“…Prepared Herbs and Roots…”

Rebekah Roberts, Program Specialist

“A large business is done… in pressed and prepared herbs and roots, besides many tons in bulk…and many tons of extracts, both solids and fluids. The War makes great demand for all the articles. They sell in large quantities. We cannot prepare enough to meet the demand.” – Harvey L. Eads, South Union Shaker Village

Although perhaps not widely known, the Shakers were among the first group of Americans to begin selling herbs for medicinal purposes in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Shaker communities from the east coast to Kentucky produced a wide variety of medicinal products that went out in the world including medicines, salves, extracts and pressed herbs born from their “physic” gardens. Most Shakers followed the Thomsonian perspective regarding herbal medicines: they believed herbs could cure all ailments. Luckily for their economic fortunes, many Americans at the time believed the same!

At Pleasant Hill, the community produced several hundreds of pounds of herbs each year, and began to expand their garden plots to accommodate their growing industry in the 1840s. “Today we ploughed up a piece of meadow on the west side of the south shed for the purpose of removing the medical garden to that place. Same day ploughed up a piece of meadow, on the west side of the south street, twice as large, as we need more space. Medical garden by John Shain, length 28 feet by 11 feet.”

By the time of the Civil War, as the quote from Harvey Eads above indicates, the herbal industry was extremely important to the two Shaker communities in Kentucky (Pleasant Hill and South Union) and a booming business was to be had. Such success was widespread and shared by the Shaker communities along the east coast as well due in large part to the popularity of one particularly famous herbal remedy: Mother Seigel’s Syrup, also known as Shaker Extract of Roots. In fact, this remedy was probably the most widely distributed herbal medicine in the world during the last quarter of the nineteenth century!

Mother Seigel’s Curative Syrup was a very popular remedy in the late 1800s.

Alongside their success in tying agricultural pursuits to the demands of the market, the Shakers also used herbs within their communities. At Pleasant Hill, Shaker Sisters and children would often take to the woods, seeking out medicinal plants that could be foraged, considering wild plants to be gifts from God. What sort of native medicinal plants did the Pleasant Hill Shakers forage? Their journals reference many: boneset, lobelia, hoarhound, elder flowers, and wild ginger, among others.

By the late-1870s, declining fortunes at Pleasant Hill led the Shakers to seek a financial panacea in the form of an herbal cure-all remedy that they purchased from a Shaker apostate and her husband. Titling this new substance The Shaker Elixir of Malt, the medicine was never a successful sell. Ultimately, the Pleasant Hill Shakers had to seek out additional sources of revenue to try and recover from the financial losses of the failed venture.

At Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill today, herbs are still a prominent feature in our agricultural pursuits. After preservation work was recently completed on the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling, we replanted our herb garden and divided it into beds that mimic how the Shakers would have organized their own herb beds. What do you think we grow in each bed? Well, some things you are going to have to come to Shaker Village and find out for yourself!

The newly replanted herb garden at Shaker Village, spring 2019.

Join us this winter for the daily program Shaker Herbs: A Winter Tea Tasting to discover more about the Shaker herb industry and enjoy warm herbal tea made from a traditional Shaker blend! Check the daily schedule for program times.

A Kentucky Treasure – Mrs. Milly Ann Stewart

Barry Stumbo, Chief Development Officer

Mrs. Milly Ann Stewart is a remarkable person, who has been a powerful and influential leader for historic preservation in Kentucky for over five decades. Mrs. Stewart was recently selected by the Kentucky Heritage Council for the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Award, Kentucky’s most distinguished celebration of historic preservation excellence.

Mrs. Stewart receives the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Award, with, (from l to r), Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Chair of the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation Steve Collins, State Historic Preservation Officer Craig Potts, and friend and Secretary of the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation Barbara Hulette.

During her acceptance speech at the award ceremony, Mrs. Stewart spoke passionately about many historic sites and projects she has supported over the years, and one of those projects is the Campaign for Shaker Village . Mrs. Stewart later remarked, “The reason I’m so impressed with Shaker Village is because it’s a major entity of our history. It was so important to the early settlers and the Shakers were so innovative, and their agricultural practices were ahead of their time.”

She added, “Their craftsmanship and furniture were outstanding and their work benefited the entire community. The whole village was remarkable for its time and expresses the way of life they lived which was so different from the fast-pace world today.”

Mrs. Stewart served on the Kentucky Heritage Council under Governor Julian Carroll and Governor John Y. Brown from 1975-83. During Governor Carroll’s administration she chaired the Mansion Restoration Committee, and in that role she raised the money necessary to refurbish the Governor’s Mansion at a time when the legislature chose not to fund the project. She went on to raise money for the restoration of Kentucky’s Old State Capitol as well as the state’s History Center and the Barstow House, next door. In Lexington she was a major supporter of Henry Clay Estate, Ashland, and the John Hunt Morgan House and Frankfort’s Liberty Hall. There are so many other preservation projects she has touched throughout the years that space doesn’t allow us to name them all!

Mrs. Milly Ann Stewart and her husband, Dr. John P. Stewart II.

