Sharing the Archives, One Bite at a Time

Laura Webb, Program Specialist

“I visited here in 1993 and remember seeing an interesting clothes press. Where is that now, and can I see it again?”

“These journal excerpts are fascinating! Can we read the whole thing?”

“Do you have any other examples of Pleasant Hill oval boxes I could look at?”

“Can anyone go poke around in your archives, or only researchers?”

“Where’d all the stuff go that used to be in this building?”

Shaker artifacts are housed in protected storage.

As historical interpreters working with the public, my colleagues and I often receive questions about our artifact collections. You may already know that we’ve had to shuffle many of our artifacts due to recent preservation work, including in the Centre Family Dwelling. What you may not know is that our artifacts on display are just the tip of the iceberg of what we have in our collections!

So, why don’t we have all of this great Shaker “stuff” out for everyone to see all of the time? It’s not because we don’t love our visitors (we do) or want you to see them (we do). First, space is always at a premium, and a room packed with furniture doesn’t make the best exhibit. Second, and more importantly, many of our artifacts are fragile — for their conservation, we need to limit how often they are handled, exposed to sunlight and taken out of controlled storage.

Large items like furniture are carefully organized and archived.

“How can I see the artifacts if they aren’t on display?” I’m glad you asked! With grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the help of the internet, the team here at Pleasant Hill are developing a means of digital access to our collections. Anyone with an internet connection can search or browse our documents, artifacts and photographs, regardless of who or where they are. This eliminates the risk of damaging any of the objects. Sounds like a win-win, right?

In order for all of the information to be documented someone (…me) has to:

  • Sift through existing digital records with an editorial eye checking for consistency, accuracy and potential missing information.
  • Find, or create, and enter in missing information such as images or dimensions.
  • Start chipping away at creating records for items that have never been digitized.

With approximately 4,700 object records in our database alone, it’s an elephant-sized task! You know what they say about how to eat an elephant – one bite at a time.

From now until the end of the year, this blog series will go behind the scenes of this project, and tell the stories of some of the objects you’ll see in our database. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you along the way!

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.

“…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!

Water House Preservation…Part 2!

William Updike, Vice President of Natural and Cultural Resources

Many of you may recall we began working to preserve the 1833 Water House, just east of the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling, last summer with a major structural repair to the front of the building. Read more on that here! I am excited to tell you that within the next two weeks we will begin to start work on the second phase of this project to preserve one of the most important buildings at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill!

The south facade of the 1833 Water House was repaired in the summer of 2018.

The Water House contained the water tank the Pleasant Hill Shaker’s used to provide water to the village. Water was pumped uphill, from a spring, to the storage tank where it was distributed throughout the village in a piping system similar to how many of us get water to our homes today! This was one of the first waterworks west of the Allegheny Mountains, and one of the earliest in the nation.

Our work will involve making repairs to, and replacing as necessary, the roof rafters to remove the noticeable sag in the roof. Once that is complete we will make any other necessary structural repairs, and replace approximately ¾ of the siding. Much like a roof, siding is a sacrificial surface, and eventually reaches the end of it serviceable life.

We have already built new window frames and sashes for the upper gable windows, and have those ready to install. We also built a new front door. Most of the windows and the door of this structure were built during prior restorations, and our new versions are made of more resilient wood to provide many years of service in years to come. Once we complete all of the carpentry, we will install a new roof and paint the building! We look forward to reopening the building for guests to enjoy later this fall!

This project was made possible by generous donations from individuals who love Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, and help us care for this important site. If you would like to join us in this effort, please click here to donate!

Lessons from the Past, Visions for the Future

Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator

As we have shared in previous posts, Shaker Village recently completed a large-scale preservation project in the “spiritual center” of the Village, focusing on the 1820 Meeting House and the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling. While the historic buildings of Pleasant Hill make an immediate impact on visitors, the artifacts, images, documents and interpretative materials that can be placed inside the buildings really bring the Village and the Shaker story to life.

Guests participate in an experiential Shaker music program in the 1820 Meeting House.

A great example of how preservation efforts and interpretive programming go hand-in-hand to share the legacy of the Shakers is the Music Program that occurs twice daily in the 1820 Meeting House. The Meeting House was used by the Shakers as a place for the entire community to gather for Sunday worship. Music and dance were integral parts of their worship activities, and the Meeting House was specifically designed with this in mind. Just as the Shakers once sang and moved through this space, our music interpreters do so today. These programs not only tell the spiritual story of the Shakers, they illustrate the stunning engineering of the building in a way that leaves every visitor awestruck.

It is our goal to provide a guest experience across the historic site that inspires our guests through stories, activities and exhibits that connect to Shaker heritage and American history. With 3,000 acres and 34 historic structures, providing a cohesive and comprehensive guest experience takes a lot of thought and care to develop. Over the past few years, we have taken multiple steps to conduct and prepare a long-range interpretative plan for permanent and temporary exhibits, as well as outdoor interpretative signage and interactives. This program planning process was underway and ran parallel to the preservation of the Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House, another example of how preservation and programming work together at Shaker Village.

The 1824-34 Centre Family Dwelling, during preservation in 2017.

The preservation of the “spiritual center” of Pleasant Hill was funded by a generous gift from the Lilly Endowment and through a Community Development Block Grant from the State of Kentucky. Shaker Village relies on charitable giving for the implementation of most large-scale preservation projects that take place on the property. The same is true for many programming projects, such as the site-wide interpretative plan and corresponding exhibits.

The 1815 Carpenter’s Shop, as the new Welcome Center, is the first stop for guests visiting Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

One of the first steps in this interpretive plan was to consolidate daily admissions, overnight check-in, a craft shop and additional historic interpretation into one, easy to use Welcome Center for village guests. Through a generous gift from the James Graham Brown Foundation, the 1815 Carpenter’s Shop underwent exterior preservation work and an interior remodel to become the “jumping off point” for guests to discover the legacy of the Kentucky Shakers at Pleasant Hill.

Plans for exhibits in the Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House include the display of over 450 Shaker artifacts.

Over the last two years, Shaker Village has also received funding for the creation of the interpretative plan through private donations from generous individuals. The resulting plan, titled The Enduring Legacy of Shakers in America, is a comprehensive exhibition staged with sub-themes and topics that can be implemented across the site as buildings and spaces are readied, and funding is available.

A key theme of the exhibit plan is to introduce the stories and personalities of individuals who lived as Shakers at Pleasant Hill.

At this time Shaker Village is raising money for the implementation of the permanent exhibits that will go in the 1820 Meeting House and the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling. These exhibitions are vital to our mission because they will provide both guided and self-guided visitors a new, and at times unexpected, interpretation of the Shakers and their community at Pleasant Hill. They will also engage our visitors in examining political climates, cultural shifts and economic trends through the 19th and early 20th Century, and deriving lessons from this history that are relevant and impactful to modern audiences.

Exhibit designs have been geared to have many sensory and tactile elements to create engaging experiences within each space.

You can help make these exhibits possible with a tax-deductible donation of any size to the Exhibits Fund. By making a gift as a new donor or by increasing your renewal gift, you can double your impact this fall. Your donation will be matched dollar for dollar by the Shaker Village Board of Trustees!

As a guest of Shaker Village, you support this nonprofit organization and its mission every time you shop, dine, stay, explore or donate. We rely on, and appreciate, your generosity. It really does take a village to preserve and share the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers!

For more information on our programs, services and other philanthropic opportunities, please call the Development Office at 859.734.1545.