An Enduring Legacy

Jacob Glover, Ph.D., Director of Public Programs and Education

“Great architecture has this capacity to adapt to changing functional uses without losing one bit of its dignity or one bit of its original intention.

– Thomas Krens, former Director of the Guggenheim

As we approach the end of October and the 200th anniversary of the Pleasant Hill Meeting House, we have taken the opportunity to reflect on the both the history of the Meeting House and its continuing legacy and influence here at Shaker Village. As the quote that opens this blog post implies, the Meeting House has been remarkably resilient throughout the course of its existence and its many alterations since 1820.

When thinking about the original intention of the Meeting House for the Shakers at Pleasant Hill, it is important to keep in mind how the space was purpose-built to allow certain aspects of Shaker society to flourish. For the Shakers, the Meeting House was always about things such as unity, community, and faith. Of course, the Shakers’ religious beliefs influenced all aspects of their life, but the common worship area of the Meeting House was an extremely important physical space where the Shakers could gather on a weekly basis and reinforce communal ties, a shared sense of belonging, and strengthen their union with one another.

Special community events such as Illuminated Evenings, held on Saturdays in December, help continue the legacy of song that has long shaped the history of the Pleasant Hill Meeting House.

Given the important of these notions to the entire Shaker worldview, it is no wonder that the Meeting House held such a place of prominence in every community. When Shaker brothers and sisters danced and sang with each other, they cemented bonds that not only held together the community at Pleasant Hill — these actions provided a shared identity for Shakers all across America who danced the same dances and sang the same songs in similar buildings from Maine to Ohio.

The materials used to construct the Meeting House tie the building to centuries of history in central Kentucky. These trusses, seen in the attic, allow for the open space on the first floor that were key to Shaker worship.

At Shaker Village today, the Meeting House retains much of its original charm and capacity to inspire, even if the form and shape of that inspiration holds different meanings for us than it did for the Shakers. The sense of belonging and togetherness that was so important to the Shakers remains present in our daily Shaker music programs and special events like the Community Sing and Illuminated Evenings, as building community through song is still as strong an influence as ever.

The solidity and permanence of the Meeting House is also reminder of the power of place in a modern world that seems to become more transient and transparent by the day. Walking in the attic, the massive king posts and trusses are reminders of the ancient forests of central Kentucky and the long years that the oak trees graced the Bluegrass before they were hewed by the Shakers to build such a lasting testament to their architectural skills and their faith.

At Pleasant Hill, we remain as committed as ever to inspiring our local communities and state by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers, and the Meeting House will continue to be an integral part of that mission for our organization.

Join us at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill on Saturday, October 31, 2020, for the 200th Anniversary celebration of the Meeting House. Special tours of the Meeting House focusing on Shaker song, dance and the building’s architecture will be available with purchase of admission.

Donor Impact

Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator

In the 1970s, the trees in the Shaker Village Apple Orchard were planted in honor of the nonprofit’s visionary President, James L. Cogar. Forty-five years later, the established Orchard is one of the first things that visitors see when they arrive at Shaker Village.  The Orchard produces apples from 10 heirloom varieties that supply the onsite restaurant, are made into applesauce that is sold in The Shops, featured in special events such as the Hard Cider Bash and highlighted in educational programs.  Despite its prominent location and use, The Orchard has been one of the most underutilized areas of the Historic Centre.

Heirloom apples in the Shaker Village Orchard.

In late December 2019, Shaker Village was contacted by a donor who was interested in learning about some of the projects on our funding wish list that includes projects of all sizes and costs.  Some of these projects are obvious as you walk the property.

Some of the projects on the wish list are not as obvious. In December 2019, we had a number of smaller but significant things we wanted to do in The Orchard and the Herb Garden (adjacent to the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling) to improve the guest experience. This included:

  • Add an accessible path through the apple trees to allow guests to fully experience The Orchard.
  • Add picnic tables in The Orchard.
  • Re-establish the Herb Garden (which had been moved to accommodate the Centre Family Dwelling restoration project, 2017-2019) and add seating.
  • Establish a Native Garden adjacent to the 1820 Meeting House.
  • Add interpretative signage for The Orchard, Herb Garden and Native Garden.
  • Add a monarch waystation and a pollinator bath.
  • Repair the Duck Wagon (the Indian Runner Ducks reside in The Orchard).
  • Relocate firepits to be nearby the Herb Garden and the Native Garden; add seating.

