“There being a contagious disease…”

Aaron Genton, Collections Manager

Social distancing.
Stay at home orders.
No school.
No worship.
Essential activities only.
Take care of each other.

Sound familiar? While this sounds a lot like things that we’ve been experiencing for the past three months, all those things actually refer to the lives of the Pleasant Hill Shakers from December 1850-February 1851. In mid-December, a few of the folks in the Centre Family came down with a sickness, and within a week it was confirmed to be smallpox. On December 18, the East Family Deaconess recorded this:

There being a contagious disease prevailing at the Centre Family at this time called the varioloid, it was concluded this morning not to take up school any more for the present & discontinued all intercourse between the Families as far as practicable, so as to prevent the spreading any further if possible…and now all business is mainly suspended in that Family except to cook and wash and take care of the sick etc.” (East Family Deaconess Journal, Filson Historical Society Shaker Collection v.4)

While the village leadership moved quickly, they weren’t able to totally contain it – cases later arose in the East and West families.  In the following weeks, the Shakers tried to navigate their daily routines while managing this illness.  School for the boys and girls were both suspended.  Normal routines were disrupted for weeks, and nowhere was this more evident than in the weekly Sunday worship in the Meeting House.  This was an important time for the entire community to meet, and yet week after week journal entries on Sunday read “Meeting at home.”

On January 28, good news finally arrived…but with an exception:  “Tuesday 8 oclock P.M.  We assembled in the meeting room, and the Elders informed us that the varioloid had so far subsided that there but three cases remaining, one in each Family, and they were kept to themselves, so that it was thought to be safe for the Families to resume their usual intercourse and pursuits.  (A separation having been kept since about the 18th Ult., to prevent the disease from spreading.)  But it was not thought to be prudent to assemble at the meeting house next Sabbath &c.”(FHS Shaker Collection v.7)  It would be March 1, almost 3 months in total, until they collectively met at the Meeting House again.  From there, life appeared to return to normal.

Our experience with COVID-19 is not the first time that a disease has shaken life at Pleasant Hill.  While it isn’t exactly the same (a localized smallpox outbreak vs. a worldwide pandemic), there are similarities in our experiences.  So, I’d like to notice a few lessons that the Pleasant Hill Shakers can teach us as we start to transition into a new phase of life at Pleasant Hill.

It’s Okay to Go Slow

As noted above, on January 28, the Ministry felt like it was ok to resume normal activities, except for assembling at the Meeting House. It would be another month until that happened. This makes total sense, considering what we know about Shaker worship – lots of people in close quarters, singing, dancing, shouting, shaking. Participating in this activity would likely be worse than a bunch of modern teenagers spending their spring break together at the beach. Instead, the Ministry chose a course of deliberate, phased reopening, to use terms that we are used to today.

It’s Okay to Modify Your Behavior

One o’clock, P.M. Meeting at home by reason of affliction, the varioloid still prevailing at the Center family.  We had an orderly meeting, attended with considerable life and zeal…We made no donation of clothing for fear of conveying the varioloid or small pox to such as might receive them.” (25 December 1850, FHS.v.7)

Just because they couldn’t meet at the Meeting House, didn’t mean they lost their roles or identities as Shakers.  They met at home for 3 months, still worshiping with those that were able.  They even suspended the donation to the poor on Christmas, an important yearly practice, because of this.  They modified their behavior because the unique circumstances demanded it, and once it was over, they were luckily able to resume their standard routines.

Clean!

This morning the Center Family took their bed clothes & wooling clothing to the fulling mill  to wash & clear out the small pox and the next day they went on washing the walls of their dwelling house and taking up carpets brushing & cleaning them and every thing else until they had cleared off every thing that was tainted with the pox.” (15 January 1851, Polly Harris Journal, Harrodsburg Historical Society Collection)

Don’t Forget About Others

I went to the East House to see the sick folks and found them bad- indeed Elizabeth was bedfast, Electa’s life was fast running away with a cancer, Triphena was also confined to the room with a swelling on her thigh, John Badget had been confined to his room for some time with a cut on his foot and was now fast able to walk about a little, Samuel was quite weak & his sense much scattered but still went to the shop.” (3 December 1851, Polly Harris Journal)

Polly Harris lived in the West Family.  She didn’t have to go to East Family (and she probably shouldn’t have), but I imagine she wanted to check on them.  Other times, medications and vaccinations were supplied to those in need.  Others had to chip in and help with jobs that couldn’t be done because of sickness.  And during some of the home meetings, they would send their love to those who were sick in other families.  The point is that they didn’t forget about the others around them who might need assistance.

Remember, There’s a Lot Going On

In consequence of the small pox  The Ministry & the Center Family alone attended the funeral of our Worthy Brother [Abram Wilhite] at 8 o’clock in the morning It being a very pleasant pretty day for the season of the year the Brethren & Sisters all went to the Grave yard that ware able.”  (11 January 1851, Polly Harris Journal)

When she visited the East Family, Polly Harris found a lot of sickness that wasn’t smallpox.  Then on top of this, there were members of the community dying, some from smallpox, but also from other causes, like Abram Wilhite.  Some were unable to attend the funeral for obvious reasons, but according to another journal, some didn’t attend because they were “afraid of the pox.”  Add this to the already difficult disruption of daily lives that were normally very structured.  I can imagine this being extremely overwhelming to many of the Shakers. 

