In Remembrance

Pleasant Hill bears witness to the Civil War

Jacob Glover, PhD, Program Manager

“Such a day as this has never been witnessed on Pleasant Hill before and God grant that it never may again.”

Written by the East Family Deaconness on October 11, 1862, this single line of text reveals much about the Shakers’ complicated relationship with the Civil War, and the events at Pleasant Hill during the campaigns that led to the Battle of Perryville.

Battle of Perryville, as depicted by Harper’s Weekly.

As a pacifist sect, the Pleasant Hill Shakers were extremely distressed by the reports of skirmishes and battles that continued to filter into their community throughout 1861 and 1862, as the Civil War intensified. By October 1862, then, the Shakers would have been well-accustomed to reading about the horrors of war. Seeing it in their front yard, however, was something entirely different:

“Strange events! Whoever would have thought that this secluded and sacred spot of truly Pleasant Hill, would ever have been surrounded by the embattled legions within hearing distance in almost every direction….How awful to think of a wicked and bloody battle occurring in the midst of Zion on earth!”

This “invasion” of the Shaker utopia, by both the Union and Confederate armies for several weeks in the fall of 1862, quite obviously, struck at the community’s religious foundations and caused a great deal of consternation among the population. The scenes described by the East Family Deaconness bordered on the apocalyptic, and, at times, the Shakers wrote as if the soldiers who “surrounded our wells like the locusts of Egypt” and “thronged our kitchen doors and windows begging for bread like hungry wolves” would overwhelm them.

The Company Muster Roll of Confederate Soldier William Outlaw, who was ill and treated by the Pleasant Hill Shakers prior to the Battle of Perryville. Outlaw never recovered, and was buried in the Shaker graveyard.
Courtesy of Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site.

And yet, despite their absolute rejection of the validity of warfare, the Shakers could not turn a blind eye to the very real human suffering present at Pleasant Hill. “We nearly emptied our kitchens of their contents,” the Shakers commented, “…and then when our stores were exhausted, we were obliged to drive them from our doors while they were begging for food. Heart rending scene!”

The generosity of the Shakers must have been noteworthy and appreciated by the hungry soldiers, as the Shakers reported that none of their possessions or property had been confiscated by either army.

Both before and after the Battle of Perryville, the Shakers supported ailing and wounded soldiers by treating them at Pleasant Hill and sending medical supplies to nearby Harrodsburg. By early November 1862, there were still 600 to 700 soldiers in the town who were too sick or injured to rejoin their units.

While the Civil War, and the events surrounding the Battle of Perryville, had indeed shaken the community to it’s core, the East Family Deaconness refused to concede defeat in the Shakers’ quest to establish their earthly utopia. That Pleasant Hill “should have escaped with comparatively so little damage, clearly implies…” she concluded, “there is still a spark of light, a remnant of faith, and a seed of truth, [and] ‘I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.’”

Hidden Harvest

J. Michael Moore, Farm Manager

As you drive the countryside and croplands of Kentucky, there’s something new appearing on the landscape – industrial hemp. While for many Kentuckians this may seem like a new development in agriculture, hemp was once an important cash crop for the Commonwealth and has a long history of being grown for its valuable fiber.

1920. Cutting hemp near Wyandotte, KY. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

The Pleasant Hill Shakers built their first hemp mill in 1811, just five years after the community formally organized. The Shakers would have relied on hemp as a resource to support many of their industries, as seen in the hemp twine used to bind their famous Shaker Brooms. The Shakers of Pleasant Hill were famous for their trade, and hemp rope would have been used to strap down cargo on flat-bottom boats that traveled along the river banks of Kentucky River and beyond. Indoors, the Shakers even relied on hemp cord to suspend the mattresses on their beds!

Records show that in 1883 the Pleasant Hill Shakers sold 40,000 lbs. of hemp (for just $2,000!)

1920. Hemp in shocks, in a large Kentucky hemp field, near Wyandotte.
Courtesy of Library of Congress

Hemp has deep roots in the history of our state, and of the Kentucky Shakers. This summer, we have an opportunity to bring that history back to life.

