Celebrating 225 Years of Kentucky

On June 1, 1792, Kentucky entered the union as the nation’s 15th state. While Shaker missionaries wouldn’t grace the borders of the Commonwealth for another 13 years, by 1792, one of Kentucky’s future Shaker converts was already living on the tract of land which would eventually serve as the birthplace of the Pleasant Hill community. Elisha Thomas and his family owned “140 acres of land considerably improved on either side of Shawnee Run,” where, in 1806, the first members of what became the Society of Pleasant Hill initially gathered and “opened their minds” to the Shaker faith.[1]

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

Here, they built the community’s first meeting house, which, despite looking more like a stand than a proper assembly hall, served as the Shakers’ first place of worship. Soon the fledgling group of Shaker converts settled upon a more permanent place to accommodate the needs of their growing community. For more than a century, their new location—just 1.5 miles up the hill to where the Village now stands today—welcomed more than 2,400 Kentuckians, immigrants, wayfarers and settlers from no less than 50 Kentucky counties, 13 countries and 29 states. And today, with a little help from our Trail Map, modern-day guests can see where it all began.

While it’s only about a 1-mile hike from the Centre Trailhead to the geographical genesis of the Pleasant Hill Shakers, in total, the Pelly Trail—the only trail to provide access to the 500 acres of Village property south of US-68—is a 5-mile loop, best suited for hikers and horseback riders. Cyclists are welcome on this moderately difficult trail, but like the other 12 trails on the property, it’s not maintained for mountain biking. This portion of the Village’s 1,200 acres of native prairie can be reached exclusively by traveling through the culvert beneath the highway, so be prepared to get a little wet along the way. [2]

Two hundred twenty-five years after Kentucky forged its way to statehood, this property continues to serve as a gathering ground for families and individuals like Elisha Thomas and Pleasant Hill’s founding members. Here, we’re charged with the stewardship of this property’s natural and historical assets, which is why every day we’re working to conserve the land, preserve the buildings and provide families and individuals (like you!) access to the rich heritage left for us by the Pleasant Hill Shakers and their early-Kentucky predecessors. From maintaining 37 miles of trails throughout The Preserve to undertaking architectural rehabilitation projects in The Historic Centre, we’re on a mission to inspire generations of trailblazers and pioneering spirits, just like those who spearheaded Kentucky’s path to statehood 225 years ago.

Learn more about Kentucky’s path to statehood and other destinations throughout the Commonwealth at the KY 225 Commission’s website, where all Kentucky travelers are encouraged to share their Kentucky 225 anniversary adventures by using #ky225. 

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1 Information obtained from The origins and progress of the Society of Pleasant Hill. Original manuscript held by Harrodsburg Historical Society, Harrodsburg, KY.

2 During times of high water, the culvert on the Pelly Trail may become impassible. All explorers who use The Trails at Shaker Village do so at their own risk and must sign in at the The Inn front desk to sign a property usage waiver before hitting the trails.

Wisdom’s Voice

Wisdom's Voice

The Shakers were a remarkably musical people, filling handwritten hymnals with thousands of songs expressing their religious fervor and adoration. Wisdom’s Voice is the first recording composed entirely of Shaker songs written here and is the first time that many of these songs have been heard since the 19th century. 

Any Shaker was welcome to write music for worship, and there are a number of composers who show up over and over again and contributed a remarkable amount to Pleasant Hill’s creative output. I have come to know their musical styles fairly well, so my own favorite composers appear on Wisdom’s Voice, with Hortency Hooser, Samuel Hooser and Lucinda Shain making frequent appearances. Perhaps my favorite Pleasant Hill composer is Polly McLain Rupe, whose tender and soulful songs appear four times on the recording. Polly was born in 1826 and arrived at Pleasant Hill in 1835 at the age of 8. She lived here until her death in 1875, serving as a teacher and an eldress. Her prolific composition was a gift to the Shakers, and today, it is a gift for us as well. 

The Shakers invented their own system of musical notation for writing music. It’s a letteral notation, where the letters A through G represent the notes of the scale. Countless Shaker songs still exist only in this handwritten notation, and it is a long and meticulous process to transcribe this music into classical notation and bring it into the modern day so that it can be sung and heard by all. I learned to read Shaker notation from the Shakers’ own teaching tools and transcribed most of the songs on this recording from the original manuscripts held in the archives here. 

When selecting songs, I sat down with photocopies of three handwritten Pleasant Hill hymnals (the originals are far too fragile for frequent handling!) and simply turned through the pages. If a title or text struck me, I explored the melody on the piano and took note of the ones that stayed with me. There are countless beautiful and worthwhile Shaker songs still waiting to be sung, but it was a joy to record these songs that I love the most.

We recorded in the Meeting House, built in 1820 as the Shakers’ worship space. It is a beautiful building with incredible acoustics, which we strove to capture for the listener. With one solo voice filling the space, it is a deeply intimate recording. 

It is my hope that this recording will foster a deeper connection to Pleasant Hill and the people who called this place home. Their music connects us across time and reminds us that the artistic expression of human passion is timeless. It has been a joy to create Wisdom’s Voice, and it is my fond hope that it will bring joy to many others as well. 


