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…

It’s Harvest Time!

What do you know about sorghum? Enjoying sticky sorghum over warm, buttered cornbread is kind of like satiating Kentucky’s first sweet tooth. The crop has strong roots in Kentucky’s history, known for its value even outside of desserts. There are four major types of sorghum: grain, forage, biomass and sweet. Sorghum grain can be used as a gluten free flour alternative for baking, and it can even be popped like popcorn. Some sorghum varieties are used as pasture forage or silage for livestock feed. It’s also one of the primary ingredients in ethanol. Kentucky is among the nation’s primary producers of sweet sorghum, used to make the highly coveted sorghum syrup.

Sorghum being pressed at Shaker Village. What’s the difference between sorghum and molasses? Sorghum syrup comes from sorghum cane, and molasses comes from sugar cane.

Sorghum is a heat tolerant crop that does not require much water, making it the ideal plant to grow during the warmest part of the year. It does not originate in Kentucky, or even in the United States. It’s a cultivar of North Africa, making its way across the globe through ancient trading routes. The word Sorghum comes from the Latin words, “Syricum granum” or “Grain of Syria.”

In the United States, sorghum syrup has been used since the mid-1800s, but sorghum’s versatility was first made popular in the U.S. for its capacity in broom making! The Pleasant Hill Shakers relied on broom corn for their broom industry, and even cultivated sweet sorghum, making hundreds of gallons of sorghum syrup each year. The Pleasant Hill Shakers actually intercropped sorghum among young orchards, cultivating their orchards with annual crops as a way to increase food output in the years leading up to fruit production.

Apple trees and peach trees were planted at the same time, along with annual crops like sorghum, oats, even potatoes. After a few years when peach trees began to fruit, the annual crop planting would discontinue. Years later when the apple trees began producing, peach trees would be thinned from the orchard. Agriculture records indicate that the Pleasant Hill Shakers kept over 50 varieties of apple trees on their property!

Today, Shaker Village grows ten heirloom varieties known for their versatility and unique flavors. These varieties will fruit at different times from June-October. Some varieties, like the Yellow Transparent, are best known for their drying potential. Others, like the King David, are best for cider or to eat fresh. You can see The Orchard as soon as you drive onto our property. Come taste one of these varieties and see what you think!

The Shakers believed that the products of their harvest were gifts from God to be counted as blessings. Because the Shakers treated their crops as a blessing from God, it was sacrilege to waste any part of the harvest. We strive to emulate the Shaker practice of reducing waste by maintaining a closed loop energy system at the farm. All of the food in our garden is harvested for the restaurant, and anything the restaurant cannot use is sent back to the farm. These scraps are fed to the animals working in our deep litter compost pen, which eventually returns as energy rich soil back into the garden.

Celebrate Fall at Shaker Village to participate in these activities. Join us at HarvestFest on September 29 + 30 as we transform apples into cider using our heirloom orchard apples on a 19thcentury cider press. (Stick around for a demonstration on making hard cider as well!) Then, sample sorghum syrup from our horse powered sorghum press cooked down into that deliciously sticky syrup we’ve come to know as a part of harvest time here in Kentucky. Now all we need is a good homemade biscuit… wonder what the Trustees’ Table is cooking up?


Prefer to taste a little more? Check out our Hard Cider Bash on September 8. This Fresh Food Adventure highlights a menu of delicious ingredients from our orchard and garden and, of course, hard cider!


Bekah Roberts, Farm Program Specialist

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 second Meeting House the Pleasant Hill Shakers built in the Village. 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 up the second floor. 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!

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.