Lessons from the Past, Visions for the Future

Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator

As we have shared in previous posts, Shaker Village recently completed a large-scale preservation project in the “spiritual center” of the Village, focusing on the 1820 Meeting House and the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling. While the historic buildings of Pleasant Hill make an immediate impact on visitors, the artifacts, images, documents and interpretative materials that can be placed inside the buildings really bring the Village and the Shaker story to life.

Guests participate in an experiential Shaker music program in the 1820 Meeting House.

A great example of how preservation efforts and interpretive programming go hand-in-hand to share the legacy of the Shakers is the Music Program that occurs twice daily in the 1820 Meeting House. The Meeting House was used by the Shakers as a place for the entire community to gather for Sunday worship. Music and dance were integral parts of their worship activities, and the Meeting House was specifically designed with this in mind. Just as the Shakers once sang and moved through this space, our music interpreters do so today. These programs not only tell the spiritual story of the Shakers, they illustrate the stunning engineering of the building in a way that leaves every visitor awestruck.

It is our goal to provide a guest experience across the historic site that inspires our guests through stories, activities and exhibits that connect to Shaker heritage and American history. With 3,000 acres and 34 historic structures, providing a cohesive and comprehensive guest experience takes a lot of thought and care to develop. Over the past few years, we have taken multiple steps to conduct and prepare a long-range interpretative plan for permanent and temporary exhibits, as well as outdoor interpretative signage and interactives. This program planning process was underway and ran parallel to the preservation of the Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House, another example of how preservation and programming work together at Shaker Village.

The 1824-34 Centre Family Dwelling, during preservation in 2017.

The preservation of the “spiritual center” of Pleasant Hill was funded by a generous gift from the Lilly Endowment and through a Community Development Block Grant from the State of Kentucky. Shaker Village relies on charitable giving for the implementation of most large-scale preservation projects that take place on the property. The same is true for many programming projects, such as the site-wide interpretative plan and corresponding exhibits.

The 1815 Carpenter’s Shop, as the new Welcome Center, is the first stop for guests visiting Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

One of the first steps in this interpretive plan was to consolidate daily admissions, overnight check-in, a craft shop and additional historic interpretation into one, easy to use Welcome Center for village guests. Through a generous gift from the James Graham Brown Foundation, the 1815 Carpenter’s Shop underwent exterior preservation work and an interior remodel to become the “jumping off point” for guests to discover the legacy of the Kentucky Shakers at Pleasant Hill.

Plans for exhibits in the Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House include the display of over 450 Shaker artifacts.

Over the last two years, Shaker Village has also received funding for the creation of the interpretative plan through private donations from generous individuals. The resulting plan, titled The Enduring Legacy of Shakers in America, is a comprehensive exhibition staged with sub-themes and topics that can be implemented across the site as buildings and spaces are readied, and funding is available.

A key theme of the exhibit plan is to introduce the stories and personalities of individuals who lived as Shakers at Pleasant Hill.

At this time Shaker Village is raising money for the implementation of the permanent exhibits that will go in the 1820 Meeting House and the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling. These exhibitions are vital to our mission because they will provide both guided and self-guided visitors a new, and at times unexpected, interpretation of the Shakers and their community at Pleasant Hill. They will also engage our visitors in examining political climates, cultural shifts and economic trends through the 19th and early 20th Century, and deriving lessons from this history that are relevant and impactful to modern audiences.

Exhibit designs have been geared to have many sensory and tactile elements to create engaging experiences within each space.

You can help make these exhibits possible with a tax-deductible donation of any size to the Exhibits Fund. By making a gift as a new donor or by increasing your renewal gift, you can double your impact this fall. Your donation will be matched dollar for dollar by the Shaker Village Board of Trustees!

As a guest of Shaker Village, you support this nonprofit organization and its mission every time you shop, dine, stay, explore or donate. We rely on, and appreciate, your generosity. It really does take a village to preserve and share the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers!

For more information on our programs, services and other philanthropic opportunities, please call the Development Office at 859.734.1545.

Putting Food By: Preserving the Harvest at Pleasant Hill

Maggie McAdams, Assistant Program Manager

[1855] Wed. January 3 Today George Curds barn took fire and burnt up, together with all the wheat, corn, oats and hay he had, all the poor man could do was to go and lay down and cry and that is all any of us could do in such a case.” (Journal of James Levi Ballance, April 1, 1854 – March 31, 1860)

The ready availability of fresh food in any season is something that most modern Americans take for granted. Strawberries in January? Of course, let’s head to the grocery! As the quote that opens this essay reveals, such comfort in food choice and food security is something that is relatively new to the human experience. For the Pleasant Hill Shakers, the necessity of preparing for the coming winter was an onerous task that hung over their heads nearly as soon as the yearly calendar turned to spring.

Apple Jelly Label from Pleasant Hill. In 1853 it was noted that Pleasant Hill grew 50 varieties of apples!

As such, food production and preservation was a year-round task for the Shakers. In order to ensure that food was available to community members, particularly during the winter months, food preservation required contributions from the whole community.

While fruit preservation took place throughout the summer months and into the fall, the fall harvest was an important time for “putting food by” for the winter.

