Reflections of an Early Board Member

Edith S. Bingham

We were driving through Shakertown. It was in 1964 or ’65, when the state road ran right through the middle, past a filling station, then the Meeting House and the Trustees Office, opposite the Centre Family Dwelling, and on toward the East Family Dwelling. As a lover of architectural history, I was thrilled with the handsome buildings that Barry Bingham, Sr. was showing me so enthusiastically! He and Mary had helped enable the purchase of these buildings, and the historic property.

Edith S. Bingham

How exciting it was to think of this site as a major attraction right there in central Kentucky! For me, learning the history and appreciating Shaker culture, the beauty of simple living and design, led to 30+ years of supporting and enjoying the structures and landscapes.

I remember the early decades that required restoration of the historic structures and the farm under the inspired management of Jim Thomas. Visitors enjoyed simple menus and local specialties in the dining rooms of the Trustees’ Office after passing by the elegant double spiral staircase.

“We make you kindly welcome.”

The 1815 Shaker Carpenter’s Shop as a Shell Filling Station c. mid 20th century.

As the ‘90s advanced, a more prosperous economy brought more visitors to the site, eager to enjoy more comforts and varied experiences at Pleasant Hill. Eventually, alcohol could be served to visitors, and menus were updated to keep up with the “culinary” market.

Costumed interpreters outside the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling c. late 1960s.

Now, carefully researched educational exhibits expose all ages to the details of Kentucky Shaker history. Wagon rides add a sense of agricultural connection to the land. Powerful messages of worship, hard work, and simplicity as recipes for beauty and purposeful lives remain for all to enjoy and contemplate.

Modern interpreters guide visitors through a variety of educational programs.

Pleasant Hill’s stunning site and landscapes invite many activities which help support the maintenance of the village as well as increase the number of visitors who can enjoy a rural countryside, take deep breaths of comfort in the shade of the ancient trees or walk down to the landing on the Kentucky River, a travel route for the Native Americans as well as many of the earliest surveyors and settlers in KY.

It has been a remarkable honor and experience to serve on the Board and support the restoration of this fabulous site, perhaps the most complete example of a Shaker community to be restored and still survive today.

Doorways Through Time

How often do you stop to admire a door, when passing from one room to another? If you are like most people, a doorway is simply your connection between spaces. You probably give more thought to where you are going then to the details of the passageway you take to get there.

At Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, we think about doors. A lot. And there are a lot of them to think about! Across the Village we care for hundreds of historic doors (there are over 70 doors in the 1824-1834 Centre Family Dwelling alone!)

For this post, let’s take a closer look at one door in particular. Ironically, it’s probably a door that the Shakers themselves spent little time considering, but to our team it has taken on great value. We call it the “Blue Door.”

Originally located on the second floor of the Centre Family Dwelling, this door provided access to the attic. Utilized by those who might make repairs to the bell tower, or need to get onto the roof, this was not a doorway for daily traffic. In fact, the inside, stairway-facing side of the door was opened very little. This is what makes it so important to us today.

The Pleasant Hill Shakers took the time to paint both sides of this door blue. Given the limited exposure to light, this has allowed one side of the door to maintain the same color, without fading, for nearly 200 years. Today, you can view this door on display in the East Family Brethren’s Shop.

But what of the passageway left open with the “Blue Door’s” absence? This is where our carpentry team comes into the story…


Tyler Brinegar, Carpenter Foreman

We needed to build a door to replace the original “Blue Door” at the Centre Family Dwelling. After sourcing old-growth poplar from the rafters and roof of an offsite, demolished structure, I started removing the nails and old fasteners and deciding which pieces of lumber would be suitable for each part of the door. Being old rafters and sheathing, there were cups and crowns and bows and twists that helped determine where it would be most suitable. The straightest pieces became the left and right stiles, while the rafters with the worst crowns I cut into the middle stiles and rails, because those were only 32” long, or shorter.

My first step in milling the lumber was trimming up one face, then one edge on the jointer, for the rails and stiles. I then went to the planer to take it to the correct thickness of 1 ¼”. I had to change the infeed direction of the lumber a few times to allow for less chipping of the poplar. Grain direction impacts how smooth the cuts will be.

Once at the correct thickness, I ripped the nails and stiles 1/16” wider than needed for each rail and stile so I could go back to the jointer for a perfectly machined edge. The same process was applied to the roof sheathing for the raised panels. I ran the profiles on the rails and stiles before cutting them to length.

I cut the stiles to length then laid out the mortises with a marking gauge, similar to the way a Shaker carpenter would have done. I then cut my four rails to length and marked the tenons.

After cutting the tenons on the table saw, and mortises on a mortise machine, I smoothed up and finely fit the joints with a Stanley 92 rabbet plane and ¼” and ¾” pfeil chisels. I coped the roundover part of the profile by hand with chisels in a similar manner to how it would have been done during the 19th century.

