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!

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!

Best Hoof Forward

Gabby Kreinbrook, Equine and Stable Assistant

February is always an exciting time as we come to the close (hopefully) of winter and begin to enjoy the warmer temps of spring. February is particularly exciting for me every year as the World Horseshoeing Classic rolls around. This is the third year I’ve attended this event and it never fails to excite!

The Classic is a three-day event where farrier teams from around the world come to the Kentucky Horseshoeing School in Richmond to compete. Each day is a different style of shoe for a different type of horse. Day one is draft shoes, day two is roadster and day three is hunter. Each shoe is built with exact specs to fulfill the needs of each horse and their job. Our draft shoes are built to support the force of a 2,000 pound horse, agriculture style heels to provide traction in rough terrain, and toe clips to support action.

There’s a lot that goes into this process. Each team is given 2.5 hours to complete all four shoes and nail them on. Teams are comprised of four farriers who practice all year together on building shoes and team dynamics. They are given one horse and judged on their trim of the foot, fit of the shoe, the shoe itself and the final presentation of the nailed shoe. This is difficult as the horse can only have one foot off the ground at a time, so all four farriers must work together sharing time in the forge and under the horse. They each have their own foot to trim and shoe, and can receive no physical help only advice from teammates.

I HIGHLY recommend you check out this event at least once in your lifetime because even if you aren’t a horse person, it’s one of a kind and a lot of fun!

Four of our ladies go each year: Roz and Sadie our English Shires, and Rose and Kate our French Percherons. This is a great chance to expose Shaker Village to the horse world, get the best shoes for FREE, and brag on our horses. Every year I always hear about how lovely and well behaved the ladies are. It’s not uncommon to see Sadie in particular start to doze off as the farriers get to work! It’s a loud, smoky, chaotic environment, just what I’ve trained these ladies to thrive in!

In these image you’ll see how busy and crowded it can get around the horses. Rose is giving you her real opinion about how bored she is! Our girls are definitely exhausted by the end of the day. Their day starts early, coming up to be groomed to perfection: tails and manes are fully brushed out and oiled, legs are hosed off to ensure they’re shiny clean.

The hauler arrives early afternoon and they’re all loaded together, they travel an hour to the shoeing school, stand for an hour before being shod for 2.5 hours plus a half hour afterwards, and then promptly loaded back up to head the hour back home. Our day began about 9am that morning and ended about 9am that night. A long day, but they were phenomenal!

I hope you enjoy these pictures and if you’re curious for more details, come out and attend our new equestrian programming at the Village, which runs on Fridays-Sundays, April-October!

50 Things To Do at Shaker Village

Shaker Village opened its doors to guests from around the world in April 1968. Fifty years later, we celebrate those who came before us, and we continue to inspire generations! With 3,000 acres of discovery, there’s a lot to do around here on a daily basis. In honor of our 50 for 50 Campaign, here’s 50 things to try at Shaker Village:

  1. Go for a hike.
  2. Take a Discovery Tour.
  3. Listen to live music on the lawn.
  4. Meet the farm family.
  5. Go inside the greenhouse and see what’s growing.
  6. Take a hard hat tour to see what preservation work is currently happening.
  7. Go fishing.
  8. Take a riverboat ride on the Kentucky River.
  9. See a waterfall. You have to hike a little, but it’s worth it!
  10. Have a picnic.
  11. Watch the sunset from the amphitheater. It’s magical.
  12. Check out a bike and ride around the Village. They’re free!
  13. Visit the selfie exhibit.
  14. Relax.
  15. Pick out a handmade treasure or a Shaker Village souvenir in The Shops.
  16. Jump on board the horse-drawn wagon for a ride around The Historic Centre.
  17. Walk in the creek.
  18. Visit the bird blind.
  19. Talk to the gardeners and see what’s growing right now. Learn about how we use these fresh ingredients in our restaurant.
  20. Eat a meal at The Trustees’ Table.
  21. Walk up the iconic twin spiral staircases.
  22. Go kayaking on the Kentucky River.
  23. Walk to the cemetery.
  24. Attend a Shaker music performance in The Meeting House.
  25. Learn about food preservation in the Preserve Shop exhibit.
  26. Eat a piece of lemon pie.
  27. Drink a glass of wine or a cold beer on the Trustees’ Lawn.
  28. Take a peek at the rock walls. We have 25 miles of them.
  29. Taste an apple in the orchard.
  30. Visit the apiary to see where our honey comes from.
  31. Read the poem on the windowsill of room 174.
  32. Play with Boomer (our resident cat).
  33. Check out the Discovery Garden to learn about herbs.
  34. Relive your childhood on the tree swings.
  35. Identify plants and birds on The Trails.
  36. Go horseback riding.
  37. Take a hayride around the Village.
  38. Stargaze.
  39. Attend an Object + Stories program to learn more about our collection.
  40. Grab a handmade cookie from the Post Office shop.
  41. Find your way through the prairie maze.
  42. Climb to the highest point in Mercer County (top floor, Centre Family Dwelling).
  43. Find out who the Shakers were.
  44. Learn about our garden plans and how our farm animals have a job towards that bigger plan.
  45. Play checkers and more in the Cooper’s Shop.
  46. See wildflowers.
  47. Roast marshmallows around a fire pit.
  48. Visit with the artists in our Artist Studios and talk to them while they create.
  49. Take a selfie and post it using #shakervillageky.
  50. Have a rejuvenating night’s sleep in one of our 72 overnight rooms at The Inn so you can start all over in the morning!

We couldn’t make great things happen here without you! Our goal for the 50 for 50 Campaign is $50,000. If you would like additional information about our program, services or philanthropic opportunities, call the Development Office at 800.734.5611 ext. 1547. Give online now.


What’s your favorite Shaker Village activity? Plan your next visit at shakervillageky.org!