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…

Preservation@Work: The Belfry

 

As part of our current preservation project on the Centre Family Dwelling, the bell tower has been removed via crane! It was a sight to see for sure.

While the original bell was hung on Centre Family in 1839, it was cracked 10 years later and replaced with a new bell. As you can see from the photo above, the bell tower rests on the north side of the Centre Family Dwelling, sandwiched between two chimneys. Just a quick glance at this massive building and you may even miss it, but the bell could be heard throughout the Village.

According to Shaker journals, the bell served many purposes for the Shakers, usually for communication. Some instances include:

  • Beginning of Workday (4 a.m. in summer and 5 a.m. in winter)
  • End of Workday
  • Meal Times
  • Special Observances
  • Emergencies

According to our collections manager, the bell, like all of our 34 historic buildings, is considered a historic resource. During the last decade or so, the bell has been rung during educational workshops, field trips and before iconic daily programs such as music performances. We’ve also been known to start the (un)Pleasant Hill Trail Runs with the ringing of the bell. However, the bell hasn’t been in ringing condition for awhile now.

We’re looking forward to having this quirky and unique piece of our collection added back to the Centre Family Dwelling and hearing it ring throughout the Village! Look for Centre Family to re-open this fall. Until then, stop by and see all of the great things that are happening here!


Fun Fact: There is also a bell on the West Lot Dwelling.

Celebrating 50 Years

Shaker Village, the nonprofit organization, opened its doors to guests from around the world in April 1968. By the end of that year, some 50,000 guests were kindly welcomed to this site! In 2018, we celebrate those visionaries and trailblazers who came before us and continue to honor the legacy of the Kentucky Shakers who blazed their own trail more than 200 years ago. This Sunday, visit Shaker Village and enjoy FREE admission in honor of our 50th anniversary. Enjoy daily programming and tours, take a hike or visit with the animals.

A lot has evolved in the last 50 years to meet changing markets and customer preferences. But, one thing that hasn’t changed is what we’re accomplishing here at Shaker Village. This nonprofit organization was created to preserve and protect this property, and we continue to be good stewards of the legacy left to us not only by the Shakers, but by the visionaries who gathered in the early 1960s to save this village.

The Shakers are gone, their houses stand,
A beautiful memorial to a faithful band.
If stones could talk, I could hear them say,
Preserve me and keep me for another day.*


How can you keep this place going? You support Shaker Village every time you visit, stay, dine, shop or explore. Follow us on social media. Plan your next visit.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is on a mission to inspire generations through discovery by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers. Donate Now.

Text to Donate. Text INSPIRE to 501501 to donate $25. A one-time donation will apply to your phone bill. Wireless carriers remit 100% to charity. Message and data rates may apply.

Learn more.

*Poem by Mary Webb Gibson Robb, who was involved in one of the earliest preservation efforts at Shaker Village in the late 1930s – early 1940s. Published on a Shaker Village postcard

If These Shoes Could Talk…

If you’ve been down to the Shaker Modern exhibit in the East Family buildings, you’ve seen a bunch of old shoes. Pleasant Hill was a home, both temporary and permanent, for more than 2,400 Shakers throughout the community’s history. Many traveled very long distances before, during and after their time here. These shoes have been found on the property over the years, and though we know little about them, they were most likely worn by the members here. Whose feet did they cover? What kind of traveling stories could they tell?

Really, those just scratch the surface of all the old shoes we have in the collection, and they are fairly generic. However, this shoe is in better condition and a lot more unique than those on display. It is made of black cloth on the outside, while the inside is a striped denim-type material. And, if you look really closely, you can see writing on the inside of the shoe: “Peggy Voris 1854.”

(Sidenote: One of the things we focus on in the Shaker Modern exhibit is comparing styles and pieces from our Shaker collection to what is popular now. Have you seen shoes like this out and about lately? Kinda cool, huh?)

I don’t know anything about how her name was written in the shoe, and it leaves me with a lot of questions—Did Peggy do this herself? Did someone else? Where’s the other shoe? What was so special about Peggy Voris in 1854 that it had to be commemorated in a shoe?

