Rocks that say 1813 and other cool facts

In the changing historic landscape of Pleasant Hill, buildings came and buildings went. It’s impossible to view the photographic and archival evidence without getting the impression that this place used to look a lot different than it does today (an understatement, I know). Personally, I’ve always been impressed with the imposing presence that the 2nd Centre Family Dwelling (built 1812-1815) casts in the historic photos of the village. If you want to learn a little more about this building, I encourage you to visit the exhibit in the Farm Deacon’s Shop (incidentally, this dwelling stood just to the north of this spot).

The 1813 Centre Family Dwelling had a long, productive life at Pleasant Hill that was tragically cut short by a fire in 1932. Here’s how it was described in the March 4, 1932, account from the Harrodsburg Herald:

    A spectacular fire that threatened to wipe out a large portion of historic Shakertown, started Tuesday night about eleven o’clock in one of the oldest and handsomest of the splendid buildings. It was occupied by three families, two of which lost their entire possessions. Several other buildings were threatened, but were saved by the Harrodsburg fire company in charge of Chief K. B. Phillips, assisted by volunteers, who got on the roofs of the threatened buildings and swept off the sparks as they fell. The Pennebaker Home for Girls caught on fire several times, chiefly from dried leaves in the gutters, but the blazes were extinguished before any damage was done.

   The burned building was erected in 1813, according to the date on the stone structure. It was three and a half stories high and contained forty-two rooms, with a large finished basement of several compartments. It was located about 500 feet from Highway 68 which runs through the main part of the Shaker village, and faced West on a driveway. It was of handsome dressed stone with thick walls, the interior being priceless hand-fashioned woodwork made by the skilled artisans of the Shaker colony nearly a century and a quarter ago. The only water available for fighting the fire was from the large Shaker pond approximately 600 yards distant and across the highway from the burning building. The hose taken along with the pumping apparatus was not sufficient to reach the distance and the firemen sent back to Harrodsburg for more hose. The blaze was so far advanced in the stone building when discovered that all energies were concentrated on saving the nearby structures. The stone building was entirely gutted and when the tin roof caved in a veritable storm of spark fell in every direction, igniting even the clothing and hats of some of the spectators.

After the “storm of spark” subsided and the “spectacular” fire was extinguished, I imagine that the scene looked something like this (although I’m not sure when this picture was taken):

If you visit this location today, all you will see are the foundation stones peeking out on the surface, marking the footprint of this once massive building.  It’s all that remains of it – at least, all that remains onsite.  Because in 1937, much of the surviving stone was hauled to Harrodsburg to build a house for relatives of the Bohon family. The house still stands in town today (and is still in use), a subtle reminder that the history of Pleasant Hill is much bigger than the 3000 acres and 34 buildings that we care for today. There are a lot of inter-connections out there that we can’t forget about. Pleasant Hill is an integral part of Mercer County’s history, and vice-versa.

The coolest thing about this house? One of the stones used to build the rear wall was this:


Aaron Genton is the collections manager…

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 third Meeting House the Pleasant Hill Shakers built here. 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 the second floor up. 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!

Dixie Huffman Retires

After 46 years of employment with Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Dixie Huffman is retiring. While that is a remarkable achievement by itself, Dixie’s connection to Pleasant Hill began almost literally since the day she was born. A lifelong resident of Mercer County, as a young girl in the 1930s, Dixie lived on land that was once owned by the Shakers, near the West Lot Dwelling. Her first memories of the Pleasant Hill buildings were from well before the restoration; at one time, she recalled, “it didn’t look like there was much life here.”

Dixie’s professional career at Pleasant Hill began in 1971, as an interpreter during her summer breaks from her full-time teaching career. Upon retiring from teaching, in the late 1970s, she became a full-time fixture of the Pleasant Hill interpretive team. As the years progressed, she began to work behind the scenes with the collection, helping the curatorial staff with very important tasks like cataloging, records management and research.

Dixie and her pencils from transcribing manuscripts.

In recent years, “Miss Dixie” has become best known among staff for her extensive transcription of the Shaker primarily sources. Sitting for hours in front of a microfilm machine, she diligently copied the original records onto legal pads that could easily be shared with staff and guests alike. It has often been said that she knows the Shakers personally, despite having never met them. If you’ve ever experienced her stories about Henry Daily, you know exactly what we mean.

There is no way to quantify the number of people she has shared the Shakers with over the years. But one thing is certain: each of these people had a warm, friendly and engaging experience. With her retirement, Shaker Village is losing one its institutions. We will all miss seeing her during her afternoon walks, her stories, her remarkable personality, her friendliness and her sense of humor. She has been a friend to all she encountered. In contrast to what she experienced in the days before the restoration, there is now life in the Village, and for 46 years, Dixie Huffman has been an integral part in making that happen.

Last week, staff, family and friends gathered with Dixie to celebrate and thank her for her work at Shaker Village.

For staff, having Dixie around meant great stories told from the journals she’d been transcribing on a given day, sweet conversations around the lunch table and the camaraderie of a great friend. She brought the Shakers to life for many, since she added her own fiery personality when retelling each one. She was well known for spending her breaks with the farm animals (of course, she was their favorite person to see, as she always brought a bag of apples with her). For us, it was more than difficult to choose a worthy gift for someone so special to not only the people here, but the place and the work Shaker Village strives to do. But we had to try.

