In Remembrance

Pleasant Hill bears witness to the Civil War

Jacob Glover, PhD, Program Manager

“Such a day as this has never been witnessed on Pleasant Hill before and God grant that it never may again.”

Written by the East Family Deaconness on October 11, 1862, this single line of text reveals much about the Shakers’ complicated relationship with the Civil War, and the events at Pleasant Hill during the campaigns that led to the Battle of Perryville.

Battle of Perryville, as depicted by Harper’s Weekly.

As a pacifist sect, the Pleasant Hill Shakers were extremely distressed by the reports of skirmishes and battles that continued to filter into their community throughout 1861 and 1862, as the Civil War intensified. By October 1862, then, the Shakers would have been well-accustomed to reading about the horrors of war. Seeing it in their front yard, however, was something entirely different:

“Strange events! Whoever would have thought that this secluded and sacred spot of truly Pleasant Hill, would ever have been surrounded by the embattled legions within hearing distance in almost every direction….How awful to think of a wicked and bloody battle occurring in the midst of Zion on earth!”

This “invasion” of the Shaker utopia, by both the Union and Confederate armies for several weeks in the fall of 1862, quite obviously, struck at the community’s religious foundations and caused a great deal of consternation among the population. The scenes described by the East Family Deaconness bordered on the apocalyptic, and, at times, the Shakers wrote as if the soldiers who “surrounded our wells like the locusts of Egypt” and “thronged our kitchen doors and windows begging for bread like hungry wolves” would overwhelm them.

The Company Muster Roll of Confederate Soldier William Outlaw, who was ill and treated by the Pleasant Hill Shakers prior to the Battle of Perryville. Outlaw never recovered, and was buried in the Shaker graveyard.
Courtesy of Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site.

And yet, despite their absolute rejection of the validity of warfare, the Shakers could not turn a blind eye to the very real human suffering present at Pleasant Hill. “We nearly emptied our kitchens of their contents,” the Shakers commented, “…and then when our stores were exhausted, we were obliged to drive them from our doors while they were begging for food. Heart rending scene!”

The generosity of the Shakers must have been noteworthy and appreciated by the hungry soldiers, as the Shakers reported that none of their possessions or property had been confiscated by either army.

Both before and after the Battle of Perryville, the Shakers supported ailing and wounded soldiers by treating them at Pleasant Hill and sending medical supplies to nearby Harrodsburg. By early November 1862, there were still 600 to 700 soldiers in the town who were too sick or injured to rejoin their units.

While the Civil War, and the events surrounding the Battle of Perryville, had indeed shaken the community to it’s core, the East Family Deaconness refused to concede defeat in the Shakers’ quest to establish their earthly utopia. That Pleasant Hill “should have escaped with comparatively so little damage, clearly implies…” she concluded, “there is still a spark of light, a remnant of faith, and a seed of truth, [and] ‘I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.’”

Hidden Harvest

J. Michael Moore, Farm Manager

As you drive the countryside and croplands of Kentucky, there’s something new appearing on the landscape – industrial hemp. While for many Kentuckians this may seem like a new development in agriculture, hemp was once an important cash crop for the Commonwealth and has a long history of being grown for its valuable fiber.

1920. Cutting hemp near Wyandotte, KY. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

The Pleasant Hill Shakers built their first hemp mill in 1811, just five years after the community formally organized. The Shakers would have relied on hemp as a resource to support many of their industries, as seen in the hemp twine used to bind their famous Shaker Brooms. The Shakers of Pleasant Hill were famous for their trade, and hemp rope would have been used to strap down cargo on flat-bottom boats that traveled along the river banks of Kentucky River and beyond. Indoors, the Shakers even relied on hemp cord to suspend the mattresses on their beds!

Records show that in 1883 the Pleasant Hill Shakers sold 40,000 lbs. of hemp (for just $2,000!)

1920. Hemp in shocks, in a large Kentucky hemp field, near Wyandotte.
Courtesy of Library of Congress

Hemp has deep roots in the history of our state, and of the Kentucky Shakers. This summer, we have an opportunity to bring that history back to life.

In December 2018, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which included legislation that removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, legalizing the crop nationwide. After nearly 50 years of prohibition, farmers are now free to grow hemp once again.

A few details you should know as we discuss hemp:

  • With less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabidiol), the intoxicating component of marijuana, hemp can’t get you “high,” but it can get you healthy.
  • The hemp seed is considered a “super-food”, packed full of many nutrients and minerals needed by the human body.
  • Hemp fiber can be used to make thousands of sustainable products, from building materials to natural fabrics, that are less toxic and better for the Earth.
  • Hemp flower produces high amounts of cannabinoids, with therapeutic benefits.

This year, hemp will return to Shaker Village for the first time since the 19th century, as part of the Kentucky Hemp Program. We’re excited to feature hemp as part of our “Kentucky Cash Crop Garden” which will highlight crops like Sorghum, Industrial Hemp and Burley Tobacco.

Guests can learn about hemp, and other Kentucky cash crops, during our $5 after 5pm program: Hidden Harvest: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Hemp at Pleasant Hill which runs from June through August, every Friday and Saturday evening at 5:30 PM.

Hemp History Week is June 3-9, 2019

Shaker Village joins more than 20 other historic sites and locations across the Bluegrass featured on the Heritage Hemp Trail, a journey through the Kentucky hemplands.

The trail is an initiative of the Kentucky Hempsters, the Kentucky Hemp Heritage Alliance and its affiliates across the state dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the state’s rich hemp history. Including the Farmington Historic Plantation in Louisville, Hopemont, The Hunt-Morgan House in Lexington and others, the Heritage Hemp Trail highlights the pioneers, places, and pieces of hemp history that build the foundation for the crop’s revival.

We hope you will join us this summer to learn about the fascinating history, and important future, of hemp in Kentucky!

Seeing Double

Aaron Genton, Collections Manager

One day earlier this week, I had a chance to see all of the Pleasant Hill stereographs that we have in our collection. This form of photography was popular from the mid-19th to early-20th centuries, during which time millions of stereoscopic views were produced for popular consumption. Visually, they are pretty cool, and I wanted to take this chance to share a few of them.

Stereoscopic photography recreates the illusion of depth by utilizing the binocularity of human vision. Because our two eyes are set apart, each eye sees the world from a slightly different angle. Our brains combine these two different eye-images into one, a phenomenon that enables us to “see,” ever so slightly, around the sides of objects, providing spatial depth and dimension.

Stock image – not part of the SVPH collection.

Stereoscopic views, or stereographs, consist of two nearly twin photographs – one for the left eye, one for the right. Viewing the side-by-side images through a special lens arrangement called a stereoscope helps our brains combine the two flat images and “see” the illusion of objects in spatial depth.

In other words, when viewed through a stereoscope, you were seeing a 3-D image!
Learn more about stereoscopic views..

In 1859, the vivid experience of viewing these photos was described this way:

The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced. The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out as if they would scratch our eyes out. The elbow of a figure stands forth so as to make us almost uncomfortable. Then there is such a frightful amount of detail, that we have the same sense of infinite complexity which Nature gives us. A painter shows us masses; the stereoscopic figure spares us nothing… Learn more about this quote…

This became a common form of home entertainment – rather than watching TV at home every night, imagine settling in with your stereoscope and a stack of stereographs! They were affordable, and widely available, which gave almost everyone an opportunity to see things through their stereoscope that they might never see in person. Perhaps many people, when viewing the images in this post, were getting their first look at Pleasant Hill. They might’ve read about it, or even seen a drawing. But this was possibly their first, maybe only, time to see this very special and unique place.

I wonder what their impressions would have been?

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/

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…