In December 2018, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which included legislation that removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, legalizing the crop nationwide. After nearly 50 years of prohibition, farmers are now free to grow hemp once again.

A few details you should know as we discuss hemp:

  • With less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabidiol), the intoxicating component of marijuana, hemp can’t get you “high,” but it can get you healthy.
  • The hemp seed is considered a “super-food”, packed full of many nutrients and minerals needed by the human body.
  • Hemp fiber can be used to make thousands of sustainable products, from building materials to natural fabrics, that are less toxic and better for the Earth.
  • Hemp flower produces high amounts of cannabinoids, with therapeutic benefits.

This year, hemp will return to Shaker Village for the first time since the 19th century, as part of the Kentucky Hemp Program. We’re excited to feature hemp as part of our “Kentucky Cash Crop Garden” which will highlight crops like Sorghum, Industrial Hemp and Burley Tobacco.

Guests can learn about hemp, and other Kentucky cash crops, during our $5 after 5pm program: Hidden Harvest: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Hemp at Pleasant Hill which runs from June through August, every Friday and Saturday evening at 5:30 PM.

Hemp History Week is June 3-9, 2019

Shaker Village joins more than 20 other historic sites and locations across the Bluegrass featured on the Heritage Hemp Trail, a journey through the Kentucky hemplands.

The trail is an initiative of the Kentucky Hempsters, the Kentucky Hemp Heritage Alliance and its affiliates across the state dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the state’s rich hemp history. Including the Farmington Historic Plantation in Louisville, Hopemont, The Hunt-Morgan House in Lexington and others, the Heritage Hemp Trail highlights the pioneers, places, and pieces of hemp history that build the foundation for the crop’s revival.

We hope you will join us this summer to learn about the fascinating history, and important future, of hemp in Kentucky!

Seeing Double

Aaron Genton, Collections Manager

One day earlier this week, I had a chance to see all of the Pleasant Hill stereographs that we have in our collection. This form of photography was popular from the mid-19th to early-20th centuries, during which time millions of stereoscopic views were produced for popular consumption. Visually, they are pretty cool, and I wanted to take this chance to share a few of them.

Stereoscopic photography recreates the illusion of depth by utilizing the binocularity of human vision. Because our two eyes are set apart, each eye sees the world from a slightly different angle. Our brains combine these two different eye-images into one, a phenomenon that enables us to “see,” ever so slightly, around the sides of objects, providing spatial depth and dimension.

Stock image – not part of the SVPH collection.

Stereoscopic views, or stereographs, consist of two nearly twin photographs – one for the left eye, one for the right. Viewing the side-by-side images through a special lens arrangement called a stereoscope helps our brains combine the two flat images and “see” the illusion of objects in spatial depth.

In other words, when viewed through a stereoscope, you were seeing a 3-D image!
Learn more about stereoscopic views..

In 1859, the vivid experience of viewing these photos was described this way:

The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced. The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out as if they would scratch our eyes out. The elbow of a figure stands forth so as to make us almost uncomfortable. Then there is such a frightful amount of detail, that we have the same sense of infinite complexity which Nature gives us. A painter shows us masses; the stereoscopic figure spares us nothing… Learn more about this quote…

This became a common form of home entertainment – rather than watching TV at home every night, imagine settling in with your stereoscope and a stack of stereographs! They were affordable, and widely available, which gave almost everyone an opportunity to see things through their stereoscope that they might never see in person. Perhaps many people, when viewing the images in this post, were getting their first look at Pleasant Hill. They might’ve read about it, or even seen a drawing. But this was possibly their first, maybe only, time to see this very special and unique place.

I wonder what their impressions would have been?

Reflections of an Early Board Member

Edith S. Bingham

We were driving through Shakertown. It was in 1964 or ’65, when the state road ran right through the middle, past a filling station, then the Meeting House and the Trustees Office, opposite the Centre Family Dwelling, and on toward the East Family Dwelling. As a lover of architectural history, I was thrilled with the handsome buildings that Barry Bingham, Sr. was showing me so enthusiastically! He and Mary had helped enable the purchase of these buildings, and the historic property.