When the Shakers preserved foods, they were prolonging their shelf life to ensure they lasted as long as possible. Some food preservation methods, like canning, required the Shakers to transform the fruits and vegetables, while others like cellaring, required certain storage conditions. All of these methods were important in ensuring the Shakers had enough food to last through the winter until the next growing season.

Although it required a great deal of effort, throughout the 19th century the Shakers became renowned for their skill in preserving food, and in many years they made a tidy profit by selling the excess that they did not need. In 1880, the Albany Evening News spoke directly to this fame: “[Shaker] applesauce and preserves are household words, which involuntarily cause the mouth to water and the mind to teem with recollections of surreptitious feeds of jam in childhood’s hungry days.” It still makes the mouth water!

Not only were the Shakers known for the quality of their preserved food, many visitors also commented on the specialty structures such as the Meat Houses, Smoke Houses, Ice Houses, and more, that the Shakers constructed at Pleasant Hill. Food preservation, it turns out, significantly influenced the built environment at Pleasant Hill in unexpected and interesting ways.

Centre Family Smoke House after the time of the Shakers at Pleasant Hill, 1940.
Brick smokehouses were rare, and were plagued by salt used in the curing process.

Perhaps most shockingly, some of these specialty buildings became the targets of thieves from within the community! In March of 1885, Shaker brother Henry Daily commented that he “put 2 locks on C.F. Smoke house door A.M. We have to change lock very often on this door as we have some desperate thieves living among us.  They got some keys somehow or other & get in and steal meat….This is the kind of Shakers we have now days.”

Come and join us at Shaker Village this fall, as we uncover more stories of intrigue, tension and conflict involving food at Pleasant Hill! Oh, and did I mention that we are tasting apple butter? You won’t be disappointed!

Putting Food By: Preserving the Harvest is a daily program that begins at 3:30pm every day through November.

Rocking Our World

William Updike, Vice President of Natural and Cultural Resources

Shaker Village has over 25 miles of historic rock fence along its boundary and within its 3,000 acre property. This fence was originally constructed, primarily, in the 1840s. The Shakers of Pleasant Hill paid a rate of $1,000 per mile to non-Shaker masons who built over 40 miles of rock fence. Standing without the assistance of mortar or other bonding agents, well-built dry-stacked rock fences can last hundreds of years!

Dry-stacked rock fence along Old Highway 68 at Shaker Village.

Even though these fences are built to last, fence failures or “breaks” can still be caused by many factors. Sometimes trees fall across them, tree roots up-heave the fences from below, heavy rains can soften the earth and wash-out sections, livestock or other animals rub against the fences and in winter the freezing and thawing of the earth cause movement in the stone.

Our team is constantly at work repairing these rock walls. This year alone, we have repaired 20 sections, measuring 136 feet of wall! In the last five years we repaired 245 sections measuring over 2000 feet!

Our efforts have focused on the most highly visible fences around the Village. We recognize that with so many miles of fence there are sections we haven’t gotten to yet, and with all the rain we have had over the last couple years it seems like there are new breaks occurring regularly!

Wondering how can you help? This fall we are partnering with the Dry Stone Conservancy to hold a workshop on repairing and maintaining rock fence. The workshop will be held October 19 and 20 here at Shaker Village!

Want to take part in the workshop, or learn about the Dry Stone Conservancy?Click here for more information!

We are also happy to accept donations toward maintaining these important features of our landscape!

Going Batty!

Ben Leffew, Preserve Manager
Laura Baird, Assistant Preserve Manager

Bats are an integral, but often overlooked and always misunderstood, part of our ecosystem. These small flying mammals eat their body weight in insects every night, making them great at controlling pests and reducing the spread of pathogens like West Nile and Zika. The big brown bat, the largest species caught in The Preserve, eats up to 4,000 mosquitoes each night!

A Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis)

In early July, a private contractor surveyed The Preserve’s bat population by setting up 30 foot tall nets across various parts of our trails and creeks. We set up three nets every night, checking each of them every ten minutes between sunset and 2:00 a.m. In five days of netting we caught over 50 individuals representing five different species:

  1. Big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) – one of the largest and most common species in Kentucky, associated with man-made structures.
  2. Red bat (Lasiurus borealis) – a common, forest-dwelling species, roosting in trees instead of caves.
  3. Gray bat (Myotis grisescens) – listed as a threatened species in Kentucky and an endangered species federally, this cave-dwelling species migrates between breeding caves in the summer and hibernation caves in the winter.
  4. Small-footed bat (Myotis leibii) – a tiny, state threatened species, associated with cliffs.
  5. Evening bat (Nycticeius humeralis) – listed as a species of ‘special concern’ in Kentucky, primarily roosting in trees.

Interestingly, our most endangered species was the most commonly caught – over 40% of our caught bats were gray bats!

A Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans) who found its way into our “bat net!”

Up next for the Preserve Team is migration songbird banding. This helps us determine which bird species utilize our habitat as a refueling station for their trip south of the border for winter. To ensure the health of the birds, this event is not open to the public. Don’t worry, we take lots of pictures to share!

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.’”