All of these projects have a cost to them that is not funded for in the operating budget.  At $1,000, the largest expense was the sand, gravel, and labor to install the accessible path.

The new accessible path that leads guests through the Apple Orchard.

Our Development Team worked with the donor and packaged all of these items into a single project titled The Orchard + Gardens Project.  The donor very generously funded all of the needs and work began in mid-Spring. We were able to provide more seating and amenities because we were good stewards with our donor-provided funds.

When this project began, no one could foresee the impact the changes would have on the visitor experience and the Village as a whole. In the past we rarely saw visitors near The Orchard or the Herb Garden. Today, we see them interacting in these spaces every day.  Visitors amble through The Orchard to learn about the heirloom varieties, enjoy lunch at the picnic tables, or sit on the benches to watch the pollinators at work in the Native Garden and the Herb Garden. 

The Herb Garden has several plots that guests can learn about.

The completion of The Orchard + Gardens Project has been one of Shaker Village’s tremendous accomplishments of the year. But it’s important to remember that none of it would have happened without an interested donor. When you make a gift to Shaker Village, it doesn’t matter if you donate $10, $100, $1,000 or more. Every dollar counts and makes an impact.  We promise to use your gift wisely and as it was intended.

This is a powerful place. In 2020 it has proven to be a peaceful and restful respite for many of our guests. We remain committed to our mission and sustaining the future of this site, and we thank you for your continued support that makes the programming, the preservation of the cultural landscape and historic structures, and everything else possible.

Out of the Blue

Laura Webb, Program Specialist

What does the color combination of blue and white remind you of? Perhaps it is Blue Willow china, Delftware pottery, or shibori indigo-dyed textiles – or, if you’re one of our Central Kentucky neighbors, it’s University of Kentucky sports!

Two cyanotypes (IDs 0114 and 0112) of a bedroom in the Ministry’s Workshop.

As I have been working our way through the historic photography aspect of our archives and collections, I was thrilled to come across examples of cyanotypes – an early photographic process that results in vivid blue and white prints. If you’re a regular Village@Work reader, you may have spotted one in our previous post about the Pleasant Hill Meeting House!

Cyanotypes are made with oxidized ferrous, i.e. iron, salts – the basis for the original Prussian blue pigment (which, incidentally, was the first modern synthetic pigment). A solution of two types of these salts react with UV light (sunlight!) to develop an image, which can then be rinsed off with clean water, leaving an image positive behind.[1]

The cyanotype process was invented in 1842, and was originally used for reproducing scientific notes (no photocopiers back then!); however, its potential for producing and reproducing images was quickly discovered, and the process was then used for photograms,[2] photographs, technical copies, and fine art. It’s the origin of the term “blueprint” – for decades, technical and architectural drawings were reproduced with the cyanotype process, resulting in blue lines on white paper![3]

Cyanotype (ID 0113) of the ferry at Shaker Landing, with a horse-drawn vehicle aboard.

Because this process is relatively simple and requires no darkroom, it was used long after it was the favored process of professional photographers – starting in the 1870s, it was used by photographers in the field to create “proofs” of a negative before they would develop it in a darkroom.[4] Several of our cyanotypes seem to have been used for this purpose, as they can be paired with exact (or near-exact) copies made with an albumen or gelatin-silver process. Want to play “spot the difference?”

Side-by-side comparison of the cyanotype proof (ID 1413) and the final gelatin-silver print (0438): Shaker sisters entering the Meeting House.
Side-by-side comparison of the cyanotype proof (ID 0314) and a nearly identical albumen print (1390), featuring Shaker sisters and other women on the front steps of the Centre Family Dwelling, c. 1895. Notice the issues that have been corrected in the more professional version.

