“…We visited the department for the sick which was under the charge of Jane Ryan.…The infirmary is in the dwelling house & adjoining the meeting room.” – Henry C. Blinn, “A Journey to Kentucky in the Year 1873”
Henry Blinn’s description of the infirmary in the Centre Family Dwelling at Pleasant Hill is a reminder of some of the unique healthcare challenges (and opportunities) that confronted the Shakers in nineteenth century America.
On one hand, as a concentrated community with members who lived in close proximity they were more subject to the quick spread of epidemic illness. On the other hand, however, Pleasant Hill also had members with medical training, and the village grew many of their own medicinal plants.
In addition to outbreaks of infectious diseases such as the measles and cholera, Pleasant Hill also met the same healthcare challenges as all Americans of their day and age. Although many of the treatments provided during the nineteenth century would later prove to be ineffective (if not downright harmful), Pleasant Hill’s trained healthcare staff was vitally important to the overall well-being of the community.
Although hardly the only caregivers at Pleasant Hill, we wanted to highlight the following individuals and share some snippets of their stories.
The Downing Sisters
Three natural sisters who arrived at Pleasant Hill in 1840 as children all later served as nurses at Pleasant Hill. Their names were Eldress Elizabeth Ann Downing, Mary Ann Downing, and Rachel Downing. Although Rachel left the community in 1863, both Elizabeth Ann and Mary Ann remained faithful for the rest of their lives. In addition to serving as a nurse, Elizabeth was also a caretaker of children and worked in the preserve industry.
Dr. John Shain
Shain was an early Shaker convert who served as a physician at Pleasant Hill for 35 years. He promoted healthy eating and a vegetarian lifestyle. Shain was critical of doctors who practiced “heroic” medicine, and he spoke out against calomel, describing the popular mercury-based medicine as poison. Shain lived until the age of 91, and advocated drinking only ice water until the very end.
Dr. William F. Pennebaker
Pennebaker arrived at Pleasant Hill as a child in 1849. After expressing an interest in medicine, the Shakers reportedly sent him to Cincinnati for medical and surgical training. Pennebaker authored several nationally published medical articles, and in 1876 he became chief physician at Pleasant Hill. During this time, Pennebaker used his training to care for the community when an influenza epidemic swept through the village in 1892.
Writing to the Shakers’ magazine the Manifesto after the aforementioned influenza epidemic in 1892, Sister Mary Settles gratefully noted “our kind physician and brother, W. F. Pennebaker, has safely carried many patients through La Grippe as well as other ills. We feel thankful that so many of our aged ones have been spared to us.”
Pennebaker served his brethren and sisters faithfully until non-Shaker Dr. J. B. Robards and his wife took over care of the elderly members of the Centre Family in December 1910.
“It was something out of a Faulkner novel, going there for dinner.” – Dick DeCamp, late 1950s
The Trustees’ Office is one of the most well-known buildings at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. In fact, it’s the building guests most often ask for when they first arrive at our property—and for good reason, our restaurant, The Trustees’ Table, is located inside!
Alongside the restaurant, visitors are also often amazed by the twin spiral staircases that run from the first to the third floor. Constructed by Shaker brother Micajah Burnett, the stairs are so iconic that they are likely some of the most photographed elements of Shaker architecture in America.
These highlights, despite their importance, are only a fraction of the story of the Trustees’ Office itself. For in the story of the Trustees’ Office we can see the rise and fall of Pleasant Hill – and the emergence of Shaker Village…
Built in 1839, the Trustees’ Office today is used in a similar way to how the Shakers would have used the space. It’s a place where food can be acquired, lodging obtained and business conducted. In other words, it was meant to be a building where designated members of the Shaker community (the Trustees) interacted with people from the outside world.
Because it was meant to be a public building, the Trustees’ Office looks quite different from all other structures at Shaker Village. Instead of relying on traditional Shaker designs, Micajah Burnett modeled the Trustees’ Office after public buildings in Lexington and Frankfort. Indeed, with its Flemish bond brickwork and tidy cupola it is a great example of Federal style architecture from the early 1800s!
As Pleasant Hill prospered in the mid-19th century, the Trustees’ Office remained a hub that attracted visitors and other folks with business connections to the Shaker community. By the 1890s, however, Pleasant Hill’s decline was made manifest when they were forced to sell the Trustees’ Office and an additional 766 acres to John B. Castleman of Louisville to settle a particularly large debt.
