Doorways Through Time

How often do you stop to admire a door, when passing from one room to another? If you are like most people, a doorway is simply your connection between spaces. You probably give more thought to where you are going then to the details of the passageway you take to get there.

At Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, we think about doors. A lot. And there are a lot of them to think about! Across the Village we care for hundreds of historic doors (there are over 70 doors in the 1824-1834 Centre Family Dwelling alone!)

For this post, let’s take a closer look at one door in particular. Ironically, it’s probably a door that the Shakers themselves spent little time considering, but to our team it has taken on great value. We call it the “Blue Door.”

Originally located on the second floor of the Centre Family Dwelling, this door provided access to the attic. Utilized by those who might make repairs to the bell tower, or need to get onto the roof, this was not a doorway for daily traffic. In fact, the inside, stairway-facing side of the door was opened very little. This is what makes it so important to us today.

The Pleasant Hill Shakers took the time to paint both sides of this door blue. Given the limited exposure to light, this has allowed one side of the door to maintain the same color, without fading, for nearly 200 years. Today, you can view this door on display in the East Family Brethren’s Shop.

But what of the passageway left open with the “Blue Door’s” absence? This is where our carpentry team comes into the story…

Tyler Brinegar, Carpenter Foreman

We needed to build a door to replace the original “Blue Door” at the Centre Family Dwelling. After sourcing old-growth poplar from the rafters and roof of an offsite, demolished structure, I started removing the nails and old fasteners and deciding which pieces of lumber would be suitable for each part of the door. Being old rafters and sheathing, there were cups and crowns and bows and twists that helped determine where it would be most suitable. The straightest pieces became the left and right stiles, while the rafters with the worst crowns I cut into the middle stiles and rails, because those were only 32” long, or shorter.

My first step in milling the lumber was trimming up one face, then one edge on the jointer, for the rails and stiles. I then went to the planer to take it to the correct thickness of 1 ¼”. I had to change the infeed direction of the lumber a few times to allow for less chipping of the poplar. Grain direction impacts how smooth the cuts will be.

Once at the correct thickness, I ripped the nails and stiles 1/16” wider than needed for each rail and stile so I could go back to the jointer for a perfectly machined edge. The same process was applied to the roof sheathing for the raised panels. I ran the profiles on the rails and stiles before cutting them to length.

I cut the stiles to length then laid out the mortises with a marking gauge, similar to the way a Shaker carpenter would have done. I then cut my four rails to length and marked the tenons.

After cutting the tenons on the table saw, and mortises on a mortise machine, I smoothed up and finely fit the joints with a Stanley 92 rabbet plane and ¼” and ¾” pfeil chisels. I coped the roundover part of the profile by hand with chisels in a similar manner to how it would have been done during the 19th century.

Once the rails and stiles were fit together I verified the sizes and proceeded to the shaper to cut the profile. Where there were small checks I applied a butterfly repair to keep it from splitting apart. With all the parts fitting nicely, I proceeded to apply epoxy to all the joints and clamped the door together. Then I placed 3/8” oak pegs through the mortises and tenons in the same positions as the original “Blue Door.”

With what appeared to be the original hinges, I completed my hinge mortises by hand with a chisel. The new door fit right in place!

It’s hard to fit all the details in a (short) article, and there are many more that could be added. I truly enjoyed every second of retrieving the lumber and building the door. It is a blessing to share my account of this construction, and I hope people will come to admire the work we have done.

See the new “Blue Door” on a Centre Family Dwelling Top to Bottom Tour, every day at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill!

Best Hoof Forward

Gabby Kreinbrook, Equine and Stable Assistant

February is always an exciting time as we come to the close (hopefully) of winter and begin to enjoy the warmer temps of spring. February is particularly exciting for me every year as the World Horseshoeing Classic rolls around. This is the third year I’ve attended this event and it never fails to excite!

The Classic is a three-day event where farrier teams from around the world come to the Kentucky Horseshoeing School in Richmond to compete. Each day is a different style of shoe for a different type of horse. Day one is draft shoes, day two is roadster and day three is hunter. Each shoe is built with exact specs to fulfill the needs of each horse and their job. Our draft shoes are built to support the force of a 2,000 pound horse, agriculture style heels to provide traction in rough terrain, and toe clips to support action.