Carys Kunze, Program Specialist for Music and Art


Wisdom’s Voice: Shaker Songs Recorded in the 1820 Meeting House is a recording composed of Pleasant Hill Shaker songs. It features the voice of program specialist for music and art Carys Kunze, who performs regularly at the Village. Wisdom’s Voice can be purchased in The Shops and online.

Pleasant Hill Personalities

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The legacy of the Pleasant Hill Shaker community has often been assessed exclusively through their material culture.  However, each physical item is inseparable from the people who used these items while alive.  During its century of existence as a Shaker community, more than 2,000 people called Pleasant Hill home – each with a unique background, experience, personality, set of quirks, hopes, dreams, desires and reasons for being a part of this endeavor.  It’s this uniqueness that makes their accomplishments so striking.  They were a completely un-relatable group of people who were all drawn for some reason to the community.  And they all, in some way, helped to make history.

Meet some of the Pleasant Hill Shakers:

  • Mary Settles, a single woman who arrived with two small children.  Later in life, she was described as one whose “personality permeated the entire house,” as she engaged visitors on subjects ranging from Shaker theology to American politics.
  • William Pennebaker arrived as an orphan who survived the death of his parents and was brought by extended family members to live with the Shakers, with whom he spent the remaining 73 years of his life!  He was described as “an upright, truthful man, quiet and peaceable in his demeanor.” Yet he must have also had a big personality that clashed with others, as he was at one time engaged in a long feud that culminated in his assault by other members of the community – and resulted in the accidental wounding of one of his attackers!
  • William S. Byrd was noted as a person of “honourable standing,” – he was “a descendant of the prestigious Byrd family of Virginia, distinguished for more than four generations by its wealth, prominence, and leadership in American society” (quoted in Stephen J. Stein, Letters from a Young Shaker, p.1).
  • Napoleon Brown served in the Union army during the Civil War, and following the war somehow found his way to Pleasant Hill.  Shortly thereafter, he was placed in the local lunatic asylum.  Whatever his ailment was, he got it together, and by the end of the same year was back and contributing to the community in a meaningful manner.
  • Jonah Crutcher was one of multiple African American members with a fascinating story:  “Today we purchased Jonas Crutcher, a colored man, who has been a Believer about 19 years, we keeping him hired here to accommodate him for that purpose, while his owners retained him as a slave; and now to prevent them from dragging him away we have purchased him that he may enjoy the privilege of being one of the brethren on equal terms with the rest of us” (January 4, 1859).  Upon his death, it was noted of this former slave that “He was much respected & beloved in the family where he resided, which was not misplaced, for he was worthy.” (September 6, 1861)
  • J. R. Bryant, the picture of courage, showed great intestinal fortitude when he stared down the barrel of a Confederate soldier’s gun, and had bullets whizzing by his head during a guerilla raid on the community…(which he did to secure the safety of his brethren).
  • John B. Shain, a strict vegetarian, advocated exercise and “free use of water both drinking and bathing.”  He lived until the ripe old age of 92.
  • Micajah Burnett was a man of superior intellect and was described as “the principal architect of this village.” He was not only an intelligent person, but also a hard worker, who at the age of 78 was going on trading trips as far away as New Orleans.
  • Kitty Jane Ryan, among others, enjoyed the occasional break from a hard day of work.  She reported one evening that “the Sisters went to the West Pond to see the brethren skate.  We had a very amusing time, we sit in chairs and sailed over the pond like lightning, assisted by the brethren who skate…” (January 6, 1860).
  • Benjamin Dunlavy, a man who wielded a pen as well as anyone, appears to have had quite the dramatic tendency – even when reporting something as straightforward as the weather: “With a mild, pleasant evening, such as we have enjoyed the past week, the thermometer at 50° at dark, the old year was gliding out almost as gentle as the balmy zephyrs of May – When Lo, & Behold! Old Boreas with his northern hordes, made a sudden dash upon the sunny South, completely surprising her principal Chief, (Mercury,) who was so shocked at the humiliating disaster, that his spirits made a sudden plunge into despondency, and continued the descent for about twelve hours, making 60 degrees at one leap, & was found 8 degrees below zero at sunrise this morning…” (January 1, 1864).
  • Henry Daily, a man who might very well have been village curmudgeon: “The Centre Family…have Andrew Bloomberg a Swede for second Elder & he has a dog following him wherever he goes…This is not according to Shakerism but belong without…If we all had a dog we would all starve before spring since we have very little to live on & cannot afford a dog for each member in the Society.  The dog is a perfect nuisance anyhow and them that keep them are no better certain.” (September 20, 1887)

What brought a single mother, an orphan, an aristocrat, a former soldier with mental instability, a health nut, a drama queen and a guy who didn’t like dogs together in one place?  If there was a reason beyond religious conviction, we will never know for sure.  But one thing is for sure about this motley crew: it isn’t exactly the kind of group you would assemble if you needed to save the world.  And yet, they created and maintained their own amazing world at Pleasant Hill.

Who do you relate to most? See personalities like these and more in our Shaker Selfies exhibit on view now in Centre Family!


Aaron Genton is the collections manager. A love of history led him to study and work in the field….