2020 – A Year Like No Other

Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator

The staff and administration at Shaker Village entered 2020 with a high level of energy and excitement. 2019 had been a remarkable year at Shaker Village, and we put in place a great number of plans for 2020 that would further enhance the guest experience. But, “life is what happen to us while we are making other plans” (Allen Saunders; John Lennon).

As a non-profit cultural site, the mandated closure in the early weeks of the pandemic was difficult. But, it was within the Shaker journals that we found inspiration in this challenging time. The Shakers themselves were no strangers to adversity and had navigated through the Spanish Flu in 1918 as well Cholera outbreaks in 1820.

At different points in the history of Pleasant Hill, the Shakers in the community relied on healthcare provided by both Shakers, and non-Shakers. In this image, standing from left to right, are Dr. William Pennebaker, Francis Pennebaker (dentist) and a non-Shaker medical doctor. C. Late 19th Century.

Early on, our team committed to telling the story of the Kentucky Shakers through our digital media platforms. Bringing our humanities programming to you when you could not physically visit yourself, enabled us to act as a source of education, entertainment and an uplifting presence. As we reached out to you – our guests and supporters – to share this digital content, we received an outpouring of care and concern that meant so much to the staff who care for this powerful place every day.

2020 has turned out to truly be a year like no other, but despite the ongoing health emergency, Pleasant Hill remains and has been a peaceful retreat for our guests in an otherwise uncertain world. This has been possible because of you, your support, and your willingness to visit this summer and fall. Let’s take a look back at everything your support helped accomplish this year.

Preservation of The Historic Centre

When SVPH closed in March, the preservation staff was well-into a large project related to the 1817 East Family Dwelling.  A private donation from a generous donor enabled SVPH’s talented team of craftsmen to continue this work while the Village was closed to the public, focusing on the building’s windows and doors and replacing the wood shingle roof.

Preservation efforts in progress. July 2019.

Other notable preservation projects in 2020 included the completion of the 1833 Waterhouse and 1860 Bath House project, painting of the 1821 Ministry’s Workshop, installing a new roof on the 1809 Farm Deacon’s Shop, and cleaning and repointing of the masonry on the Farm Deacon’s shop and the 1811 Old Stone Shop. When you visit this winter, you’ll notice work has begun on the 1835 East Family Wash House. This building will be painted as soon as the winter weather breaks next spring.

Improvements to the Visitor Experience

During our closure, the Program Team, Marketing Team, Preservation Team, Farm Team, and Preserve Team produced digital content at a fast and furious pace. During this three-month time frame we posted six blog posts, over 20 interpretative videos, four photo slide shows, and many historical trivia posts. This work was made possible in part by a CARES grant through Kentucky Humanities. This type of work continued after our reopening as Program Specialist Laura Webb worked to prepare our collection records for online publication. She published nine blog posts featuring collections objects, photos and artifacts. Ms. Webb’s work was directly supported by a CARES grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities.

We also installed 20 new outdoor waystations thanks to the generosity of Community Trust Bank. These waystations provide our guests with information about the Shakers and Pleasant Hill as well as a myriad of topics related to the The Farm, The Preserve, and the natural landscape. They are positioned in key locations across the Village and add accessible interpretation of the Village to the guest experience.

Improving accessibility across the site is a long-term goal for us. In addition to the waystations, we installed an accessible path in the The Orchard, The Herb Garden, and The Native Garden as well as several picnic tables. We truly had no idea how big of an impact The Garden Project would have. This area became one of the most popular places in the Village this summer, much to the delight of our private donor.

The new accessible path that leads guests through the Apple Orchard.

We also continued our work to implement the new site-wide interpretative plan which is rolling out in stages across multiple years. In the first half of 2020, we installed 147 exhibition panels and 49 objects in six exhibits across four buildings. This is just the beginning of full, interactive exhibitions that are still to come!