Once the rails and stiles were fit together I verified the sizes and proceeded to the shaper to cut the profile. Where there were small checks I applied a butterfly repair to keep it from splitting apart. With all the parts fitting nicely, I proceeded to apply epoxy to all the joints and clamped the door together. Then I placed 3/8” oak pegs through the mortises and tenons in the same positions as the original “Blue Door.”

With what appeared to be the original hinges, I completed my hinge mortises by hand with a chisel. The new door fit right in place!

It’s hard to fit all the details in a (short) article, and there are many more that could be added. I truly enjoyed every second of retrieving the lumber and building the door. It is a blessing to share my account of this construction, and I hope people will come to admire the work we have done.

See the new “Blue Door” on a Centre Family Dwelling Top to Bottom Tour, every day at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill!

https://shakervillageky.org/events/daily-adventures-apr-2019/

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 third Meeting House the Pleasant Hill Shakers built here. 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 the second floor up. 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!

What’s that Noise?

NOTICE: PRESERVATION@WORK Geothermal drilling will commence no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and will cease no later than 6 p.m. each day Oct. 2-6. Noise and vibration are to be expected.

Work on the Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House has begun! And with that comes chainlink fences, construction equipment and loud noises. Sounds lovely, right? Actually, it really is! It’s the sound of preservation@work—work that will extend the lives of these two buildings, work that will prepare them for new interpretive experiences, work that would make the Shakers proud. So, while your Shaker Village experience will be different for the next year, we ask that you embrace this project and use it as a learning opportunity. During the next 12 months, our daily adventures schedule will feature special tours and activities highlighting the work being done on both buildings. We want you to be a part of this village@work project. Come see what’s happening! Ask questions, take a tour or read more here.

First up on the to-do list is drilling wells for the geothermal heating and cooling system.

Q: What are geothermal wells?
A: Geothermal wells are wells that tap into the natural energy found beneath the Earth. These wells will be attached to water source heat pumps inside the buildings, which maintain stable indoor temperatures.

Q: How does a geothermal system work?
A: The surface of the Earth can get quite cold or hot at times. The area beneath the Earth’s crust has a relatively stable temperature and geothermal energy utilizes this heat to provide heating or cooling for structures.

Q: How many wells are we drilling?
A: 36 total—24 for the Centre Family Dwelling and 12 for the Meeting House.

Q: How deep are the wells?
A: 380-400 feet!

Q: How are the wells connected to the building?
A: Each well has “unicoil” of pipe inside the well, a “supply” and “return in the shape of a U.” Each well is inter-connected into a pipe system, known as the “loop.” The main supply and return pipes are connected to pumps inside the building. This is known as a “closed loop” system. The system is sealed so no fluid is exchanged with the environment.

Q: What’s in the pipes?
A: The pipes are filled with glycol, a fluid similar to antifreeze in your car. The fluid doesn’t freeze and can transfer heat better than ordinary water.

Q: So how does it all work?
A: In winter, the system collects the Earth’s natural heat through the loop. The fluid circulates through the loop and carries the heat to the building. There, an electrically-driven compressor and a heat exchanger concentrate the heat and release it inside the building at a higher temperature. Ductwork distributes the heat to different rooms. In summer, the process is reversed. The loop draws excess heat from the building and allows it to be absorbed by the Earth.

Q: Isn’t it expensive?
A: The short answer is yes. Creating the infrastructure of wells and piping is a cost we have chosen to incur. We also have to create duct work and piping on the building interiors to distribute the heat or air conditioning. Our design team worked tirelessly to do this in ways that are sympathetic to the buildings so the systems are mostly hidden. When we are finished, you will have to look really hard to see where we added them.

Q: Why did Shaker Village choose geothermal?
A: Part of Shaker Village’s mission is to be good stewards of our resources. Geothermal helps us do this in two ways. First, geothermal heat pump systems are more than three times as efficient as the most economical furnace. Instead of burning a combustible fuel to create heat, a ground-source system uses the earth’s energy as heat. Geothermal systems provide three to four units of energy for every one unit used to power the system’s compressor, fan and water pump. The U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency identify geothermal as having the lowest environmental impact of all heating systems. Secondly, geothermal systems are able to reach very high efficiencies. For example, geothermal heat pump can be up to 600 percent efficient on the coldest days of the year—a normal air source heat pump will only be 175-200 percent efficient on cool days—meaning the geothermal system is using far less electricity than a comparable heat pump, furnace or air conditioner. Thus, this installation will help us save financial resources in the long run on our purchase of electricity.

This project has been in the works for decades. The systems installed during the 1960s in the Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House  should’ve lasted 25-30 years, but we extended the life of those systems 50 years. Now, it’s time to dedicate the time and resources necessary to prolong the lives of these buildings for the next generation. When we are finished, guests will have a better experience inside the buildings during hot or cold days—regulating the temperature and humidity inside the building help us preserve the buildings and allow us to display furniture and textiles that are too fragile for non-climate controlled spaces. Some big long-term wins for a few weeks of noise and dust.

