Making Connections

Billy Rankin, VP of Public Programming and Marketing

This is the third part of our behind-the-scenes look at the development of Local Economies, Global Impacts, a new exhibition that will open this summer at Shaker Village.

Last month we introduced three main goals that the team at Shaker Village keeps in mind when developing any new exhibit:

  1. Tell a Meaningful Story
  2. Connect with Different Audiences
  3. Be Relevant

If you need to revisit how we craft our exhibit’s “story” and integrate it into the site’s larger interpretive plan, you can catch up here!

Today I’d like to spend some time on “connecting with different audiences.” Talk about a BROAD topic, right?!

A Diverse Audience

Each year Shaker Village has nearly 100,000 visitors to its historic property. These guests come from every imaginable background. Some are elementary students on field trips. Some are international travelers. Many come for their love of history, while some are dragged here because of a family member’s love of history!

Some of our guests will have trouble navigating the steps and historic sidewalks on our property, and some of them are unable to read the signage we hang up, or hear the voices of our staff.

With the universal impact of COVID-19 still being very real, many of our guests will be hesitant to join a group of strangers on a tour, or approach an Historic Interpreter with a question.

Shaker Village’s guests represent a broad cross-section of ethnicities, religions and backgrounds. And, every single one of our guests will come to our exhibit with a different perspective. To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

Just the Facts

So, how do we account for all of these different perspectives when trying to fulfill our mission to inspire generations through discovery by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers?

We start by sticking to the story we know. It’s important for museums like Shaker Village to share facts. This isn’t always easy. Often history is muddy and mysterious. Our team of scholars work hard to check and double-check their sources. We guard against jumping to conclusions, and select the words we use very carefully so they are not easily misinterpreted. It is tempting in this “editorial age” to lead a narrative in the direction you’d like it to go. Aside from this being unethical, it also defeats the purpose of studying our history. How do we learn from it, if we don’t look at it for what it is?

By sticking to the facts we allow ALL of our guests to trust the content they are being introduced to, and this trust provides the foundation for the connections we want to make.

People Learn in Different Ways

We’ve all seen it before. Someone may be a great student in class, but struggle with experiential projects. Another person may be able to grasp complex concepts quickly, but find difficulty staying engaged for a long period of time. Many people love watching historic documentaries, but were bored to sleep in their history classes.

When we develop a new experience at Shaker Village, we are committed to meeting people where they are, not where we want them to be.

To accomplish this, we layer in several different approaches when developing a new exhibit.

  • Visuals, including: images, graphics, maps, videos and other multimedia
  • Audio components that are both ambient and interpretive
  • Text written without jargon, and kept as succinct as possible
  • Tactile elements that allow guests to get hands-on
  • Personal Stories that can make the content more relatable
  • Programs, tours and workshops connected to the exhibit to add the personal touch and expertise of an Historic Interpreter

Not every visitor will engage with every method we use. That’s not even our intent. Our intent is to have at least one method that is engaging for every visitor.

A Spark of Inspiration

Hands-on workshops and daily programs are a valuable way to connect visitors to exhibit content.

Interpretation is revelation based upon information.”
Freeman Tildan

So, what exactly is the point of learning about the industries and economy of the Shakers at Pleasant Hill? Well, here’s the secret. It’s not actually about the Shakers. It’s about you.

Throughout Local Economies, Global Impacts we will place questions, prompts and activities that allow visitors to question how the topic at-hand is relatable in their own life. For instance – we have relatively few examples of Shaker clothing, due to the fact that older clothes were often cut up and used to make rugs or other items. What do you do with your old clothes when you are done wearing them?

This is an “inquiry-based” method. Causing the visitor to consider a question and discover their own response. There is no correct answer. Only your answer. Pair with an interactive that allows you to see how others have responded to the same question (this is called user-generated content) and now we’re on to something!

Every exhibit and program we produce at Shaker Village contains a TON of information. Our goal is to move from information to inspiration. Guests might not remember everything they learned, but they will certainly remember how they felt.

Next Month: Learn how Local Economies, Global Impacts will use “universal” concepts to create a story that is relevant to a modern audience.

Local Economies, Global Impacts is funded in part through a Museums for America matching grant, administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

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!