The Farm

The Farm here at Shaker Village is a year-round operation that requires daily attention to our more than 100 animals. This year our “farmily” grew to include six lambs, six calves, 18 ducks and 36 new sheep (two different breeds!). We also expanded the farm footprint to 118 acres by adding a 68-acre tract of native grasses and added blackberries, flowers and green space near The Orchard.

One of the biggest challenges we faced at the Farm was food production. When we closed in March, our Farmers already had hundreds of plants growing in the greenhouse to support our farm-to-table dining experience. With the dining room closed, and later open at a reduced capacity, we were able to donate more of our produce to food banks and pay-it-forward restaurants. We also began a CSA model in the fall that we will continue and expand in 2021.

If you didn’t know, we also entered into a partnership with LGE and KU this year to give “baaaaack” to the earth. This innovative project established a flock of grazing sheep at the E.W. Brown Generating Station in Mercer County where their solar array is located. The sheep replace the need to mow with gas-powered lawnmowers and has been a huge success! Over the winter the sheep will be back at SVPH so we can care for the growing flock.

The flock of “lawn mowers” that care for the E.W. Brown Generating Station’s solar panel field.

The Preserve

The Nature Preserve is always popular during the summer and fall. This year was no exception as we saw record numbers of visitors hiking and riding on our 37-miles of multi-use trails. If you hiked on the Shawnee Run Trail or the West Lot/Shawnee Run connector trail, you may have noticed that we corrected some drainage issues, making the trails more guest-friendly and environmentally sound. This project was supported by gifts from the Tirbracken Green Foundation and the Fort Harrod Backcountry Horsemen.

The Preserve at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

It turns out that it wasn’t just humans turning out in records numbers. This year, our naturalist tagged 200 Monarch butterflies during their migration – a sharp increase over last year’s population study. We also continued to monitor our avian population via mist netting efforts through our partnership with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.  Highlights from this year were the Nelson’s Sparrow, Pine Siskin and Purple Finch along with many of our regular breeding birds and usual migrants.

Protecting the natural landscape is always the focus at The Preserve. This year we conducted prescribed burns for over 300 acres of converted native prairie as part of our regenerative practices. We also continue to sample water in the Shawnee Run Creek for Kentucky River Watershed Watch and are seeing good results as far as water quality.

Looking Ahead to 2021

If we learned anything at Shaker Village in 2020, it was to be flexible, focus on what we could do to provide our guests with the best possible experience, provide support in the community where we could, and keep doing what we do on The Farm, in The Preserve and to sustain this site. 

We also learned that we are not alone – you’ve shown us that you care about this site as much as the staff does. At the time of this writing, over 900 individuals, families, companies and foundations have made a financial contribution to sustain our operations. An additional 1,075 households have purchased an Annual Pass in 2020 – revenue that also supports SVPH’s operations. Your support has helped tremendously, allowing us to reopen and remain a top destination. We cannot thank you enough.

2021 is likely to also be a year like no other. We’re going to take it month by month, but we can promise you that we remain committed to caring for this site, to serving our mission, and to providing you with an peaceful place to rest, relax and discover.

Donor Impact

Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator

In the 1970s, the trees in the Shaker Village Apple Orchard were planted in honor of the nonprofit’s visionary President, James L. Cogar. Forty-five years later, the established Orchard is one of the first things that visitors see when they arrive at Shaker Village.  The Orchard produces apples from 10 heirloom varieties that supply the onsite restaurant, are made into applesauce that is sold in The Shops, featured in special events such as the Hard Cider Bash and highlighted in educational programs.  Despite its prominent location and use, The Orchard has been one of the most underutilized areas of the Historic Centre.

Heirloom apples in the Shaker Village Orchard.

In late December 2019, Shaker Village was contacted by a donor who was interested in learning about some of the projects on our funding wish list that includes projects of all sizes and costs.  Some of these projects are obvious as you walk the property.