There’s a lot that goes into this process. Each team is given 2.5 hours to complete all four shoes and nail them on. Teams are comprised of four farriers who practice all year together on building shoes and team dynamics. They are given one horse and judged on their trim of the foot, fit of the shoe, the shoe itself and the final presentation of the nailed shoe. This is difficult as the horse can only have one foot off the ground at a time, so all four farriers must work together sharing time in the forge and under the horse. They each have their own foot to trim and shoe, and can receive no physical help only advice from teammates.

I HIGHLY recommend you check out this event at least once in your lifetime because even if you aren’t a horse person, it’s one of a kind and a lot of fun!

Four of our ladies go each year: Roz and Sadie our English Shires, and Rose and Kate our French Percherons. This is a great chance to expose Shaker Village to the horse world, get the best shoes for FREE, and brag on our horses. Every year I always hear about how lovely and well behaved the ladies are. It’s not uncommon to see Sadie in particular start to doze off as the farriers get to work! It’s a loud, smoky, chaotic environment, just what I’ve trained these ladies to thrive in!

In these image you’ll see how busy and crowded it can get around the horses. Rose is giving you her real opinion about how bored she is! Our girls are definitely exhausted by the end of the day. Their day starts early, coming up to be groomed to perfection: tails and manes are fully brushed out and oiled, legs are hosed off to ensure they’re shiny clean.

The hauler arrives early afternoon and they’re all loaded together, they travel an hour to the shoeing school, stand for an hour before being shod for 2.5 hours plus a half hour afterwards, and then promptly loaded back up to head the hour back home. Our day began about 9am that morning and ended about 9am that night. A long day, but they were phenomenal!

I hope you enjoy these pictures and if you’re curious for more details, come out and attend our new equestrian programming at the Village, which runs on Fridays-Sundays, April-October!

Fields of Fire

Ben Leffew, Preserve Manager
Laura Baird, Assistant Preserve Manager

We’re happy to report that on February 26 and 27 Shaker Village completed our prescribed burns for the year! Over 450 acres of native prairie was burned with the help of 32 trained burn crew members.

Now, you may be asking yourself – What!? They set their fields on fire? On purpose? Why would they do that?

Glad you asked. Here’s the scoop.

From 2009 to 2014 Shaker Village converted 1,000 acres of pastures and hay fields dominated by Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) into wildlife habitat. We used a bottom-up approach to wildlife management…instead of focusing on managing a specific species, we managed the habitat to support as many species of plants and animals as possible.

This new habitat is thriving – supporting a greater diversity of wildlife that in turn, support a healthier ecosystem overall. It does take quite a bit of management, though!

The most effective management tool we have at our disposal is prescribed fire. According to our burn plan prescribed fire is used to, “control woody encroachment, create bare ground for ground dwelling wildlife, and create quality brood rearing habitat for songbirds.” Cody M. Rhoden, Small Game Biologist with Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (close partners in this process) says, “We use prescribed fire because it does things to the system we know will benefit wildlife in a natural way, as opposed to mowing, masticating, chainsawing, etc. These tools will do a very similar job to the system, but with fire we are using something that has arguably always been a part of open herbaceous grasslands.”

Essentially, we burn off the old to make room for the new. Many plants have evolved with fire for millennia and respond with a flush of new growth after the fire. Wildlife takes advantage of this new growth in a variety of ways throughout both the nesting season and migration.

Aerial photos courtesy of Dan Stratton.

While the fields look black now, you can still see some unburnt patches. Areas with higher density of cool season grasses, game trails, and woody stems didn’t allow the fire to carry through as well as other areas with a higher density of combustible fuel. This is okay. Greater diversity in the types of vegetation left after the burn lead to a higher quality wildlife habitat.

Once July rolls around and the fields look overgrown as you hike through the Preserve, pay attention to how some fields look a little greener (burnt) vs. some fields that look a little more disheveled (unburnt) with dead material from previous growing season present.

If you would like to learn more about the Preserve at Shaker Village, please email us at!

Sister Mary, Remembered

Maggie McAdams, Assistant Program Manager

Gender equality was, and is, a hallmark of Shaker belief.

In modern times, much of the Shakers’ progressive social structure may be taken for granted. Make no mistake though – the role of women in Shaker communities has historically set the society apart from the world around them in very meaningful ways.

Throughout the history of the Shaker movement, female leadership and influence has given shape to much of what we identify as “Shaker.” This can be traced from the time of Mother Ann Lee, who led a group of Shakers to first settle in America in 1774, and continues through every Shaker sister who has come after her. At Pleasant Hill, this legacy concluded in 1923 with the death of Sister Mary Settles.