As an extension to the previous point, don’t forget that others around you are living through a lot right now – sickness, death, unemployment, fear.  Then add the growing civil and racial unrest in our country to the mix.  No matter how you experience this, don’t forget about the others around you processing the exact same things, but perhaps in very different ways.  There is a lot going on right now.

Be Thankful

One oclock Meeting to day was held at home…We was called upon in the commencement of the meeting by the elder brother to be mindful to walk thankfully and humbly before God for the great blessing we now enjoy of good health while so many of our worthy brethren and sisters are suffering in the other families from the destestible disease Small pox, bed colds &c.” (12 January 1851, FHS v.6)

When “Normal” Returns – Make it Memorable

Holy Mother Ann’s Birth – This day was kept in commemoration of our ever blessed Mother’s birth  we assembled to the meeting house at the usual hour one, where we met the good ministry and the church at large, there beloved Elder James addressed the assembly thus, “Beloved friends, brethren & sisters, I feel thankful to meet with you again in this most favored and sacred place, after an absence of near three months, and will be well for each one if they have come prepared to commemorate in truth and reality our Mothers birth, mission &c, and do honor to the cause of salvation as made manifest to us, her children through her painful travel and soul sufferings, we therefore combine together to sing dance and give honor, praise and glory to her most sacred and worthy Name…” (1 March 1851, FHS v.6)

We then went forth in the march & circular dance, being informed at the same time that the guardian angels that attended Jesus Christ and Mother Ann while on earth were present, together with a number of our deceased friends who once lived in Pleasant Hill.” (1 March 1851, FHS v.7)

Mother Ann’s birthday was always a notable day for the Shakers.  They sang and danced, and were even “visited” by a host of angels and spirits.  While this might have been a pretty normal occurrence for this time period, I believe that the day as a whole had a memorable quality because of the events of the previous three months.  If you could talk to the Shakers who were there that day, what would they remember?

I don’t pretend to know exactly what the future holds, but we can be encouraged by the experiences of the Pleasant Hill Shakers 170 years ago.  They can give us a lot to think about.  Don’t forget that even though they lived communally, separated from the outside world to a degree, they were people just like us trying to navigate all the challenges that this world threw at them.  I believe, on some level, we can all sympathize with the sentiment expressed by this writer in February 1851:

Our meetings from the last date have been orderly and ordinary up to the first of March.  All seemed to be eager and anxiously waiting for a cessation of the disease, and a restoration to health, a restoration to free intermingling one with another in sociality and friendship and especially to meet again in the sacred worship of God, there to embrace each other in the sweetest enjoyment of gospel love and affection.” (FHS v.6)

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!

Windows – The “Eyes” of a Building

William Updike, Vice President of Natural & Cultural Resources

1817 East Family Dwelling as “Shakertown Inn.”
Early 20th Century.

Many writers over the years have commented that windows are the “eyes” of a building. Working on windows in historic buildings is a challenge. Not only are the windows fragile and difficult to replace, make one mistake in the repair and the look and feel of the building can be altered in a negative way. Imagine if we replaced all the windows with a thicker frame and a single large piece of glass! We would never do that, and hopefully you can envision why we wouldn’t.

Preservation efforts in progress. July 2019.

Shaker Village has hundreds of windows in our historic buildings. We are pleased to share some of our current work on the 1817 East Family Dwelling to make repairs and paint the building’s windows.

Time and weather have taken a toll on the East Family Dwelling’s wooden windows. We have peeling paint along with failing window frames and sashes in many of the openings. Well, no more, We are hard at work to make the necessary repairs to the wooden window components.

In many cases we find that the window frames tilt into the building, creating a situation where water can pool, and seep inside. We are working frame-by-frame making the necessary repairs to stop this and ensure that water drains away from the opening. Where necessary, this is in the form of small wooden patches or “dutchmen” to replace rotten wood. In certain cases we can accomplish this with epoxy, rebuilding the surface of the sill, and sealing out water.

You may notice that some window openings during this project have a piece of plywood covering them. Have no fear, these are temporary! We have removed the sashes (the movable parts that contain the glass) and are assessing these as to whether or not they are historic, original to the building, or are more recent replacements, and if we can repair the sash or replace it. In cases where we have to replace sashes, we have identified the correct profile for the mullions (the wooden framework for the glass) and will replicate these exactly so as not to alter the appearance of the building.

Once the woodwork is complete and the glass reinstalled, everything will get a fresh coat of paint. We will also make repairs to the cornice and doors as we go.

Work on this project will continue throughout the summer and fall, so check in during an upcoming visit to observe our progress!

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…

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. 

Discover Shaker Village! Become an Annual Passholder and explore with us all year long.


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.