An Enduring Legacy

Jacob Glover, Ph.D., Director of Public Programs and Education

“Great architecture has this capacity to adapt to changing functional uses without losing one bit of its dignity or one bit of its original intention.

– Thomas Krens, former Director of the Guggenheim

As we approach the end of October and the 200th anniversary of the Pleasant Hill Meeting House, we have taken the opportunity to reflect on the both the history of the Meeting House and its continuing legacy and influence here at Shaker Village. As the quote that opens this blog post implies, the Meeting House has been remarkably resilient throughout the course of its existence and its many alterations since 1820.

When thinking about the original intention of the Meeting House for the Shakers at Pleasant Hill, it is important to keep in mind how the space was purpose-built to allow certain aspects of Shaker society to flourish. For the Shakers, the Meeting House was always about things such as unity, community, and faith. Of course, the Shakers’ religious beliefs influenced all aspects of their life, but the common worship area of the Meeting House was an extremely important physical space where the Shakers could gather on a weekly basis and reinforce communal ties, a shared sense of belonging, and strengthen their union with one another.

Special community events such as Illuminated Evenings, held on Saturdays in December, help continue the legacy of song that has long shaped the history of the Pleasant Hill Meeting House.

Given the important of these notions to the entire Shaker worldview, it is no wonder that the Meeting House held such a place of prominence in every community. When Shaker brothers and sisters danced and sang with each other, they cemented bonds that not only held together the community at Pleasant Hill — these actions provided a shared identity for Shakers all across America who danced the same dances and sang the same songs in similar buildings from Maine to Ohio.

The materials used to construct the Meeting House tie the building to centuries of history in central Kentucky. These trusses, seen in the attic, allow for the open space on the first floor that were key to Shaker worship.

At Shaker Village today, the Meeting House retains much of its original charm and capacity to inspire, even if the form and shape of that inspiration holds different meanings for us than it did for the Shakers. The sense of belonging and togetherness that was so important to the Shakers remains present in our daily Shaker music programs and special events like the Community Sing and Illuminated Evenings, as building community through song is still as strong an influence as ever.

The solidity and permanence of the Meeting House is also reminder of the power of place in a modern world that seems to become more transient and transparent by the day. Walking in the attic, the massive king posts and trusses are reminders of the ancient forests of central Kentucky and the long years that the oak trees graced the Bluegrass before they were hewed by the Shakers to build such a lasting testament to their architectural skills and their faith.

At Pleasant Hill, we remain as committed as ever to inspiring our local communities and state by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers, and the Meeting House will continue to be an integral part of that mission for our organization.

Join us at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill on Saturday, October 31, 2020, for the 200th Anniversary celebration of the Meeting House. Special tours of the Meeting House focusing on Shaker song, dance and the building’s architecture will be available with purchase of admission.

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 second Meeting House the Pleasant Hill Shakers built in the Village. 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 up the second floor. 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!