The Meeting House is Open!

Big news! The Meeting House has reopened. You may remember that we’ve been doing preservation work on it since last fall. Check out this post if you want to learn more.

We hope you’ll visit soon to see for yourself, but here’s some history, a few fun facts and a glimpse into the iconic view that we get to see everyday!

The reason this building is called the 1820 Meeting House is because it was the third Meeting House the Pleasant Hill Shakers built here. Since then, it has gone through several preservation projects.

During the post-Shaker period, the Meeting House served many purposes, including home to the Shakertown Baptist Church and an automotive garage!

 

The Meeting House has a unique architectural structure, including a truss system, which allows the beams in the attic to hold the second floor up. This makes it so there aren’t any pillars or beams on the main floor to obstruct movement and dancing.

 

In 1968the nonprofit organization that had been established in the early 1960s opened a museum on this site. The Meeting House was interpreted for some 50,000 guests that first year.

 

The second floor of the Meeting House was utilized as administrative offices until 1994, when the current Administration building was opened.

Beginning in 2016, Top to Bottom tours were offered weekly to give people a behind-the-scenes view of the Meeting House attic and the cellar underneath the building.

The Meeting House is the only white painted building on the property. While it was customary for Shakers to use white to denote the Meeting House, Kentucky is well-known for its white limestone, which is present in several of the other buildings on this site.

These copper lanterns can be found throughout the Village. We have more than 100 in use at anytime. They can also be purchased online in our shop!

Today, the Meeting House is open to daily guests and is utilized for music performances, special events and more. It’s one of the most photographed buildings at Shaker Village. Its simplicity and symmetry embody Shaker design, and its presence is awe-inspiring. Plan a visit soon and experience it for yourself!


Are you curious to see (and hear!) what it would have been like for the Shakers to sing together in the Meeting House? On a weekly basis, hundreds of Shakers gathered together to sing and dance in this space. Join us for our Community Sing at the Meeting House on September 8th and help us sing the space back into use!

Keeping Our (Horses) Cool

Much like the Shakers, our farmers use draft horses to provide horsepower for a variety of purposes—to work the sorghum press, till certain fields, transport people and more. Because of the high visibility of the ever-popular Horse-Drawn Wagon Rides through the Village AND the vast number of hot days this summer, we receive questions from guests about our horses’ well-being pretty often. As equine and stable assistant, my main purpose is to care for, train and spoil the horses at Shaker Village. (Yes, I have a cool job.) As the heat rolls in during these summer months, our horses continue to get the five-star treatment they deserve. So, what makes horses happy?

Fun Fact: Animals such as cows, pigs, goats and sheep are unable to sweat… but, horses do sweat, which makes working in the heat a more bearable activity for them. You might see our horses working into a sweat while giving wagon rides on hot weekends, but there’s no need to worry. As a matter of fact, if the horses aren’t sweating, then I begin to worry. The sweat on a horse is doing an important job in the process of thermoregulation (more on that later). In fact, almost 70 percent of the horse’s body heat is lost through sweat evaporation. There are two particularly interesting benefits of sweat. Equine sweat produces a specific protein called latherin, which causes it to appear foamy and white as the harness makes contact with the skin. (This is where we get the saying “working up a lather.”) The latherin allows the sweat to spread further. Also, the sweat is slightly hypertonic, meaning it has more salt than other fluids. Increased salt content allows for more fluid to be drawn to the skin to cool. Together, these functions of sweat lead to a more efficient cooling rate.

Now, what about those really, REALLY hot days? Sometimes it’s just too hot for our horses to work—sweat or not. We pay close attention to the weather and follow a strict heat index policy, which considers both the temperature and the humidity. If the heat index rises to 100 or higher, our wagon rides are canceled for the day and the horses stay in shaded cool areas with plenty of water. On the days that it doesn’t reach the heat threshold, we utilize the best of our resources to keep the horses comfortable during their daily tasks. Water becomes our main concern. The average horse drinks 5-7 gallons of water in cool weather, at rest. With hotter weather causing elevated water loss through sweat, we see horses drink 20 gallons or more in a single day! Water is provided in our horses’ pastures via automatic waterers that provide unlimited fresh, cool water. Our horses also have access to a salt electrolyte block, which helps to restore the salt lost in their sweat. In between tours, the horses are given water and placed in front of a fan to cool them off. During their lunch break, they receive a large pile of hay, along with unlimited water.