The Trustees’ Office was operated as the Shaker Village Guest House (by non-Shakers) for a while. Although the last Shaker passed away at Pleasant Hill in 1923, by the mid-20th century the Trustees’ Office then served as a restaurant owned and operated by Bettye and Robert Renfrew. Dick DeCamp, whose quote opens this blog, remembered the restaurant as a place where guests would “kill a bottle of whiskey” on the steps before going inside to eat.
The Trustees’ Office is also indelibly linked with the beginnings of the non-profit Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill that still preserves the property today—it was the first building purchased in the early 1960s and a crucial step in the restoration that took place throughout nearly two decades!
Today, the Trustees’ Office has modern amenities: electricity, forced air (heating and cooling), and indoor bathrooms. The building did not have these things in the 19th century, but if the Shakers had lasted any longer at this community than what they did, they definitely would have adapted with the times and had those ‘necessities’ installed.
Visit Shaker Village throughout the year to explore the intricacies of the Trustees’ Office, or join a special Behind Closed Door program on Fridays and Saturdays in January and February to learn more about the unique history of this building. Check the daily schedule for exact tour time!
A quiet winter peace falls over Shaker Village this time of year. The bustle of the holidays is ending, and the promise of a new year is here. The administration and staff have spent the last few weeks busily celebrating the Holidays and making sure each guest has felt kindly welcome. The team has also started to think about plans and activities for next year, with words like “benchmarks,” “budgets” and “events” being spoken in meetings. But, every year around this time we stop to catch our breath. We pause from making plans, and reflect on the past year.
The Pleasant Hill Shakers were known for their innovative thinking and their ingenuity. Reflection goes hand-in-hand with innovation. The ability to reflect on everyday life, specific tasks, processes, activities and more, allows us to understand our blessings and see opportunities. As the staff pauses in reflection, we wanted to share some of the milestones from the Village this year.
The Historic Centre
The 1824-1834 Centre Family Dwelling preservation project came to completion earlier this year and the building reopened to the public after being closed since 2017. This project concluded the preservation of the “spiritual center” of Pleasant Hill.
We took care to provide loving attention to all 34 of our historic structures this year. Some of the more notable preservation projects in 2019 included new roofs, new siding, restored windows, repaired thresholds and more for the 1833 Water House, the 1860 Bath House, the 1821 Ministry’s Workshop, the 1811 Old Stone Shop and the 1824 Tanyard. Our visitors might not have noticed, but we upgraded sprinkler heads throughout several of our historic buildings this year as a preventative safeguard.
The site-wide interpretative planning process also concluded this year, providing us with a road-map to creating a cohesive and comprehensive guest experience. You’ll see the next step of this plan implemented in the early months of 2020 with the installation of 20 outdoor waystations across the 3,000 acre property. Our development staff also made significant steps towards securing funding for permanent exhibits that are part of this plan and vital to our mission.
If you are on our mailing list, you receive our quarterly mailing detailing our seasonal programming and signature events. Each day at Shaker Village is a different adventure. In 2019, we offered 35+ daily, seasonal programs, plus 41 specialty workshops and 9 major events. Those are just the experiences we planned in advanced! Several other opportunities came up throughout the year – like a trail bike ride event – that we hosted on site.
Our daily programs offer a unique and sometimes surprising interpretation of the Pleasant Hill Shakers. One of our most popular programs, Shaker Troublemakers, highlighted individual Pleasant Hill Shakers. You’ll see more individual stories included in the planned permanent exhibits.
The weather proved to be challenging during our signature events in 2019, but through the cold, the heat and the rain these events were attended by guests who left us with fantastic feedback. This feedback helps us to know that we are on track with our mission to inspire generations through discovery, and helps us see opportunities for growth, improvement and innovation.
At the end of 2019, any visitor to The Farm will notice our “farmily” members are happy, healthy and more numerous than in past years. The growing herd of sheep and cattle represent the Shaker’s past and our organizations future as a leading educator and model for sustainable agriculture. Our farmer has named this herd at work our regenerative landscape crew! And, it may just be us, but can you really visit the Indian Runner Ducks in The Orchard and leave with a frown on your face? These quirky animals are great ambassadors for The Farm and one of the first things you notice when you arrive at the Welcome Center.