Some of the projects on the wish list are not as obvious. In December 2019, we had a number of smaller but significant things we wanted to do in The Orchard and the Herb Garden (adjacent to the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling) to improve the guest experience. This included:

  • Add an accessible path through the apple trees to allow guests to fully experience The Orchard.
  • Add picnic tables in The Orchard.
  • Re-establish the Herb Garden (which had been moved to accommodate the Centre Family Dwelling restoration project, 2017-2019) and add seating.
  • Establish a Native Garden adjacent to the 1820 Meeting House.
  • Add interpretative signage for The Orchard, Herb Garden and Native Garden.
  • Add a monarch waystation and a pollinator bath.
  • Repair the Duck Wagon (the Indian Runner Ducks reside in The Orchard).
  • Relocate firepits to be nearby the Herb Garden and the Native Garden; add seating.

All of these projects have a cost to them that is not funded for in the operating budget.  At $1,000, the largest expense was the sand, gravel, and labor to install the accessible path.

The new accessible path that leads guests through the Apple Orchard.

Our Development Team worked with the donor and packaged all of these items into a single project titled The Orchard + Gardens Project.  The donor very generously funded all of the needs and work began in mid-Spring. We were able to provide more seating and amenities because we were good stewards with our donor-provided funds.

When this project began, no one could foresee the impact the changes would have on the visitor experience and the Village as a whole. In the past we rarely saw visitors near The Orchard or the Herb Garden. Today, we see them interacting in these spaces every day.  Visitors amble through The Orchard to learn about the heirloom varieties, enjoy lunch at the picnic tables, or sit on the benches to watch the pollinators at work in the Native Garden and the Herb Garden. 

The Herb Garden has several plots that guests can learn about.

The completion of The Orchard + Gardens Project has been one of Shaker Village’s tremendous accomplishments of the year. But it’s important to remember that none of it would have happened without an interested donor. When you make a gift to Shaker Village, it doesn’t matter if you donate $10, $100, $1,000 or more. Every dollar counts and makes an impact.  We promise to use your gift wisely and as it was intended.

This is a powerful place. In 2020 it has proven to be a peaceful and restful respite for many of our guests. We remain committed to our mission and sustaining the future of this site, and we thank you for your continued support that makes the programming, the preservation of the cultural landscape and historic structures, and everything else possible.

Donor Impact: Improvements to the Visitor Experience

Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator

The Shakers practiced their faith at Pleasant Hill for more than a century, but their impact at the site has endured well past the 2oo-year mark. The Shakers were really remarkable for their beliefs that fostered a strong community, embraced both ingenuity and sustainability, and nurtured equality among men, women and all races.

The 34 historic structures here at Pleasant Hill exemplify how the Shakers organized their community with these ideals in mind and how they led their daily lives. For our visitors, we present daily programs and tours to make this fascinating Shaker story come alive.

Over the past two years, the Shaker Village staff has worked to develop a site-wide interpretative plan. Collectively this initiative will further enhance the visitor experience by providing you with access to more information about the Shakers through exhibits and multi-media experiences.

We first told you about this plan last year as the staff entered the final stages of its development and had begun to undertake activities to raise funds to support the implementation. Over the course of 2020, you’ll start to see this plan implemented.

• This spring, we are installing 20 outdoor waystations across the property. These waystations will lead our guests through a self-guided tour of the property and provide a much more accessible experience for all visitors.

• A new Shaker Village app will launch by early summer, and will provide an augmented reality experience across the property. Expanded content, such Shaker journals, historic newspaper clippings and additional exhibit content will be available through the app. Visitors will be prompted to access this content from the waystations as well as from exhibit panels.

• Exhibit panels will be installed in the Centre Family Dwelling, the Meeting House and the East Family Brethren Shop. These panels will be the initial implementation of a site-wide exhibition staged with sub-themes such as communal living; faith and spirituality; industry and economies; gender and race; and, immigration and migration. You’ll see more artifacts and interactive displays added to round out the exhibits in the future as additional funding becomes available.

The East Family Brethren Shop will be one of the buildings with new exhibit panels.

These first steps in the interpretative plan are going to have a significant and positive impact on Shaker Village’s mission, and the visitor experience. We can’t wait to share them with you, and hope you’ll visit often throughout the year!

