Built on Belief

Jacob Glover, PhD., Program Manager

“A village of Shakers lies a few miles beyond Kentucky river, and it is curious to see the effect of celibacy on barns and fences….I never saw such excessive neatness….The rich apple trees looked sorry they were such sinners as to be beautiful.” – N.P. Willis, “The Shakers,” published in The Flag of our Union in 1852

Although not always expressed with such singular focus, since the 1800s individuals from far and wide have been struck by the distinctive architectural features of the buildings at Pleasant Hill. In fact, from daily conversations with visitors to Shaker Village it is apparent that the beauty and grace of the 34 surviving historic structures remains a principle draw for guests from around the world.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill maintains the largest, privately-held collection of 19th century buildings in the United States – 34 original Shaker structures across 3,000 acres.

Indeed, a short walk through the Historic Centre can be awe-inspiring. From the sheer size of the Centre Family Dwelling to the unadorned majesty of the first-floor meeting room in the Meeting House, to the spiral staircases in the Trustees’ Office, the variety of architectural and engineering feats is incredible. Beyond these three iconic structures, guests will also often express an affinity for their favorite buildings—likely one in which they have spent the night or had the opportunity to explore in-depth, on a guided tour.

More than just aesthetics, the architecture at Pleasant Hill also reveals the influence of the Shaker’s theology and faith on the built environment. This sense of purpose and intentionality through building is something that speaks to many visitors, and it often leaves them with even more appreciation for the Shakers’ efforts to construct their version of utopia in rural Mercer County.

The 1st floor meeting room of the 1820 Meeting House at Pleasant Hill.

The Meeting House, with its aforementioned first-floor meeting room, is probably the best example of how the community’s faith inspired their construction efforts. With the need for an open room to practice their distinctive style of worship, Shaker brother Micajah Burnett, inspired by the Shaker Meeting House at Union Village, Ohio, built an ingenious system of trusses in the attic that support the weight of the building without the need for columns or standing beams in the worship space.

The symmetry within Shaker dwelling houses was functional, but also served as a physical representation of the Shaker belief in the duality of God.

Beyond the Meeting House, the communal dwellings with their large bedrooms and ample kitchens and cellars were purpose-built to provide for the community’s social and economic structures, rooted in the teachings of their faith. In regard to celibacy and the physical separation of men and women, the brethren’s and the sisters’ work spaces were positioned accordingly to prevent unnecessary interaction during the workday.

The buildings that surround the East Family Dwelling are positioned intentionally, with workshops for men and women located on each side of the dwelling to correspond with the side each gender inhabited.

All of this barely scratches the surface, of course, for we haven’t even started to mention the small touches and unique trappings that slowly reveal themselves as one explores the buildings and grounds at Shaker Village. Even all of these years later, I guess some things still do pique one’s curiosity!

Come out for a visit, and learn more about how faith and architecture intersect at Pleasant Hill on our Buildings and Beliefs program that runs daily throughout the year! Check our website for seasonal tour times!

“…one might suppose it would stand for a thousand years…”

Jacob Glover, PhD, Program Manager

“The House is built of so dureable materials, that one might suppose it would stand for a thousand years, unless it was shaken down by an Earth quake, or something of the kind…” – Pleasant Hill Ministry to New Lebanon Ministry, August 16, 1830. IV: A054, Western Reserve Historical Society.

A view of the 1824-1834 Centre Family Dwelling’s east facade.

The 1824-1834 Centre Family Dwelling (CFD) is the most imposing, impressive structure the Shakers constructed at Pleasant Hill. At over 21,000 square feet, the CFD was one of the largest limestone buildings in the Commonwealth when it was completed in 1834, as well as one of the most architecturally significant. From its elegant balustrade and dormer to its breathtaking second floor meeting room, the CFD undoubtedly represents the pinnacle of the Shaker’s architectural achievements at Pleasant Hill.

And yet, despite the grandiose design and awe-inspiring nature of the structure, there are many elements and characteristics of the building that go unnoticed to most visitors to Shaker Village.