The farm includes over 150 garden beds in which our farmers use low to no-till practices, incorporate crop rotation and cover cropping, use a high diversity of crops, and have integrated livestock to contribute nutrients and minerals back into the soil. One of the biggest celebrations of 2019 is completing and receiving our USDA Organic Certification. This year we strategically supplied food items to The Trustees’ Table for a farm-to-table experience for our guests. We also donated over 300 pounds of produce to local organizations to help those in our community achieve food security!
On The Preserve, our naturalists have continued their efforts to promote a healthy restored native prairie and monitor the benefits to the native plant and animal species. While there are many cool things about The Preserve, perhaps the niftiest was discovered this year during our first survey in recent times of the bat population. We caught five different species of bats – including the Gray bat Myotis grisescens, a threatened species in Kentucky and an endangered species federally.
In 2019, as in past years, we managed prescribed fire in The Preserve. While that might seem counterintuitive to land management practices and the promotion of a thriving habitat, fire is the most effective management tool we have. Plus, fire is a natural occurrence and has always been part of open herbaceous grasslands. This year, with the help of 32 trained crew members, over 450 acres of native prairie was burned.
Support from the Community
It has been a tremendously successful and fun year, and that’s because of you – our valued guest. This year, more visitors explored Shaker Village, dined at The Trustees’ Table, visited The Shops, stayed in The Inn, and donated time and money to support our nonprofit mission.
It takes a village to care for this National Historic Landmark. On that note, we are particularly pleased to have hosted two public Village-wide Volunteer Days, four public Volunteer Trail Days and many private group volunteer projects. Building a culture of philanthropy starts by engaging our biggest supporters – you – to give their time to preserving this powerful place.
We also met and exceeded a matching challenge from the Shaker Village Board of Trustees to raise $350,000 for the Annual Fund from new donors and from renewing donors who chose to increase their tax-deductible gift this year. Meeting this challenge was critical for the future of this site, and made some of the amazing things we have been reflecting on here possible.
So, next year, after this pause of reflection, when we talk about things like “benchmarks” and “budgets” it’s going to be with a new sense of excitement. Great things are happening at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. We can’t wait to share them with you!
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.
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!
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.
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!
Celebrating Success: Phase 1 of The Campaign for Shaker Village
In late 2014, the Board of Trustees launched an ambitious $25 million campaign to raise much needed funds for preservation, education and conservation for our unique cultural treasure, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. To date, the Village has raised $13.8 million and completed over $6.1 million preservation projects, including the iconic 1824-34 Centre Family Dwelling, the 1820 Meeting House and the new Welcome Center in the 1815 Carpenters’ Shop! Funding for these projects was provided in part by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., the James Graham Brown Foundation and by many private individuals.
As an additional part of The Campaign for Shaker Village, a new donor-restricted endowment has been established, based on a generous challenge grant from an anonymous donor. This $2 million grant was matched by $4 million in contributions raised by the Board of Trustees prior to December 31, 2017. This ambitious effort has resulted in over $6.2 million, substantially increasing Shaker Village’s total endowment and providing greater long-term financial security for Shaker Village.
Continuing Our Investment: Phase 2 of The Campaign for Shaker Village
Projects in progress or completed in 2019 include the 1833 Water House, the 1860 Bath House, the 1821 Ministry’s Workshop and the 1811 Old Stone Shop. It’s exciting to see preservation at work around the Village and know that with each new rooftop installed and window preserved, we are ensuring the site’s future for many generations to come!
In October of this year, we secured a multi-year gift of $750,000 from an anonymous donor toward the preservation of the 1817 East Family Dwelling. If you’ve visited recently, you may have noticed that preservation work has begun as we work to restore the windows in this building. A new rooftop, masonry work and more will be completed over the next few years without interrupting the function of the building. We have $250,000 remaining to raise to complete the fundraising for this project.
There is still much work to do!
We are pursuing several additional major gift opportunities for programming needs, a site-wide master plan, specific restoration projects and the endowment. Please join us in making a tax-deductible gift to support Shaker Village and its mission to inspire generations through discovery by sharing the legacy of the Kentucky Shakers!
You can make a donation right now or contact the Development Office at 859.735.1545 to find out more.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill | 3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg KY 40330 | shakervillageky.org | 800.734.5611