Built on Belief

Jacob Glover, PhD., Program Manager

“A village of Shakers lies a few miles beyond Kentucky river, and it is curious to see the effect of celibacy on barns and fences….I never saw such excessive neatness….The rich apple trees looked sorry they were such sinners as to be beautiful.” – N.P. Willis, “The Shakers,” published in The Flag of our Union in 1852

Although not always expressed with such singular focus, since the 1800s individuals from far and wide have been struck by the distinctive architectural features of the buildings at Pleasant Hill. In fact, from daily conversations with visitors to Shaker Village it is apparent that the beauty and grace of the 34 surviving historic structures remains a principle draw for guests from around the world.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill maintains the largest, privately-held collection of 19th century buildings in the United States – 34 original Shaker structures across 3,000 acres.

Indeed, a short walk through the Historic Centre can be awe-inspiring. From the sheer size of the Centre Family Dwelling to the unadorned majesty of the first-floor meeting room in the Meeting House, to the spiral staircases in the Trustees’ Office, the variety of architectural and engineering feats is incredible. Beyond these three iconic structures, guests will also often express an affinity for their favorite buildings—likely one in which they have spent the night or had the opportunity to explore in-depth, on a guided tour.

More than just aesthetics, the architecture at Pleasant Hill also reveals the influence of the Shaker’s theology and faith on the built environment. This sense of purpose and intentionality through building is something that speaks to many visitors, and it often leaves them with even more appreciation for the Shakers’ efforts to construct their version of utopia in rural Mercer County.

The 1st floor meeting room of the 1820 Meeting House at Pleasant Hill.

The Meeting House, with its aforementioned first-floor meeting room, is probably the best example of how the community’s faith inspired their construction efforts. With the need for an open room to practice their distinctive style of worship, Shaker brother Micajah Burnett, inspired by the Shaker Meeting House at Union Village, Ohio, built an ingenious system of trusses in the attic that support the weight of the building without the need for columns or standing beams in the worship space.

The symmetry within Shaker dwelling houses was functional, but also served as a physical representation of the Shaker belief in the duality of God.

Beyond the Meeting House, the communal dwellings with their large bedrooms and ample kitchens and cellars were purpose-built to provide for the community’s social and economic structures, rooted in the teachings of their faith. In regard to celibacy and the physical separation of men and women, the brethren’s and the sisters’ work spaces were positioned accordingly to prevent unnecessary interaction during the workday.

The buildings that surround the East Family Dwelling are positioned intentionally, with workshops for men and women located on each side of the dwelling to correspond with the side each gender inhabited.

All of this barely scratches the surface, of course, for we haven’t even started to mention the small touches and unique trappings that slowly reveal themselves as one explores the buildings and grounds at Shaker Village. Even all of these years later, I guess some things still do pique one’s curiosity!

Come out for a visit, and learn more about how faith and architecture intersect at Pleasant Hill on our Buildings and Beliefs program that runs daily throughout the year! Check our website for seasonal tour times!

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.

Sam Berry, The One-Armed Outlaw

Julia Raimondi, University of Richmond

Samuel Oscar Berry was one of many orphans that Shaker merchants brought back to Pleasant Hill from their trading journeys across the south and mid-west. He arrived on Halloween 1845 from Clay County, Missouri, with one of his brothers when he was nine years old. A third, younger, brother would also arrive a few years later.

Berry’s stay at Pleasant Hill was a troublesome one. Like most orphans brought into the community, he didn’t immediately conform to their practices and had a habit of lashing out and rebelling. His brothers were similar, and repeatedly they ran away. His first runaway attempt was in June 1852. He was recaptured and brought back, only to run away again at some point during the next few years (the Shakers recorded his first runaway attempt and did not record it when he ran away again).

Not much is known about what happened in the years between that and the Civil War. At some point, Berry lost one of his arms in a farm machinery accident. Reports conflict slightly as to the location of the incident – one says Perryville and the other states Lexington. From then on, he was known as Sam ‘One-Armed’ Berry.

Sam ‘One-Armed’ Berry and
Jerome ‘Sue Mundy’ Clarke *

Despite missing an arm, Berry was able to successfully enlist in the Confederate army as a member of General Morgan’s 6th Cavalry. The rumored reason for his enlistment is that he witnessed a Union soldier bayonet his sister to death, but there are no official records of him having a sister.

Throughout the war, Morgan’s men were known for their rough and thuggish ways across Kentucky, and it was not unheard of for these men to devolve into bands of roaming guerrillas that terrorized the countryside.

Sam Berry, his friend and fellow outlaw Jerome ‘Sue Mundy’ Clarke, and several other criminals formed one such guerrilla group. This guerrilla group, ironically, was who held up the Shaker stagecoach outside Pleasant Hill.

In a journal entry from the day of the incident, a Shaker scribe reported that Berry and his gang members robbed the Shakers of roughly $150. They also stopped and robbed other travelers passing by, including a Union soldier, before letting the stagecoach go and continuing on to Harrodsburg, where they had a failed attempt in robbing the bank.

Berry and his gang continued to terrorize and pillage the Kentucky countryside for another year, including massacring a unit of African American Union soldiers. Eventually, they were all caught and court-martialed for their crimes. All of them were sentenced to death, but Berry was able to use his injury to get his sentence commuted to 10 years hard labor at a military prison in Albany, NY.

Despite multiple attempts to have the President pardon him, he died of tuberculosis three years later while still in prison. He is now one of three Confederate soldiers buried at Rural Albany Cemetery in upstate New York.

Julia Raimondi is a student at University of Richmond completing a research project on the Shaker community at Pleasant Hill. For questions or comments please contact at Julia.raimondi@richmond.edu.

* Photo courtesy of FindAGrave.com.