Please consider making a donation to support theses exhibits and interpretative activities at Shaker Village. For more information on our programs, services and other philanthropic opportunities, please call the Development Office at 859.734.1545.

Shaker Village is on a mission to inspire generations through discovery, by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers.

2019 – A Year In Review

A quiet winter peace falls over Shaker Village this time of year. The bustle of the holidays is ending, and the promise of a new year is here. The administration and staff have spent the last few weeks busily celebrating the Holidays and making sure each guest has felt kindly welcome. The team has also started to think about plans and activities for next year, with words like “benchmarks,” “budgets” and “events” being spoken in meetings. But, every year around this time we stop to catch our breath. We pause from making plans, and reflect on the past year.

The Pleasant Hill Shakers were known for their innovative thinking and their ingenuity. Reflection goes hand-in-hand with innovation. The ability to reflect on everyday life, specific tasks, processes, activities and more, allows us to understand our blessings and see opportunities. As the staff pauses in reflection, we wanted to share some of the milestones from the Village this year.

The Historic Centre

The 1824-1834 Centre Family Dwelling preservation project came to completion earlier this year and the building reopened to the public after being closed since 2017. This project concluded the preservation of the “spiritual center” of Pleasant Hill.

We took care to provide loving attention to all 34 of our historic structures this year. Some of the more notable preservation projects in 2019 included new roofs, new siding, restored windows, repaired thresholds and more for the 1833 Water House, the 1860 Bath House, the 1821 Ministry’s Workshop, the 1811 Old Stone Shop and the 1824 Tanyard. Our visitors might not have noticed, but we upgraded sprinkler heads throughout several of our historic buildings this year as a preventative safeguard.

The site-wide interpretative planning process also concluded this year, providing us with a road-map to creating a cohesive and comprehensive guest experience. You’ll see the next step of this plan implemented in the early months of 2020 with the installation of 20 outdoor waystations across the 3,000 acre property. Our development staff also made significant steps towards securing funding for permanent exhibits that are part of this plan and vital to our mission.

If you are on our mailing list, you receive our quarterly mailing detailing our seasonal programming and signature events. Each day at Shaker Village is a different adventure. In 2019, we offered 35+ daily, seasonal programs, plus 41 specialty workshops and 9 major events. Those are just the experiences we planned in advanced! Several other opportunities came up throughout the year – like a trail bike ride event – that we hosted on site.

Our daily programs offer a unique and sometimes surprising interpretation of the Pleasant Hill Shakers. One of our most popular programs, Shaker Troublemakers, highlighted individual Pleasant Hill Shakers. You’ll see more individual stories included in the planned permanent exhibits.

The weather proved to be challenging during our signature events in 2019, but through the cold, the heat and the rain these events were attended by guests who left us with fantastic feedback. This feedback helps us to know that we are on track with our mission to inspire generations through discovery, and helps us see opportunities for growth, improvement and innovation.

The Farm

At the end of 2019, any visitor to The Farm will notice our “farmily” members are happy, healthy and more numerous than in past years. The growing herd of sheep and cattle represent the Shaker’s past and our organizations future as a leading educator and model for sustainable agriculture. Our farmer has named this herd at work our regenerative landscape crew! And, it may just be us, but can you really visit the Indian Runner Ducks in The Orchard and leave with a frown on your face? These quirky animals are great ambassadors for The Farm and one of the first things you notice when you arrive at the Welcome Center.

The farm includes over 150 garden beds in which our farmers use low to no-till practices, incorporate crop rotation and cover cropping, use a high diversity of crops, and have integrated livestock to contribute nutrients and minerals back into the soil. One of the biggest celebrations of 2019 is completing and receiving our USDA Organic Certification. This year we strategically supplied food items to The Trustees’ Table for a farm-to-table experience for our guests. We also donated over 300 pounds of produce to local organizations to help those in our community achieve food security!