Anyone know what thermoregulation is? (It’s the ability of an organism to keep its body temperature within certain boundaries, even when the surrounding temperature is very different.) Horses are pretty efficient at this, but we help them out a little. The quickest way to cool our horses is by utilizing convection and conduction. Translation: after a good day’s work, our horses get to enjoy a nice cold hose down. Our horses are hosed until the skin and muscles become cool to the touch. Water on, water off, water on, water off…  As we hose our horses, we scrape the water off and continue to apply water so that the heat is transferred from the horse to the water. Once the horse has become cool to the touch, we scrape the last bit off water off the horses. Water that is left on the horse will trap and insulate the heat of the muscles. So, a horse that is turned out wet in the hot sun is at risk to become super-heated since the water is unable to evaporate before it becomes heated and stays trapped on the skin. Hosing them down is a process, but they enjoy every minute of it.

The horses at Shaker Village are well loved by staff, not to mention all the guests they get to meet on a weekly basis. You could say they are local celebrities around here. I’m lucky to work closely with such sweet, gentle horses. Whether it is our retired team of 25-year-old Percherons (the same breed the Shakers kept), or our younger active breeds, all of our horses are shown the best care possible. Plan a visit to learn about all the members of our farm family and the roles they play at the Village. Wagon Rides are available Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through the end of October. Our horses can’t wait to meet you, and I look forward to seeing new faces and answering any questions you may have. I’ll be the one driving the wagon! Until then, happy (cool) trails!


Explore 3,000 acres of discovery by horseback! Harness your favorite steed for a backcountry ride through Kentucky forests, fields and creek crossings. The Preserve’s trail system includes 37 miles of horseback riding and carriage-friendly trails. Overnight boarding and Annual Equestrian Passes available. Learn more.


Gabriella Kreinbrook, Equine and Stable Assistant

Growing Ideas at Shaker Village

Being the farm manager at Shaker Village is a pretty good gig for someone who wakes up and goes to bed thinking about vibrant local food systems. My path here has been long and winding, and it all started back in college when I learned about a new philosophy of living and farming known as permaculture. Earlier this week, I checked a big box off my list when I traveled to the Driftless Area of Wisconsin for a nine-day course to earn my Permaculture Design Certificate.

Often misunderstood, and largely under-practiced in the United States, permaculture has become the emergent trend in global agriculture since the word was coined in the late 1970s in Australia. It is defined as a system of agricultural and social design principles that simulate or directly utilize the patterns of natural ecosystems. Its founders coined the term to invoke their goals of establishing a permanent agriculture, but it has often been noted since that its broader implications include the permanence of culture. What better philosophy to dictate the management practices of a cultural site like Shaker Village?

The focus of our course revolved around building agricultural systems that are resilient or agricultural systems with the ability to provide for people and planet throughout unforeseeable pathological, economic or climatic events. As permaculture practitioners, we start with recognizing broad ecological patterns, rather than starting with details. We believe that every landscape can be productive and beautiful regardless of whether it’s considered “good farmland” and that we can regenerate any landscape with good design and continued management.

Perhaps most importantly, we recognize that human beings have become the keystone species in nearly every location we occupy, which is an incredible responsibility. In practical terms, permaculture farms typically revolve around perennial plants, which produce reliably with few inputs and have ample room for wildlife and natural cycles. Annual crops, which are inherently extractive, are scaled to a level that can be sustainably maintained within a larger perennial based system.

I chose the course at Mastodon Valley Farm because I share their belief in the hardwood savanna ecosystem as a model for regenerative farms in our part of the world. A savanna is a landscape characterized by grasslands interspersed with hardwood trees, particularly those producing nuts or acorns. Throughout the past 13,000 years or so, savannas have been the dominant ecosystem in North America and the most productive when measured in normal human foodstuffs. Since the end of the last Ice Age, until a few hundred years ago, large animals, such as mastodons, grazed and migrated across the continent, moving nutrients, thinning forests and stimulating new growth along the way. They were the managers of the landscape, maintaining diverse habitats and building the richest deposits of topsoil on the planet.

Our mission is to mimic these incredible ecosystems by utilizing the species we have available to us, which are more easily recognizable. Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry each interact with the landscape in their own ways. Each species can be incredibly detrimental to the landscape under poor management, but they are the prescription for regeneration of those landscapes when managed according to natural cycles.