The Dixie Huffman Scholarship will be rewarded to one junior or senior from Burgin High School or Mercer County Senior High School as a way to offset internship and/or college expenses. This area and education are two things near and dear to Dixie’s heart, so we chose to honor her legacy by paying forward to local school children her loyalty and dedication to this place. We will miss seeing Dixie daily “at the office,” but we know she’ll be visiting with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren often.

Preservation@Work: The Belfry

 

As part of our current preservation project on the Centre Family Dwelling, the bell tower has been removed via crane! It was a sight to see for sure.

While the original bell was hung on Centre Family in 1839, it was cracked 10 years later and replaced with a new bell. As you can see from the photo above, the bell tower rests on the north side of the Centre Family Dwelling, sandwiched between two chimneys. Just a quick glance at this massive building and you may even miss it, but the bell could be heard throughout the Village.

According to Shaker journals, the bell served many purposes for the Shakers, usually for communication. Some instances include:

  • Beginning of Workday (4 a.m. in summer and 5 a.m. in winter)
  • End of Workday
  • Meal Times
  • Special Observances
  • Emergencies

According to our collections manager, the bell, like all of our 34 historic buildings, is considered a historic resource. During the last decade or so, the bell has been rung during educational workshops, field trips and before iconic daily programs such as music performances. We’ve also been known to start the (un)Pleasant Hill Trail Runs with the ringing of the bell. However, the bell hasn’t been in ringing condition for awhile now.

We’re looking forward to having this quirky and unique piece of our collection added back to the Centre Family Dwelling and hearing it ring throughout the Village! Look for Centre Family to re-open this fall. Until then, stop by and see all of the great things that are happening here!


Fun Fact: There is also a bell on the West Lot Dwelling.

Plain, Simple and Painstaking: Preserving a Village, One Paperclip at a Time

Preservation has been central to the mission of Shaker Village from the time of its incorporation in 1961 and has been an ongoing effort ever since. Because the Shakers were practitioners of preservation themselves, Shaker Village is fortunate to have surviving portions of the Shakers’ material culture. The documents, artifacts, fences, gravestones, buildings and barns, which are now under our stewardship, require attention, care and frequent preservation. From major rehabilitation projects like the upcoming work planned for the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling and 1820 Meeting House, replacing the roof and renovating the interior of the Carpenters’ Shop and restoring the exterior of West Family Wash House to housing sensitive items of the Collection in a climate-controlled storage facility, at Shaker Village, preservation is always present and always at work.

For loftier undertakings, we may bring in consultants to ensure preservation success; but the day-to-day preservation of the Village’s 3-dimensional and archival materials lies in the hands of our Collections staff. Things like sorting and rehousing piles of newspapers in acid-free boxes, using cloth tape to secure detached book covers to their bindings, removing sticky-notes from book pages, ensuring 3-dimensional objects are stored up off the ground on shelves and platforms, laying textiles flat in secure, tissue-lined cabinets and monitoring objects for pests and mold are all a part of preserving the history of the Shakers.

 

See an original copy of The Manifesto on display in the East Family Wash House as a part of our Shaker Modern exhibit.

But, the preservation of treasured materials isn’t reserved strictly to the professionals: it’s something many folks do every day without even realizing it!

You might not think about it at the time, but when you do something as simple as organize bills or receipts in a filing cabinet, you’re doing something to preserve them for when you may need them down the road. Believe it or not, that’s PRESERVATION@WORK!

Whether it be for the coming months, years or generations, we all have things we’d like to keep for the future. Here are some ways you can put preservation to work in your own life:

  • Keep documents and artifacts in a cool, dry area out of direct sunlight—not in the basement or attic where temperature and humidity can fluctuate with the seasons.
  • Avoid grouping or marking documents using metal paperclips, rubber bands, staples, tape, sticky-notes or dog-earring. While actions like this may seem harmless at the time, they can be damaging to the items you’re trying to preserve. Instead, if documents need to be grouped or marked, use plastic paper clips or acid-free paper and folders.
  • Something as simple as covering furniture with a sheet, quilt or moving blanket can help preserve 3-dimensional objects while in storage.
  • Refrain from sealing photographs, newspaper articles and other paper documents in lamination, non-archival page-protectors or photo sleeves. These types of plastics are more harmful than helpful and will actually result in a more rapid deterioration of what you’re trying to save.
  • Like living creatures, documents and objects need space and room to breathe. Never try to cram items into envelopes, folders, boxes, shelves or tight spaces. Give documents and objects ample space in their storage locations.
  • Less is more. The less you access, handle and use your prized books, documents, artifacts, textiles, furniture and memorabilia, the more time you and future generations of your family will have with them. While handling rare and special items for reference, research and display, it’s best to do so with care, caution and infrequency to ensure their longevity.

Do you have a favorite outfit you just can’t seem to part with? The Shakers did, too! Come see a dress that was rehabilitated over the years by the Shaker who wore it on display in the East Family Wash House as a part of our Shaker Modern exhibit.

Preservation can be painstaking—sometimes a matter of replacing one paperclip at a time. But whether you’re a preservation pupil or pro, it’s often the basics that end up making the greatest difference.


Take part in our history! Join us June 3 to celebrate, as we kick off our largest preservation project since the 1960s. Tour the buildings, speak with the project’s architects and learn about our grant-funded, multi-phase effort to preserve, protect and interpret the Village’s spiritual center.

Make a difference! No matter how big or small, your gift can make a difference. Help us preserve Shaker Village by giving today! 


Emálee Krulish, Archivist