This process is still favored by many artists, and ferrous salt solutions have been created that can be used on both paper and textiles. Pre-treated “Sunography” paper can also be purchased for a fun and easy photogram experience. I have done this activity myself, with lovely results.

Cyanotype photograms created by the author, Laura Webb, c. 2018.

Have you ever tried making a cyanotype, or another type of photogram or print? If so, how did it turn out? How would you use this process – for art, for documentation, or for making copies?

[1] Rice, Cory. “Historical Processes: The Cyanotype.” B&H Explora (blog). 2019. Accessed October 15, 2020.

[2], s.v. “Photogram,” accessed October 15, 2020,

[3] Experiment Station. “What Is a Cyanotype?” The Phillips Collection (blog). May 4, 2012. Accessed October 15, 2020.

[4] Stulik, Dusan, and Art Kaplan. The atlas of analytical signatures of photographic processes. Los Angeles, CA: The Getty Conservation Institute, 2013.

Built For A Purpose

Jacob Glover, PhD, Director of Public Programs and Education

“…Shrieks and yells followed in alternate succession, till by their violence, and the incessant fury of their dancing, the worshippers were exhausted.”

– “The Shakers,” Richmond Inquirer, May 27, 1825

When we last left off our story of the Meeting House, we had brought the narrative up through construction. Today we are turning our focus from the physical structure of the building to how the Shakers and others have utilized the space over time.

As with all Shaker architecture, the Meeting House was built for a purpose. In this case, the iconic, open first floor was built to allow the Shakers to worship as a community in their distinctive frenzied, physical manner. Like many observers, the author of the quote that opens this post was impressed, appalled, and amazed all at once when witnessing the fury of Shaker worship. Anyone who has stood in the interior of the first floor and listened to a Shaker music program or joined with others to sing in the space should have an easy appreciation for the noise and reverberations that several hundred Shakers could generate!

For nearly the first 80 years of its existence, the Pleasant Hill Meeting House remained in Shaker hands. Although Shaker worship was often open to the public, that wasn’t always the case and at times the Shakers chose to close their sacred experiences to outsiders.

While the notoriety and fame of Shaker worship has spread far and wide, the truth is that the intensity of movement and dance during meetings waned over the course of the 19thcentury as the population aged and Shaker practices evolved. In fact, by the late 1800s the Pleasant Hill Shakers had largely stopped dancing at all during worship. Often, the families even chose to worship on Sundays in their own dwellings.

The Shakers marched into the Meeting House to begin worship on Sundays. In this photo from the later years of Pleasant Hill, note the metal roof. Restoration in the 1960’s brought back the shake shingle style from the 1800’s.

Despite these changes, the Meeting House remained the physical and spiritual center of the Shaker community until the dawn of the 20thcentury. In order to cover mounting debts and some bad investments Pleasant Hill sold the Meeting House, along with several other buildings and a sizeable portion of land, in the late 1890s. While the building sat vacant for most of the next decade, occasionally local youth utilized the space as a dance hall. The “Shakertown Hop” was supposedly all the rage!

Throughout the early decades of the 20thcentury the Meeting House again sat vacant or was used as storage, and at some point physical alterations were made to the exterior of the building in order to use it as a garage.

This 20th century photo reveals some major changes to the Meeting House after the time of the Shakers. While a metal roof remains, an additional opening between the two Shaker doors had been added.

In November 1948 the Meeting House returned to more familiar roots as a large revival was held in the building with permission from the owner. By 1952, Shakertown Baptist Church had been officially organized and until the mid-1960s the Shaker Meeting House served as a Baptist church.

Of course, most visitors to this blog will know the major outline of the story from this point. Beginning in the 1960s, the non-profit institution Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill started purchasing land and buildings at Pleasant Hill in order to restore the village to its mid-19thcentury appearance. After its purchase and the relocation of Shakertown Baptist Church to a new building nearby, the Meeting House has been one of the most important historical and interpretive elements in sharing the legacy of the Pleasant Hill Shakers.

