or inspires you about the craftsmanship of the Shakers?

I am constantly inspired and awed at examples of Shaker woodworking. Their pursuit of excellence and purity is evident at every turn. What they were able to achieve is a direct reflection of these pursuits through their faith.

Are there key differences between the tools that the Shakers used to build structures versus the modern tools you have at your disposal? How much faster do you think you can complete a project compared to the time it took the Shakers to do the same thing?

We use many of the same tools today, however; a lot of today’s tools are battery, electric or compressed air driven, but their functions are much the same. I had a recent discussion with my colleague, Robert Brown, about how the Shakers achieved joinery with the tools they had in the same or even less time it requires us to achieve the same results.

The on-site woodhouse is a busy place with a constant flow of projects.

What’s your favorite historic project that you’ve worked on?

The preservation and rehabilitation of the Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House were my indoctrination to the Shaker methods of construction. I was hooked from the beginning and am proud of my efforts there.

A close second, is the window sash, component repair and replacement at the East Family Dwelling. We did indeed use modern tooling to replicate  the window sashes in this building. They are true divided light six over six’s and nine over nine’s, with mortised and tenoned through rails and center stiles with wooden peg joinery.

Window sashes made by Cowart for the East Family Dwelling.

Is there an upcoming project you’re looking forward to working on next?

 In addition to other roles, I do a good bit of design and production on exhibit platforms and display cases for the newly rehabbed areas of different buildings. We are currently planning and staging this type of project for the East Family Brethren’s Shop and the East Family Sister’s Shop. I am able to employ what design or engineering skills I can muster to revise and alter the architectural plans we have on Auto CAD. I have previous experience in the digital design world, so this is a most handy skill to employ here. I enjoy handling large scale projects like this and I’m looking forward to it.

If there’s one thing you’d want someone to know about working on historic projects what would it be?

I have found that if you just give yourself over to the project, pursue excellence and purity at every turn, and do everything to the best of your ability, this place rewards you with the most job satisfaction I have known. It’s priceless really.

To learn more about historic preservation projects at Shaker Village visit our website. Additionally, you can learn how to support these projects to continue the legacy of the Pleasant Hill Shakers.

Preserving the Shaker Legacy

Melissa Williams, Development Coordinator

It’s fascinating to look through photographs from the time between when the Shakers closed  their covenant at Pleasant Hill in 1910 and the opening of the Village in 1968 as an educational nonprofit organization. These photographs tell a five-decade story of change, care, preservation and deterioration, as private citizens took ownership and utilized many Shaker buildings for their homes and businesses.

Despite the changing uses of the buildings, the legacy of the Shaker community, their faith, and their values have endured at Pleasant Hill. Local residents and those who passed through the Village on U.S. Highway 68 recognized that  Pleasant Hill represented something very important, and it needed to be preserved and shared with future generations.

Preservation efforts gained momentum during the 1950s as private citizens came together in a more organized way. In 1961 – 60 years ago –our non-profit organization was formalized and incorporated. Tasked with the enormous undertaking of acquiring the remaining Shaker structures and the land previously held by the Shakers, the organization set to work raising funds and restoring the buildings to their mid-19th century aesthetics.


Earl D. Wallace, chairman at Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, Inc., breaks ground at the former Shaker community to celebrate the beginning of a 12-month construction and restoration project costing more than $1 million. June 21, 1966. The Courier-Journal
.

The initial restoration and preservation of the Village is an inspiring story,  illustrating the allure Pleasant Hill has held since it was settled by the Shakers 216 years ago. But the $1 million restoration project carried out in the 1960s is just the beginning of the preservation of the site. In the decades that followed,  our nonprofit has worked to preserve the restoration, with this work continuing today

Over the last decade, Shaker Village craftsman have conducted at least $1 million of work each year to ensure the long-term preservation of the 34 historic buildings on the site, as well as the cultural landscape. Our long-term historic preservation plan is based on this level of spending on an annual basis.

A price tag of at least $1 million a year seems like a lot of money, so how is that money spent?

The most immediately recognizable preservation projects are those that include a comprehensive work plan including the roof, doors, windows, interior woodwork, exterior siding, and masonry of the building. Since 2016, Shaker Village has completed such projects for the 1815 Carpenters’ Shop, 1820 Meeting House, 1824-34 Centre Family Dwelling, 1833 Water House and 1860 Brethren’s Bath House.

East Family Dwelling during renovation.
East Family Dwelling with new roof.

Currently Shaker Village craftsmen are undertaking a multi-year preservation project for the 1817 East Family Dwelling that began in 2019. If you have stayed this building’s overnight rooms in the last decade, you’ve seen firsthand the condition of the windows, which is one area of concern for this 16,000 sq. ft. building. Our carpenters and painters spent most of 2020 methodically working through repairs to window frames and sills on about one-third of the 79 existing windows; this work will continue until all of the windows have been restored. In 2020, our crew also completed repairs to several of the building’s doors and the wood shake roof was replaced. In the latter half of 2021, you’ll see scaffolding reappear around this building as stone masons begin the task of repointing and cleaning the exterior masonry.

While the historic preservation plan lays out 18 additional and upcoming comprehensive projects, preservation work happens on a smaller scale across the Village throughout the year.

Painters working on interior walls.
Painters working on building exterior.

Each year the SVPH painters repair loose plaster on interior walls. The plaster will become loose over time due to regular use, environmental factors such as humidity, and water leaks created by deteriorating roofs, windows and doors as well as by leaks in the HVAC systems that serve the historic buildings.

Meeting House door being repaired.
Repaired door at the Meeting House.

The carpenters repair doors and thresholds. Doorways become damaged over time by regular use, water and humidity, sunlight and wind.

Rock wall in need of repair.
Rock wall all after repairs.

The stone mason repairs breaks in the historic stone fences. Changing temperatures slowly cause the rocks to shift and then topple. Sometimes human interactions also damage these landscape features. In 2020, we repaired 35 breaks in the fences ranging from 3 feet to 10 feet in length. Each linear foot costs between $40 and $60 to repair. 

Buildings and Grounds Manager Mike Brown receives an award for excellence in maintenance.

The maintenance team keep the mechanical systems working.  Shaker Village has a mix of systems that provide modern heating, air conditioning, and hot water to the historic buildings: The East Family buildings, Centre Family Dwelling, the Meeting House, the 1813 Old Ministry’s Shop and the 1824 Tanyard are heated and cooled by geothermal systems, while the West Family buildings, the 1839 Trustees’ Office and 1821 Ministry’s Workshop are serviced by boiler-chiller plants. These plants were originally installed in the 1960s and while some of the components of both plants have been upgraded in recent years, these systems are challenging to maintain.

Our nonprofit made a commitment to preserve the historic buildings and the cultural landscape when it formed in 1961. Over the last six decades, Shaker Village has carried through with that commitment. This work has been made possible by donors who have supported this powerful place with charitable gifts, and by our guests who have stayed overnight, dined at the Trustees’ Table, shopped and explored. The preservation of Pleasant Hill is work that will never be completely done, however, we are committed to doing our part as the stewards of Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark.

Learn more about preservation at Shaker Village and how you can get involved.

Ever wonder what lies behind a closed door? Learn how our guided tours take you to rarely-seen areas of the Village.