Preservation work is never completed—ongoing repair, maintenance and upkeep is critical for the sustainability of this site. Thanks to your donations and site revenue, projects like this are possible.


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

This Place Matters

May is Preservation Month, and we are ready to celebrate! Everyone has places that are important to them. Places they care about. Places that matter. This Place Matters is a national campaign that encourages people to celebrate the places that are meaningful to them and to their communities. — savingplaces.org



Have you ever wondered what future generations will know about you? Every now and then that thought wanders through my mind. Every generation leaves a legacy—a story of the people who struggled together, found amazing solutions to the perplexing problems of their day and blazed a trail as a foundation for the next generation that was soon to follow.

Too many times our culture seeks to find new answers to old problems. Knowing our forebears, understanding their struggles and embracing their successes help us to move forward. It is true that those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

This place, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, is replete with the stories of a society dedicated to a common purpose. The lessons that they learned here—the legacy that they left us—teach us how to live together with kindness and respect and to honor the land and the bounty it provides. Their story shouts out from the buildings they created, is captured in the gentle landscape that they loved and oozes from the written record that they left behind.

This place matters because it touches our hearts, encouraging us to be better citizens of this earth—to be people who inspire greatness in others and to be gentle and kind to those who struggle. Each generation leaves something behind. What will you leave behind? This place gives us direction, it inspires us to reach new heights and it gives us comfort to know that together we can build a legacy just as enduring as the one they left us. This place matters. Maynard Crossland


It’s a gathering of guests, co-workers and friends alike. It’s a place where new families are formed, meals are shared and history is made daily. Co-workers gather in the morning to make sure all guests are treated with great hospitality and knowledge of the Shakers who once lived here. It’s a beautiful place where beautiful weddings are performed and families come together. This unique little village is a place I not only call my workplace, but also where my life adventures happen. Wally Bottoms


Shaker Village matters because what the Shakers created should be preserved. Whitney Franklin



It’s more important, and maybe more difficult than ever, for all of us to remember that we’re part of the same village. We’re all in this together. Shaker Village allows us to take a moment to consider how strong we can be when we work as one team—and in balance with the natural world around us. This place inspires us through the example of the Shakers to be our best, together. Billy Rankin


The lives of human beings have changed so much over the last few hundred years that the lifestyles of the Shakers can seem completely irrelevant to our own at first glance. Our connections to our homes—and our land—can easily be overlooked or ignored in today’s high-tech world, but ultimately, our dependence on our physical space is no less real today than it was then. Shaker Village is unique in its ability to connect past and present, to allow the mind to wander freely between the two and with any luck, arrive finally in a future we’d all like to live in. This place matters. Dylan Kennedy


This place matters because the Pleasant Hill Shakers, while gone for nearly a century, are still a relevant group of people today.

This was a place where they looked for solutions to big ideas. The Shakers were here with the question of spiritual perfection in mind. What bigger idea is there than that?! Today, it is a place where both individuals and groups come for inspiration, perhaps from a spiritual standpoint, but often for other reasons. It’s not a stretch to think that big ideas are being tackled here all the time.

It was a home for people who needed a home. The cross-section of different people who came here is striking, and under normal circumstances, I don’t believe that many of these people would have ever crossed tracks. There were single mothers, aristocrats, freed slaves and former soldiers, among many, many others who found their way here. And in many cases, they stayed the rest of their lives. And for those who did leave, they often kept up with those they left behind, often writing letters and visiting periodically. They were family. This was home.

It was a place where they were able to emphasize common humanity of people with whom they strongly disagreed. During the Civil War, large numbers of Union and Confederate soldiers passed through the village. The Shakers were committed to racial equality as an ideal, which would have put them at direct odds with many of the Confederate soldiers who passed through. They were also pacifists, seeing war as an action directly in conflict with Christian identity, and this would have put them directly at odds with any soldier who passed through. Yet, they often experienced soldiers who were starving, injured, ragged and barefoot, and immediately moved to address these needs despite what they might have thought of the ideologies embodied in the uniforms. I think the Shakers teach us that it’s possible to treat those with whom you strongly disagree with a degree of respect and common humanity, and this is one of the more needed lessons in our country today. Aaron Genton



Shaker Village matters to me, because it represents “family.” This is a place that has hosted my family for reunions, day trips,  Mother’s Days, escapes from city life, an experience to share with visiting family and friends, and so much more. Three generations of my family have enjoyed this village and all it has to offer. Now I am enjoying being able to introduce Shaker Village to a fourth generation of my family, by bringing my nieces and nephew out here to explore and meet my work family. Amanda Beverly


Shaker Village matters because it can restore your soul. Brenda Roseman


This place matters because it’s preserving and providing access to the history of a passionate, intelligent, evolving community of people, who woke up, got dressed, went to work, did laundry, mowed the yard, repaired fences, traveled, learned, laughed, cried, grieved, celebrated, made decisions, overcame obstacles and grew as individuals…just like us today. Emálee Krulish



Why does Shaker Village matter to you?