2023: A Year In Review

Melissa Williams, Development Coordinator

As December draws to a close, it is our tradition to look back at all the things we accomplished over the past year. Since we started posting a year in review blog in 2019, Shaker Village has experienced some remarkable highs. We have also weathered the challenges of the pandemic and its ongoing effects. Collectively we have all become very adept at this balancing act.

Preserving the Village and its Memories

We experienced this kind of resilience at the Village this year. In March we told you about the 1835 Carriage House that was flattened when a tree fell during an unprecedented storm. Acts of nature, such as this one, are one of the things the staff here fears most. It was gut wrenching to see the building in this state. But, our talented team of carpenters were able to salvage many of the original materials and were determined to rebuild the Carriage House. They spent most of the year doing so (and encountered many material delays). Now it stands proudly – almost as if nothing ever happened.

The Carriage House restoration is almost complete.

This summer we received an impromptu, transformational gift from a new friend who had recently stayed overnight at the Village. Her experience at Pleasant Hill moved her to help support the restoration of the Village and preserve it for future generations to discover. Her gift is designated for the 1845 West Family Sisters Shop and work is underway now to restore its windows, doors and cornice.

Last summer we were sad to share the Riverboat was retiring after 40 years on the Kentucky River. Over its years of service, the boat touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of visitors. This year, through the generosity of a donor, the Riverboat received a facelift and a new permanent home in drydock at Shaker Landing. At the same time the Shaker Landing Barn was masterfully restored. This allowed us to reopen Shaker Landing as an educational center and event venue, and will ensure that more memories are made that last a lifetime.

The permanently docked Riverboat is now an event venue at Shaker Landing.

These larger projects were a major focus for us this year, but we also continued our regular, ongoing maintenance of all of the historic structures and added new roofs to the 1848 Post Office and 1875 Scale House.

Life on the Farm

At the Farm, there is always a lot going on behind the scenes. Our expanding sustainable agriculture focus keeps us busy throughout the year.  In February, we kicked off the year with a celebration of maple syrup harvested from the trees along the Historic Turnpike and across the property. The Maple Days event was our first organized maple-themed event in recent years and it attracted quite a crowd of interested and engaged guests.

During the spring time, our “farmily” grew as babies arrived. New lambs, chicks, ducks, turkeys, calves, and piglets were greeted by guests at our popular Brunch with the Babies event in April.

Guests enjoyed meeting baby farm animals at Family Farm Days including these lambs.

In the fall, we celebrated the changing seasons on the Farm with Harvest Fest in September. This event was our largest, best attended Harvest Fest ever with more than 3,200 participants.

Throughout the changing seasons, our team also continued the Community Supported Agriculture program. Participating members receive a variety of fresh weekly produce and their participation helps to sustain the garden at Shaker Village which has existed in the same spot for more than 200 years. The CSA program has been so well received that it was expanded further to include meat shares.

Protecting the Preserve

On The Preserve, a lot of time and focus was spent this year on cleanup following the same March storm that impacted the Carriage House. Throughout the Village and the Preserve, an estimated 70 trees fell during the storm. This left our team with a lot of trees to remove, particularly so the trail system could reopen safely for our guests.

In the Spring, major restoration work began on the Shaker Pond Dam to prevent further erosion to the cultural landscape. This work was made possible by contributions from a local foundation and it complimented a two-year project to rehabilitate 20 acres in the pond drainage area that was already in progress. The Shaker Pond Drainage rehabilitation and educational project is funded in part by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. It aims to improve water quality in the drainage area, and at the same time made it possible for 327 local students to participate on STEM educational activities this year as the project progressed.

Students conducted studies on water quality.

If you are an avid user of the trail system, you will notice that the West Trail Head was relocated this fall as part of the site’s long-range plan. Funded by the Kentucky Colonels Good Works Program, the trail head was moved to be adjacent to the West Lot Dwelling parking lot to provide easier access to the trail system for our guests. 

The Preserve Team also completed work at Shaker Landing and on the Palisades trail. If you have not hiked this trail recently, we encourage you to add it to you adventure list and mark it off soon.