I am excited to announce that over the next few years The Farm at Shaker Village, in partnership with The Preserve, will be taking steps toward building a more resilient agricultural system that supports the mission of our critical site. Our plans include more animals, fruit and nut trees, and warm season grasses. Like most good things, this won’t happen overnight—it will take years, so we’re not wasting any time getting started. We look forward to sharing our experiences with our guests and community and continuing the legacy of vibrant culture and sustainability that has made Shaker Village what it is today.


Dylan Kennedy is the farm manager…

Dixie Huffman Retires

After 46 years of employment with Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Dixie Huffman is retiring. While that is a remarkable achievement by itself, Dixie’s connection to Pleasant Hill began almost literally since the day she was born. A lifelong resident of Mercer County, as a young girl in the 1930s, Dixie lived on land that was once owned by the Shakers, near the West Lot Dwelling. Her first memories of the Pleasant Hill buildings were from well before the restoration; at one time, she recalled, “it didn’t look like there was much life here.”

Dixie’s professional career at Pleasant Hill began in 1971, as an interpreter during her summer breaks from her full-time teaching career. Upon retiring from teaching, in the late 1970s, she became a full-time fixture of the Pleasant Hill interpretive team. As the years progressed, she began to work behind the scenes with the collection, helping the curatorial staff with very important tasks like cataloging, records management and research.

Dixie and her pencils from transcribing manuscripts.

In recent years, “Miss Dixie” has become best known among staff for her extensive transcription of the Shaker primarily sources. Sitting for hours in front of a microfilm machine, she diligently copied the original records onto legal pads that could easily be shared with staff and guests alike. It has often been said that she knows the Shakers personally, despite having never met them. If you’ve ever experienced her stories about Henry Daily, you know exactly what we mean.

There is no way to quantify the number of people she has shared the Shakers with over the years. But one thing is certain: each of these people had a warm, friendly and engaging experience. With her retirement, Shaker Village is losing one its institutions. We will all miss seeing her during her afternoon walks, her stories, her remarkable personality, her friendliness and her sense of humor. She has been a friend to all she encountered. In contrast to what she experienced in the days before the restoration, there is now life in the Village, and for 46 years, Dixie Huffman has been an integral part in making that happen.

Last week, staff, family and friends gathered with Dixie to celebrate and thank her for her work at Shaker Village.

For staff, having Dixie around meant great stories told from the journals she’d been transcribing on a given day, sweet conversations around the lunch table and the camaraderie of a great friend. She brought the Shakers to life for many, since she added her own fiery personality when retelling each one. She was well known for spending her breaks with the farm animals (of course, she was their favorite person to see, as she always brought a bag of apples with her). For us, it was more than difficult to choose a worthy gift for someone so special to not only the people here, but the place and the work Shaker Village strives to do. But we had to try.

The Dixie Huffman Scholarship will be rewarded to one junior or senior from Burgin High School or Mercer County Senior High School as a way to offset internship and/or college expenses. This area and education are two things near and dear to Dixie’s heart, so we chose to honor her legacy by paying forward to local school children her loyalty and dedication to this place. We will miss seeing Dixie daily “at the office,” but we know she’ll be visiting with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren often.

Recipe: Rose Old Fashioned

Our official connection to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail might be recent, but the Shakers processed and distilled herbs and plants on this property more than 100 years ago. The surviving records of the Pleasant Hill Shakers show that during the 19th century, they were purchasing, consuming and making alcoholic beverages—and also selling small quantities. But, that’s an entire post for another day.

To distill a plant, such as rose petals, is to burn off the impurities and keep only the best parts of the plant that could be used medicinally, as an anti-inflammatory, or for culinary purposes. Rose Water is believed to remedy many things, but the Shakers used it the same way that we use vanilla extract. Our friends over at the Kentucky Bourbon Trail came up with this recipe featuring Shaker Rose Water. If you’re looking for a refreshing new cocktail recipe, grab your favorite Kentucky Bourbon and try this out!

ROSE OLD FASHIONED

Ingredients:

2 oz. Kentucky Bourbon, about 100 proof

1 sugar cube

A few dashes of Angostura bitters

1 small bar spoon of rose water (available in The Shops)

1 mint sprig

Instructions:

Muddle cube with bitters. 

Stir in rose water and Bourbon. 

Serve over ice.

Garnish with mint.


PS. We hear Kentucky Bourbon tastes better in a Shaker Village rocks glass! Visit The Shops at Shaker Village to purchase a souvenir rocks glass or a bottle of rose water!


Grab a cocktail and join us for live music on the Trustees’ Lawn every weekend through October!