Barbara Hulette, Mrs. Stewart’s longtime friend and fellow preservationist said, “Milly has made such a tremendous impact on historic preservation in Kentucky, and she does it quietly with style and grace. She doesn’t seek recognition for her accomplishments. She does it because she wants to preserve Kentucky’s rich heritage for generations to come.”

Mrs. Stewart was also responsible for getting the entire Stewart Home & School (formerly the historic Kentucky Military Institute) on the National Register of Historic Places. A fore runner of its time as a community and school for individuals with intellectual disabilities, the Stewart Home & School of Frankfort was established in 1893 by John Q. A. Stewart, M.D. and has been continuously operated by the Stewart family for over 125 years. For 58 years the late John P. Stewart II, M. D. led the school along with other members of the family, and dedicated son-in-law Barry Banker. The fifth generation of the Stewart family are very involved today with Mrs. Stewart’s son, John D. Stewart II, M. D., stepping into his father’s shoes and working alongside Barry Banker.

The Stewart family.

Mrs. Stewart has four children John, Jean Ann, Charles and Cathy. Cathy is a former Board of Trustee at Shaker Village. She also has seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Stewart recently said “Preserving this national treasure is so important for future generations. That’s why I feel so strongly about Shaker Village!”

Shaker Village and so many other organizations are grateful for what she has accomplished. She is truly a Kentucky treasure!

“…to be remembered as a chair…”

Jacob Glover, PhD., Program Manager

“…I almost expect to be remembered as a chair, or a table…”
Shaker Sister Mildred Barker, Sabbathday Lake, Maine

Who are the Shakers? What was Pleasant Hill?

These two questions cut directly to the core of the educational mission of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. Deceptively simple upon first glance, they open the door to one of the most fascinating stories to emerge from the social, cultural and religious milieu of early 19th century America.

To put the matter simply, the Shakers were a dissenting religious group in 19th century England who migrated to America in 1774. With a devotion to physical, experiential worship and a strict adherence to celibacy, more than a few contemporary observers offered admonishment and predicted the group’s demise over the years. All such predictions, it should be noted, have thus far been wrong—as of this publication, the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, is still active!

For over 100 years, Shakers lived in union in Mercer County, Kentucky. In that time, over 2,000 individuals were part of this communal, utopian society.

Founded in 1806, Pleasant Hill was one of roughly two dozen intentional communities the Shakers established in the United States throughout the early 1800s. At Pleasant Hill, all covenant members chose to adopt the practice of celibacy, embrace gender and racial equality, live communally, and follow the leadership of community Ministers, Elders, and Eldresses as they advanced in their particular faith.

Reaching a height of nearly 500 members by the early 1820s, the community built impressive structures, established trade networks, and prospered economically due to the success of their agricultural operations. Although they declined in the later decades of the 19th century, Pleasant Hill Shakers lived in Mercer County, Kentucky until 1923.

Throughout the 20th century, however, the historical, religious and cultural aspects of Shakerism came to be overshadowed in broader American culture by the rise of the “Shaker” aesthetic—a focus on the simple, elegant designs of Shaker furniture and architecture. It was in the height of this frenzy that Sister Mildred Barker uttered the famous line in the 1980s that she would probably be remembered as nothing more than a piece of furniture.

Although the Shaker “moment” may not be as intense now as it was then, it is undeniable that the general perception of the Shakers and Pleasant Hill has been predominantly shaped by the Shaker aesthetic and an intense focus on craftsmanship and design.

Simple and efficient, yet elegant, the Shaker aesthetic became so popular during the 20th century that a narrow focus on furniture and architecture could, at times, obscure the astonishing stories of the community of Pleasant Hill and those who called it home.

While the attention to all things Shaker is welcome, the myopic focus on the Shaker aesthetic obscures the complex, varied, and ultimately triumphant human story at the heart of the Shaker legacy that is so incredibly relevant to our modern world.

So, again, we come to those two burning questions: Who are the Shakers? What was Pleasant Hill? These queries deserve more words than this blog post will permit, but it should be enough to note that any true answer would take us into the themes of family, devotion, religion, diversity, equality, creativity, and more—ideas to which everyone of us can relate.

I should be clear: the Shakers did not always live up to the ideals they strove to attain. At Pleasant Hill the community paid for enslaved labor, individual Shakers quarreled with one another, some stole meat from smokehouses, while one even left the community to become an armed bandit after the Civil War!

The last Shaker at Pleasant Hill, Sister Mary Settles, stands alone in a field. Mary’s life as an educator, community leader and proponent of women’s rights hints at the complex personal stories of individual Shakers that extended well beyond the society’s material culture.

So how do we remember the Shakers? What aspects of their lives, choices, and characters are most worthy of emulation? What can we as individuals and communities learn from the quest for perfect union and harmony? What is there for us to discover in their failures? Ultimately, these questions must be answered by everyone in their own time. It would be a shame, however, if all we remembered was a chair.

To take an in-depth look at Shaker history at Pleasant Hill, join us for an Historic Village Tour, running daily throughout the year. Check the Event Schedule for tour times!