Expanding Education and the Guest Experience
This year, we hosted tens of thousands of guests in the Village for daily adventures, dining, overnight stays, signature events, weddings, family reunions, business retreats and more.  And, with an expanded guest experience, there was more to see and do this year.

Two exhibits opened to the public in 2023. The first, a temporary exhibit, Searching for Sister Mary helps guest to explore the life of Sister May Settles who passed away 100 years ago as the last Shaker at Pleasant Hill. The second, The Believers, opened as a permanent exhibition in September on the second floor of the 1820 Meeting House. It encourages visitors to learn more about how the Shakers’ faith influenced the way they lived and it compliments our live Shaker Music program that takes place on the first floor of the building daily. The Believers was made possible through a grant by the Lilly Endowment, Inc.

The Searching for Sister Mary exhibit opened in early 2023 and explored the life of “the last Shaker.”

The guest experience also expanded this year to include a natural playscape for our youngest visitors. This area adjacent to the farm is both a recreational area and a natural learning lab. Since it’s opening this fall, it has been extremely popular and so inspirational. The children who visit Shaker Village today will be the stewards of the site tomorrow.

With Thanks and Gratitude to You

Since 2019 I have had the privilege of authoring this blog post. Every year as I begin to pull together a list of all the things that happened, I am humbled by just how much your support has impacted the Village.  When you visit for the day, when you dine with us, stay overnight, make a purchase in the shops, become an annual passholder, and make a financial contribution, you are making a difference here. 

Shaker Village’s mission and work is all about inspiring future generations by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers, but we can’t fulfill this mission without you. 

Thank you for everything you do – big or small – to help us carry out our work. Together, we can and will ensure that Shaker Village remains a place for tranquil reflection, for families, for discovery and for play.

Sticking the Landing

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

Back in May, we introduced you to our plans for Shaker Landing. Much has been accomplished on this project since then, and we’re delighted to share this visual progress report. We must also express our gratitude to the Chair of the Shaker Village Board of Trustees, Ann Bakhaus, for her vision, leadership and energy in guiding these transformational efforts.

The 1861 Shaker River Road winds its way along the Kentucky River Palisades and past an overlook of High Bridge, ending at Shaker Landing.

An 1866 Timber Frame Stable greets visitors at the Landing. The only surviving Shaker structure remaining along the river, it was restored this year through the generosity of Lois Mateus and the Tallgrass Farm Foundation, in honor of her late husband, preservationist Tim Peters.

The Dixie Belle, the Village’s paddlewheel riverboat, was retired in 2022 after 40 years of service. Rather than sell or disassemble the boat, the Village elected to restore it and install it at Shaker Landing as a new venue for events. The riverboat will be mounted to four telephone poles, allowing it to float up and down in place when floodwaters rise. The surrounding deck adjoins the riverboat via hinged thresholds, creating a gap to protect the deck from damage from the boat, should it rise and fall with floodwater.

In the coming years the riverboat will play host to live music, dining events, cub scout campouts, school field trips and more. As a compliment to the Landing and Timber Frame Stable, the riverboat offers an exciting new venue for weddings and receptions at Shaker Village.

On October 29, Shaker Village staff, Trustees, donors and supporters gathered to celebrate the updates to Shaker Landing. This will be the first of many Village events on the Kentucky River, bringing energy back to the once vibrant port of the Pleasant Hill Shakers.

If you would like to learn more about hosting your upcoming event, campout or field trip at Shaker Landing, contact our Event Sales team today.

Follow Our Progress

Expect to hear more about the progress of our Long-Range Plan projects on social media, through our emails and on the Shaker Village blog. We hope you follow along!

If you have questions about master site planning at Shaker Village, or if you would like to support our efforts, please reach out to our Vice President of Public Programming & Marketing, Billy Rankin at brankin@shakervillageky.org or 859.734.1574.

This is the fourteenth article in an ongoing series outlining long-range planning at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. New to the series? You can visit our previous articles here:

Shaker Village Farm Meat Shares

J. Michael Moore, Farm Manager 

There is a history of agriculture at Pleasant Hill that is deeply rooted in the Shaker spirit. We embrace this heritage in every choice we make on the farm today. The Shakers were among some of the most prominent agriculturists of their time, even working with some famous Kentuckians like Henry Clay. The Shakers were practicing sustainable agriculture and humane animal husbandry before it was the “right way” to do things through their set of millennial laws. 