Today, the Meeting House is used in many ways! In addition to daily programs and a number of special events throughout the year that highlight the unique architecture and intricacies of Shaker Worship, the Meeting House also hosts private events, dinners and more. 

Modern events such as the Community Sing help us continue the Shaker legacy of music and dance in the meeting house.

Thanks to recent preservation efforts, we’re hopeful that the first 200 years for the Meeting House is only the beginning – and what a first 200 it has been!

“Could Scarcely Find / A Theme More Puzzling…”

Laura Webb, Program Specialist

Hi again! The NEH digitization project is chugging right along. Last week, I finished editing object entries in PastPerfect, and finished doing the same for archival files earlier this week (starting now on photograph files).

Working with archival entries was quite a change of pace from three-dimensional objects. The types of information we record and collect, and the quantity of information available, differ greatly than that for objects – with our archives, contextual information comes in feast or famine. While some documents have a wealth of detailed markers indicating who created it, when, and why, others are much more mysterious. Today, we’ll investigate two “mystery” documents together!

These items, archival IDs #00040 and #00539, were first entered into our digital catalog in 1999 and 2014, respectively. Each is on the same letterhead with the same handwriting, and each has a photograph pasted to the top with a poem hand-written below.

Scrapbook poem page with photo; archival ID #00040. Transcript of poem below.

Zephyrs softly blew, and sweetly
On the grand Kentucky River;
But the girls, dressed out so neatly
On High Bridge, began to shiver.

If a train should come and catch them,
Or the Bridge break to the River,
Who would rescue, who could patch them?
Who could mend a ruptured liver?

Don’t forget, girls, there’s a shaker:
And the boatmen on the River
Would bring Doctor Pennebaker
Who would fix your broken sliver

Scrapbook poem page with photo; archival ID #00539. Transcript of poem below.

Presuming on maternal Belgian blood
This rascal thinks himself a super-mule:
Assumes the airs of royal old Rosebud,
Just like a cadet of the Derby school.

As sanctimonious-looking as a saint;
His tawny, dark brown coat of rusty brown
Would tax a clever artist hard to paint
This young aristocrat of Shakertown.

With high-bred stock he tries to fraternize,
Whose pedigree entitles them to race;
But when he finds contempt gleams in their eyes
He turns his back and kicks them in the face.

The old psychologist could scarcely find
A theme more puzzling than this Shaker mule
Sham innocence and trickery combined
Make city folks remark: “That colt’s no fool.”

The first photo depicts a train tracks-level view of High Bridge, with barely-visible figures in the background that appear to be two girls or women with a man, possibly Dr. Pennebaker. The second photo depicts a mule (of course!) at center, the hindquarters of a horse to the right, and at least one stone fence in the background.

The documents have been folded in sixths, around the photos, which have been pasted to the pages. To the reverse of the documents, directly behind the photos, there is evidence that they were once attached to black paper – perhaps an album or scrapbook – and probably would have “folded out” to read the poems.

These documents are currently “mysteries” because they are unsigned and undated, and did not have explanatory information filed with them. However, let’s do a little detective work!

The stationery they are written on names a “Dr. Wallace,” and has a pre-printed date that can be filled in appropriately of “191_.” We have one other document in our collection on this same letterhead: this document is from Dr. Robert Wallace, addressed to Dr. William Pennebaker (mentioned in previous blog entries: 1, 2, 3, 4), concerning a diet for health. This letter is dated 1918. The yellowing of both this letter and the two poems is very similar; however, the handwriting and ink type differs between them. Perhaps someone Dr. Wallace knew (a child, spouse?) borrowed some of his stationery for this creative project! With the pre-printed date, we can date both poems to 1910 at the earliest. One poem mentions Dr. Pennebaker in the present tense, so it was probably written before his death in 1922. The format of the photos pasted to the paper (thin, glossy, and not mounted to a large card) is a clue that they were probably taken closer to the end of the 1910s than the beginning – they may well have been written in, or very close to, 1918 as well. The ink strokes in the lettering look like they have been made with a dip or fountain pen.

What can you determine from these objects? Which poem is your favorite? What “mystery” documents do you have in your family (and will you label ones you leave behind)?