We don’t know much about Peggy Voris. She was born on February 14, 1801, in Shelby County, Ky., and in 1810, she came with her family to Pleasant Hill. However, she rarely shows up in the records. The most notable event revealed about her is when she dies in 1882—but even this has a way of leaving us with more questions than answers about her:

  • Disaster Peggy Voris fell on the Sleety walk on Wednesday 4th inst & crippled her hip & arms So that it is probable that She will remain helpless for life. It Seems that aged folks will not heed nor care (FHS 17, Ministerial Journal, January 7, 1882)
  • Demise Peggy Voris at the West Family in the 81st year of her age which would have been Completed the 14th Proximo Although in feeble health for Some Years past yet the injury She Sustained by that fall 7th inst. – which See – was the immediate Cause of her death at this time.  She is the last Survivor of a large & wealthy family that entered this Community in its infancy & has Stood through all the trials & conflicts of life to the day of her decease & is therefore worthy of much honor & credit by all who knew her & is entitled to a rich reward in heaven.  P.S. Strange to tell the above is a false report & She Still lives.  She died on the 11th inst which See. (FHS 17, Ministerial Journal, January 9, 1882)
  • Demise Peggy Voris deceased this evening at 9:25  See 9th inst (FHS 17, Ministerial Journal, January 11, 1882)

I hope that we learn more about this one day because it strikes me as a very strange event. And, it seems like it was equally perplexing to the Shakers as it was happening.

I’ll let Henry Daily have the last word on this because, as usual, he has a special way of communicating the things that happened at Pleasant Hill:

E.S. & H. D. left the Tanyard this morning and started for home. Came to the toll gate this side of Perryville where John Haggin keeps. He has been there 24 years past, we fed our horses there & had a fine dinner all for nothing. He would have nothing. Rained steady all day. H.D. & E. S. arrived home about 5 P.M. from Lebanon and the Tanyard. Note Peggy Voris departed this life at the West Family last night about 9 o’clock & was buried today. We know she is dead now.

So, here we are left with one shoe and very little information about Peggy. We’ll keep digging around for more of her story. Meanwhile, maybe you can imagine a pleasant life for her here at Pleasant Hill.


During your Shaker Village adventures, take a guided tour of our newest exhibit—Shaker Modern—as we explore the enduring appeal of Shaker lessons and legacies. Examine Shaker spirituality, community and ingenuity through the artifacts and documents that they left behind, and uncover their influences on today’s communities, lifestyles and design. Check the TODAY schedule once you arrive for times and locations.


Aaron Genton is the collections manager…

Grab Your Hard Hat!

When was the last time you visited Shaker Village? There’s A LOT happening around here. And we aren’t just talking about the new baby animals that have arrived at The Farm this spring (though they are pretty darn cute). Back in October, we told you about our exciting PRESERVATION@WORK project on Centre Family Dwelling and the Meeting House. We’ve been hard at work since then and things are really coming along.

Last year, Shaker Village undertook its largest preservation project since the 1960s. The preservation and rehabilitation of the Meeting House and Centre Family Dwelling will extend the lives of these two buildings, while preparing them for new interpretive experiences.

One of the most noticeable accomplishments has been the installation of the remaining window components after repairs. Many windows are still boarded up because of the additional exterior work that has to be done, but it’s nice to have windows going back in.

Before and After Window Repair

We continue working on the installation of siding on the Meeting House. The crew is focusing on the rear (south) wall and will be working on the west wall starting next week. Additionally, there is structural repair work being done to the attic floor level beam, but the crew anticipates completing the repair during the coming week.

Otherwise, plumbers, electricians and duct installers continue to place piping, electrical conduit and ductwork in both buildings. And as temperatures hopefully moderate in coming weeks, we will begin working on masonry.

Before and After Beam Repair

So, what’s next? We’re going to keep at it. We hope you’ll come by for a visit and see this history in the making. Look for the Meeting House to open this summer, with the Centre Family following later in the year.

Read more about the history of these buildings here.


We want you to be a part of this village@work project. Come see what’s happening! While you’re here, join us for a Hard Hat Tour. Explore the historical and architectural significance of the buildings, project priorities and how you can become a part of this important preservation effort. Tours available daily. Check the schedule for times and locations.

William Updike is the vice president for natural and cultural resource management…