On a quick walk through the CFD, for instance, you might miss the subtle embellishments on the dining room columns that represent a departure from traditional Shaker design that avoided these decorative features because they were not necessary to structural integrity.


With nearly 80 residents in some years, there was a need for efficient storage space in the CFD. This large, built-in unit on the third floor provided an efficient way to store out-of-season clothing.

Or what about the built-in cabinets and drawers in the brothers’ and the sisters’ bedrooms that provided needed additional space for communal living? Did you notice which types of storage units the brothers and sisters preferred? The peg rails are seemingly everywhere, but did you see the lower peg rails in the sisters’ closets? What were those used for? Speaking of closets, why are there windows built into interior walls?

Other distinctive features abound. A dumb-waiter system that carried food from the cellar kitchen to the dining room made the job of preparing communal meals much easier. What about clean-up? The construction of the 1833 Water House directly beside the CFD played an integral role in helping the sisters clean-up after meals by providing clean spring water directly to the kitchen area. The list, as they say, could go on and on.

Beyond these original features of the CFD, there are even more caveats and hidden features due to the historic restoration and preservation of the structure that have taken place at Shaker Village since the 1960s. Beginning in 2017, work began on the building to install climate control and electrical lighting systems that have been integrated into the historic edifice in ways that are reversible and organic to the buildings 1850s appearance. The results? Ah, come on, we can’t reveal everything here…

Intrigued? Come to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill and explore this beautiful structure on your own, or take a guided tour to discover our favorite nooks and crannies! The Centre Family Dwelling is open from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm daily (and until 8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday), and the daily tour, Top to Bottom: The Centre Family Dwelling, runs throughout the fall and winter.

Check our website for a tour schedule and times. We’ll see you soon!

50 Things To Do at Shaker Village

Shaker Village opened its doors to guests from around the world in April 1968. Fifty years later, we celebrate those who came before us, and we continue to inspire generations! With 3,000 acres of discovery, there’s a lot to do around here on a daily basis. In honor of our 50 for 50 Campaign, here’s 50 things to try at Shaker Village:

  1. Go for a hike.
  2. Take a Discovery Tour.
  3. Listen to live music on the lawn.
  4. Meet the farm family.
  5. Go inside the greenhouse and see what’s growing.
  6. Take a hard hat tour to see what preservation work is currently happening.
  7. Go fishing.
  8. Take a riverboat ride on the Kentucky River.
  9. See a waterfall. You have to hike a little, but it’s worth it!
  10. Have a picnic.
  11. Watch the sunset from the amphitheater. It’s magical.
  12. Check out a bike and ride around the Village. They’re free!
  13. Visit the selfie exhibit.
  14. Relax.
  15. Pick out a handmade treasure or a Shaker Village souvenir in The Shops.
  16. Jump on board the horse-drawn wagon for a ride around The Historic Centre.
  17. Walk in the creek.
  18. Visit the bird blind.
  19. Talk to the gardeners and see what’s growing right now. Learn about how we use these fresh ingredients in our restaurant.
  20. Eat a meal at The Trustees’ Table.
  21. Walk up the iconic twin spiral staircases.
  22. Go kayaking on the Kentucky River.
  23. Walk to the cemetery.
  24. Attend a Shaker music performance in The Meeting House.
  25. Learn about food preservation in the Preserve Shop exhibit.
  26. Eat a piece of lemon pie.
  27. Drink a glass of wine or a cold beer on the Trustees’ Lawn.
  28. Take a peek at the rock walls. We have 25 miles of them.
  29. Taste an apple in the orchard.
  30. Visit the apiary to see where our honey comes from.
  31. Read the poem on the windowsill of room 174.
  32. Play with Boomer (our resident cat).
  33. Check out the Discovery Garden to learn about herbs.
  34. Relive your childhood on the tree swings.
  35. Identify plants and birds on The Trails.
  36. Go horseback riding.
  37. Take a hayride around the Village.
  38. Stargaze.
  39. Attend an Object + Stories program to learn more about our collection.
  40. Grab a handmade cookie from the Post Office shop.
  41. Find your way through the prairie maze.
  42. Climb to the highest point in Mercer County (top floor, Centre Family Dwelling).
  43. Find out who the Shakers were.
  44. Learn about our garden plans and how our farm animals have a job towards that bigger plan.
  45. Play checkers and more in the Cooper’s Shop.
  46. See wildflowers.
  47. Roast marshmallows around a fire pit.
  48. Visit with the artists in our Artist Studios and talk to them while they create.
  49. Take a selfie and post it using #shakervillageky.
  50. Have a rejuvenating night’s sleep in one of our 72 overnight rooms at The Inn so you can start all over in the morning!