Edith S. Bingham

How exciting it was to think of this site as a major attraction right there in central Kentucky! For me, learning the history and appreciating Shaker culture, the beauty of simple living and design, led to 30+ years of supporting and enjoying the structures and landscapes.

I remember the early decades that required restoration of the historic structures and the farm under the inspired management of Jim Thomas. Visitors enjoyed simple menus and local specialties in the dining rooms of the Trustees’ Office after passing by the elegant double spiral staircase.

“We make you kindly welcome.”

The 1815 Shaker Carpenter’s Shop as a Shell Filling Station c. mid 20th century.

As the ‘90s advanced, a more prosperous economy brought more visitors to the site, eager to enjoy more comforts and varied experiences at Pleasant Hill. Eventually, alcohol could be served to visitors, and menus were updated to keep up with the “culinary” market.

Costumed interpreters outside the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling c. late 1960s.

Now, carefully researched educational exhibits expose all ages to the details of Kentucky Shaker history. Wagon rides add a sense of agricultural connection to the land. Powerful messages of worship, hard work, and simplicity as recipes for beauty and purposeful lives remain for all to enjoy and contemplate.

Modern interpreters guide visitors through a variety of educational programs.

Pleasant Hill’s stunning site and landscapes invite many activities which help support the maintenance of the village as well as increase the number of visitors who can enjoy a rural countryside, take deep breaths of comfort in the shade of the ancient trees or walk down to the landing on the Kentucky River, a travel route for the Native Americans as well as many of the earliest surveyors and settlers in KY.

It has been a remarkable honor and experience to serve on the Board and support the restoration of this fabulous site, perhaps the most complete example of a Shaker community to be restored and still survive today.

50 Years of Service

Brenda Roseman

It’s Friday, August 1, 1969. Richard Nixon is President. Neil Armstrong has just become the first human to set foot on the moon. Elvis is performing in Las Vegas. At Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, a young Mercer County High School student arrives for her first day at a new job.

Brenda Roseman, c. 1980s

Having opened to the public the previous year, Shaker Village had many part-time jobs to fill, especially in the busy summer months. Brenda Cocanougher had been hired as a server in the Village’s restaurant, the Trustees’ Table. Upon arrival, she was issued her costume, which included a dress, scarf and apron (all Village servers dressed as 19th century Shakers at the time.) She then began her training in both restaurant service, and the story of Pleasant Hill. “This,” she thought, “will be an interesting job.”

Brenda’s family had long been connected to the property at Pleasant Hill. After the time of the Shakers, Brenda’s relatives had raised tobacco at the site, and her uncle ran a general store and pump station in the 1815 Shaker Carpenter’s Shop. Still, Brenda could never have suspected that she had found the place where she would work for the next 50 years!

In 1973, after working part-time in the Trustees’ Table throughout college, Brenda was hired by Shaker Village as a secretary. In her new role she would support Shaker Village’s President, Public Relations Director, Director of Collections and Accounting Department.

Until 1994 Shaker Village’s offices were located in the upstairs of the 1820 Meeting House. Brenda is seen on the right, behind her desk.

Brenda’s title has changed on several occasions through the years, with variations including Office Manager, Executive Secretary and Executive Assistant. Her consistency and hard work has benefited every president in the Village’s history: James Cogar, Jim Thomas, Madge Adams, and current President/CEO Maynard Crossland. In her time at Shaker Village, Brenda has witnessed, and been an integral part of, the preservation of Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark.

c. 1970s
From left to right: Brenda Roseman, Candy Parker, Jim Thomas, Ed Nickels and Jane Brown

A resident of nearby Burgin, Brenda loves spending time with her husband, Lynn Roseman, and their daughter Merin (who also spent several years working at Shaker Village, and still leads the Village’s beekeeping workshops today!)

Brenda is an aficionado of wildflowers, and impresses the staff team each year with her incredible holiday candies and cookies! While she is not certain what the future may hold for her, she is proud to look back on all she has been a part of at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, and excited to still be a part of the Village’s team today!

We want to wish Brenda a happy 50th anniversary at the Village this year, and say ‘thank you’ for all she has contributed to the preservation of this site. We are fortunate to have Brenda as part of our community.