The Campaign for Shaker Village

Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator

Celebrating Success: Phase 1 of The Campaign for Shaker Village

In late 2014, the Board of Trustees launched an ambitious $25 million campaign to raise much needed funds for preservation, education and conservation for our unique cultural treasure, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. To date, the Village has raised $13.8 million and completed over $6.1 million preservation projects, including the iconic 1824-34 Centre Family Dwelling, the 1820 Meeting House and the new Welcome Center in the 1815 Carpenters’ Shop! Funding for these projects was provided in part by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., the James Graham Brown Foundation and by many private individuals.

As an additional part of The Campaign for Shaker Village, a new donor-restricted endowment has been established, based on a generous challenge grant from an anonymous donor. This $2 million grant was matched by $4 million in contributions raised by the Board of Trustees prior to December 31, 2017. This ambitious effort has resulted in over $6.2 million, substantially increasing Shaker Village’s total endowment and providing greater long-term financial security for Shaker Village.

Continuing Our Investment: Phase 2 of The Campaign for Shaker Village

Projects in progress or completed in 2019 include the 1833 Water House, the 1860 Bath House, the 1821 Ministry’s Workshop and the 1811 Old Stone Shop. It’s exciting to see preservation at work around the Village and know that with each new rooftop installed and window preserved, we are ensuring the site’s future for many generations to come!

The 1817 East Family Dwelling.

In October of this year, we secured a multi-year gift of $750,000 from an anonymous donor toward the preservation of the 1817 East Family Dwelling. If you’ve visited recently, you may have noticed that preservation work has begun as we work to restore the windows in this building. A new rooftop, masonry work and more will be completed over the next few years without interrupting the function of the building. We have $250,000 remaining to raise to complete the fundraising for this project.

There is still much work to do!

We are pursuing several additional major gift opportunities for programming needs, a site-wide master plan, specific restoration projects and the endowment. Please join us in making a tax-deductible gift to support Shaker Village and its mission to inspire generations through discovery by sharing the legacy of the Kentucky Shakers!

You can make a donation right now or contact the Development Office at 859.735.1545 to find out more.

“‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free…”

Jacob Glover, PhD., Program Manager

By all accounts, most readers of this blog, and probably anyone who has heard any examples of Shaker Music, will recognize the lyrics quoted above. Many of you all probably even hummed the tune along as you read these memorable words. Written in 1848, Simple Gifts is undoubtedly the most recognized song attributed to the Shakers.

Popularized by Aaron Copland’s 1944 composition Appalachian Spring, the melody entered the canon of American popular culture. Subsequently, English songwriter Sydney Carter used the same melody with his own, original lyrics to write the hymn “Lord of the Dance” in 1963—a tune that American congregations have sung in worship ever since! From there it gets complicated, but to put it simply, popular musicians, car companies, the American Olympic Committee and many other groups have utilized the melody in one version or another for their own purposes.

Due in large part to its popularity, Simple Gifts has come to be synonymous with Shaker music as a whole. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

As a group, the Shakers have written over 20,000 songs since their founding in 18th century England. At Pleasant Hill, songwriters and singers proliferated and produced a stunning collection of American music that still resonates to this day. Many of these songs, in fact, were notated in beautiful hymnals that we currently have in our archival collections!

Instead of traditional music notation, the Shakers used ‘letteral’ notation, so that all members of their communities could participate and sing along. –“A Hymn Book, Containing a Collection of Ancient Hymns…Compil’d and Recorded by Paulina Bryant,” Item 361, Library of Congress Shaker Collection

It’s not just the sheer volume of Shaker music that’s impressive. The Shakers also wrote many different types of songs (hymns, anthems, marches, celebratory songs, and more) over the years, and different eras of Shaker history often led to remarkably different creations. Within the Shaker societies, active participation in worship through both singing and dancing was vital to community life. More than just a social and creative outlet for the Shakers, music also served devotional and instructional purposes while providing structure to the very rhythms of their daily life.

Shaker music can also shed fascinating insight into the lives of individual songwriters. The Pleasant Hill community, in fact, was widely regarded by other Shaker settlements as possessing quite a number of members with exceptional musical talent.

Patsy Williamson was one such individual. Born an enslaved person in North Carolina, Patsy was brought to Pleasant Hill in 1812 by her enslaver and family. Within a year, the Shaker community had purchased her legal freedom and Patsy quickly became an integral member of the growing sect. Patsy would spend the rest of her life as a good and faithful Shaker—and prolific songwriter—in Mercer County.

One of Patsy’s most exceptional creations, Pretty Mother’s Home, speaks to some of the core tenets of Shaker theology and her belief that one day she would have a “pretty home” in Heaven. These ideas—and the fact that they were shared through music—would have been eminently familiar and relatable to Shakers living in disparate communities across America at this time.

The 1820 Meeting House at Pleasant Hill was built to allow the Shakers to worship in their unique style. During services, the Shakers used no musical instruments. They regarded human voices as the ideal instruments for worship.

To hear Patsy’s song (and many others!) that together comprise a buried treasure of American music, come out to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill and take part in our daily Shaker Music program that runs in the 1820 Meeting House at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm daily throughout the year.

I promise, there’s more to Shaker music than simple gifts, no matter how free they may be!