The Preserve

On The Preserve, our naturalists have continued their efforts to promote a healthy restored native prairie and monitor the benefits to the native plant and animal species. While there are many cool things about The Preserve, perhaps the niftiest was discovered this year during our first survey in recent times of the bat population. We caught five different species of bats – including the Gray bat Myotis grisescens, a threatened species in Kentucky and an endangered species federally.

In 2019, as in past years, we managed prescribed fire in The Preserve. While that might seem counterintuitive to land management practices and the promotion of a thriving habitat, fire is the most effective management tool we have. Plus, fire is a natural occurrence and has always been part of open herbaceous grasslands. This year, with the help of 32 trained crew members, over 450 acres of native prairie was burned.

Support from the Community

It has been a tremendously successful and fun year, and that’s because of you – our valued guest. This year, more visitors explored Shaker Village, dined at The Trustees’ Table, visited The Shops, stayed in The Inn, and donated time and money to support our nonprofit mission.

It takes a village to care for this National Historic Landmark. On that note, we are particularly pleased to have hosted two public Village-wide Volunteer Days, four public Volunteer Trail Days and many private group volunteer projects. Building a culture of philanthropy starts by engaging our biggest supporters – you – to give their time to preserving this powerful place.

We also met and exceeded a matching challenge from the Shaker Village Board of Trustees to raise $350,000 for the Annual Fund from new donors and from renewing donors who chose to increase their tax-deductible gift this year. Meeting this challenge was critical for the future of this site, and made some of the amazing things we have been reflecting on here possible.

So, next year, after this pause of reflection, when we talk about things like “benchmarks” and “budgets” it’s going to be with a new sense of excitement. Great things are happening at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. We can’t wait to share them with you!

Milkweed and Monarchs – Oh My!

Ben Leffew, Preserve Manager
Laura Baird, Assistant Preserve Manager

Monarch butterfly in the Shaker Village Preserve

Entering the summer months marks not only a transition in the seasons on the calendar, but also a transition in the species of blooming plants which act as sources of nectar, pollen, and sites for insects to lay eggs.

Spring forest wildflowers offer a food source for pollinators as early as February, when they can take advantage of sunlight hitting the forest floor before the trees start to shade the understory. As spring ends, most forest plants have finished blooming and the show picks up out in the prairies, where wildflowers can thrive throughout the warm months without having to compete for light with large trees.

Of the many diverse, vibrant wildflowers of summer, milkweed stands out from the rest as both an excellent nectar source, providing liquid energy for wide variety of insect species, as well as being the only plants monarch butterflies lay their eggs on.

Five species of milkweed have been confirmed in The Preserve at Shaker Village: common (Asclepias syriaca), butterfly (Asclepias tuberosa), green (Asclepias viridis), swamp (Asclepias incarnate), and four-leafed (Asclepias quadrifolia). Not surprisingly, common milkweed is the most abundant on the property as it is large, extremely tough, spreads itself easily and responds well to our prescribed fire regime.

Pipevine swallowtail on butterfly milkweed

The relationship between monarchs and milkweeds is one of the most famous examples of specialization in the insect world, and dates back millennia. Milkweeds produce a thick, sticky, toxic sap reminiscent of white latex, and have small hairs on the leaves to deter insects from taking a bite. Despite these physical and chemical defenses, several insects have evolved the ability to not only consume milkweed, but consume it exclusively. Monarchs are the most famous of these, requiring milkweed to lay their eggs.

Swamp milkweed

If it seems like monarch butterflies are getting a lot of attention these days, it’s for good reason. Monarchs have become an ambassador species for both large-scale prairie habitat restoration and small, backyard pollinator gardens and waystations. Providing good, milkweed-rich habitat for monarchs also benefits hundreds of other insect species that thrive in the prairie and in turn feed our many birds.

The Preserve at Shaker Village has miles of trails crossing through native prairies for you to explore! If you would like to learn more about monarch butterflies first-hand, you might enjoy our Monarch Butterfly Tagging workshop in September!