Mary Settles was, at one time, one of the most photographed women in Kentucky.

Sister Mary Settles came to Pleasant Hill in 1859 with two small children. She claimed to be a widow and found refuge with the Shakers at Pleasant Hill, a place she called home for the final 64 years of her life. While Sister Mary took on many roles and became a leader in the community, her most significant contribution to the site was her role as an educator.

As the 19th century came to a close, the population of Pleasant Hill was dwindling.

The Shaker community at Pleasant Hill closed its covenant in 1910, with twelve Shakers remaining, including Sister Mary. As the Shaker community and buildings opened up to the world, Sister Mary became a local celebrity. People traveled from near and far to chat with her and perhaps snap a photo. Once the last Shaker Brother passed away in 1922, Sister Mary became the very last Pleasant Hill Shaker.

At a time when the community and religion was fading around her, it seems that Sister Mary did what she could to keep the story alive. She always welcomed questions on the Shaker faith, and was well-read and ready for a good conversation.

She is reported to have voted in the first election women were able to in 1920. In fact, she was quoted in a newspaper article, when asked if she voted, “Of course, isn’t the equality of women part of our religion?” Gender equality was indeed part of the Shaker faith, and every level of leadership had both a man and a woman at the helm.

A bonnet, once owned by Sister Mary and given as a gift to a visitor.
Now on display at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

Sister Mary was happy to give her opinion on matters of the day and was, by many reports, a great conversationalist. She was a staunch defender of Shakerism, and wanted people to understand the society as she did. Of course we remember them today, and study them actively, but as of 1922, Sister Mary was the very last Pleasant Hill Shaker, and more and more Shaker communities around her were being disbanded. The world was closing in, and it seems that Sister Mary decided to spend her time helping curious people of the world understand her way of life.

How should we remember Mary Settles today? As a mother, a leader, an educator, the “Last Shaker,” a celebrity, an advocate for women’s rights? All of the above?

At Shaker Village, we believe that studying the history of the Shakers, of Pleasant Hill and of people like Sister Mary gives us perspective on our own beliefs, roles and identities. Which begs the question: How will you be remembered?

Of Ducks and Dirt

J Dylan Kennedy, Farm Manager

During these last weeks of winter, feeding animals becomes our most regular, and important daily task on the farm. The cattle have exhausted all the grazing opportunities, which are slim in the first place, and even the free-ranging ducks have trouble finding unturned leaves and mulch hiding more bugs to eat. Very soon these resources will be plentiful, but for now we feed, and we put a lot of thought into how we feed.

Let’s talk about the ducks.

At Shaker Village we speak a lot about stacking functions, meaning we like to do tasks that accomplish multiple goals for us at once. We also don’t “fertilize” – at least as not in the traditional sense. Instead we manage soil fertility, and our animals are a big part of that. Any time we feed our animals anything that wasn’t grown on our farm, we’re bringing not only the grain, but the fertility that grew it. By thinking of it in this way we can take advantage of that fertility by planning where and how we feed.

In the image below you’ll see our ducks pecking at fermented grain that we have spread along a single garden row. This is something we like to do in the winter time. The snow on the ground today allows the effect the ducks have on the ground where they are fed to be better understood. The ducks usually defecate while they eat, so the area where they are fed receives a focused application of the nutrients which the ducks have ingested over the last several hours. Besides leaving droppings, they turn the top layer of mulch and soil over where they eat, maybe finding bugs, but also helping to aerate thereby promoting microbial life. We are also introducing new microbes into the soil through the fermented grain, or sour mash, that the ducks are eating. These microbes will likely not persist in the soil for long, but will fuel the soil food web, which we want to be as active as possible.

Of course, our ducks aren’t the only ducks that have this ability. The ducks, like all of our animals, are just doing what ducks do. It’s our job to understand as much as we can about what they do and when and how they do it, so we can take advantage of those actions instead of working against them.

The example of ducks can be applied to cattle and other livestock as well, and we are becoming even more intentional about how and where we feed our cattle. In the coming months we’ll be feeding Shaker Village animals mostly off of our own grounds again. Until then we’ll make the absolute most out of all the nutrition that comes from off-site, feed our animals with it, store it in our topsoil savings account, and withdraw it in the form of vegetables or more animal feed when we need it. It’s the circle of life (cue Lion King soundtrack.)