We couldn’t make great things happen here without you! Our goal for the 50 for 50 Campaign is $50,000. If you would like additional information about our program, services or philanthropic opportunities, call the Development Office at 800.734.5611 ext. 1547. Give online now.


What’s your favorite Shaker Village activity? Plan your next visit at shakervillageky.org!

Community Sing at the Meeting House

On September 8, 2018, we held a Community Sing in the Meeting House to sing this amazing space back into use after it’s recent preservation work. On a weekly basis, hundreds of Shakers gathered together to sing and dance in this space and we wanted to to relive that feeling of community with our guests.


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!

Rocks that say 1813 and other cool facts

In the changing historic landscape of Pleasant Hill, buildings came and buildings went. It’s impossible to view the photographic and archival evidence without getting the impression that this place used to look a lot different than it does today (an understatement, I know). Personally, I’ve always been impressed with the imposing presence that the 2nd Centre Family Dwelling (built 1812-1815) casts in the historic photos of the village. If you want to learn a little more about this building, I encourage you to visit the exhibit in the Farm Deacon’s Shop (incidentally, this dwelling stood just to the north of this spot).

The 1813 Centre Family Dwelling had a long, productive life at Pleasant Hill that was tragically cut short by a fire in 1932. Here’s how it was described in the March 4, 1932, account from the Harrodsburg Herald:

    A spectacular fire that threatened to wipe out a large portion of historic Shakertown, started Tuesday night about eleven o’clock in one of the oldest and handsomest of the splendid buildings. It was occupied by three families, two of which lost their entire possessions. Several other buildings were threatened, but were saved by the Harrodsburg fire company in charge of Chief K. B. Phillips, assisted by volunteers, who got on the roofs of the threatened buildings and swept off the sparks as they fell. The Pennebaker Home for Girls caught on fire several times, chiefly from dried leaves in the gutters, but the blazes were extinguished before any damage was done.

   The burned building was erected in 1813, according to the date on the stone structure. It was three and a half stories high and contained forty-two rooms, with a large finished basement of several compartments. It was located about 500 feet from Highway 68 which runs through the main part of the Shaker village, and faced West on a driveway. It was of handsome dressed stone with thick walls, the interior being priceless hand-fashioned woodwork made by the skilled artisans of the Shaker colony nearly a century and a quarter ago. The only water available for fighting the fire was from the large Shaker pond approximately 600 yards distant and across the highway from the burning building. The hose taken along with the pumping apparatus was not sufficient to reach the distance and the firemen sent back to Harrodsburg for more hose. The blaze was so far advanced in the stone building when discovered that all energies were concentrated on saving the nearby structures. The stone building was entirely gutted and when the tin roof caved in a veritable storm of spark fell in every direction, igniting even the clothing and hats of some of the spectators.

After the “storm of spark” subsided and the “spectacular” fire was extinguished, I imagine that the scene looked something like this (although I’m not sure when this picture was taken):

If you visit this location today, all you will see are the foundation stones peeking out on the surface, marking the footprint of this once massive building.  It’s all that remains of it – at least, all that remains onsite.  Because in 1937, much of the surviving stone was hauled to Harrodsburg to build a house for relatives of the Bohon family. The house still stands in town today (and is still in use), a subtle reminder that the history of Pleasant Hill is much bigger than the 3000 acres and 34 buildings that we care for today. There are a lot of inter-connections out there that we can’t forget about. Pleasant Hill is an integral part of Mercer County’s history, and vice-versa.

The coolest thing about this house? One of the stones used to build the rear wall was this:


Aaron Genton is the collections manager…