Section VII. 

Order Concerning Beasts, &c. 

  •  No beasts belonging to the people of God, may be left to suffer with hunger, thirsts or cold, in consequence of neglect, on the part of those who have the care of them.  But all should be kept in their proper places, and properly attended to according to their needs. 
  • Beasts may not be called by the given or christen names of persons. 
  • No kinds of beasts, birds, fowls, or fishes, may be kept merely for the sake of show, or fancy. 
  • No beasts or any living thing, may be wantonly pained, injured, or tortured.  And no living thing may be chastened or corrected in a passion. 

We believe the land we stand on is to be tended in a sustainable and regenerative way that ensures the history of its production provides for us now and continues to produce for the next generations of guests at Pleasant Hill. Every year we produce thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables from our certified-organic garden and orchard, but what you may not know is that we provide protein to our onsite restaurant and local communities.  

The Shaker Village Farm provides a true farm-to-table experience with fresh seasonal produce delivered daily to The Trustees’ Table restaurant.

Our farm supports more than 300 animals that play a significant role in our success. We believe every animal has a purpose; we use their natural abilities to mimic how they interact in nature to manage our land in a fashion that improves the land they occupy. These ecological services are exemplified through manure used as fertilizers in our garden, holistic grazing to improve our pastures, or even using ducks to manage pests and waste in our orchards.  

All things are interconnected on our farm to ensure our livestock live the best possible natural life while improving the land we rely on. We are focused on the philosophy of “one bad day,” whether it is some of our favorite barnyard friends or our production livestock, we work every day to treat them all the same and provide them with the best quality of life. 

Farm Manager J. Michael Moore checking on livestock in the pasture.

Every year we provide thousands of pounds of meat to our restaurant, The Trustees’ Table, but we have expanded to provide the best possible meat from our fields to your plate. We finish all our cattle and sheep on grass, and all of our hogs and turkeys are pasture raised and only feed non-GMO grains. When you purchase a meat share or garden share from our farm, you are not only supporting 200 years of history, you are also supporting furthering sustainable and regenerative practices that we believe are the path forward and the future of our food systems. Don’t just take it from us, read what one of our happy customers had to say about their experience. 

“Leslie and I are enthusiastic supporters of Shaker Village. When we learned that they were butchering and selling beef and pork raised on property we quickly put in our order. We purchased a whole cow and have enjoyed several of the cuts. The beef has a wonderful fresh, healthy taste to it that just can’t be found in grocery store meat.  The cuts are perfect serving sizes, and Mike Moore, Shaker Village Farm Manager, couldn’t be easier to work with or more accommodating. It’s rewarding to us knowing we are serving our family premium, tasty, and wholesome proteins while supporting Shaker Village. We hope you’ll consider Shaker Village when buying your beef or pork.” 

Mike Browning & Dr. Leslie Horn 

If you are preparing for the holidays, special occasions or looking to stock your freezer, we’d be grateful if you considered purchasing a meat share of lamb, pork or poultry from the Shaker Village Farm.  

Environmental Education Field Trips

Pony Meyer, Program Specialist
Laura Baird, Stewardship Manager

Shaker Village boasts 2,000 acres of Nature Preserve full of educational potential. We host a variety of environmental education opportunities through our discovery treks and seasonal guided hikes; however, part of the challenge in harnessing this potential for larger school groups is access. Recently, we have started to expand our environmental education field trip offerings by improving access to natural areas closer to the Village center. To do this, we secured an 18-month grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to fund pond restoration, habitat improvement and environmental education opportunities in a specific project area.  

Learn more about school programs at Shaker Village here.  

NFWF Five Star & Urban Waters Restoration Program Grant

In Fall 2022, we received a Five Star & Urban Waters Restoration Program Grant from the NFWF. This grant funded habitat improvement, pond restoration and environmental education in a 20-acre area of early successional forest and wetland habitat.

This upland drainage includes three historic farm ponds, the largest of which was built in 1837 and is a 2.5-acre pond stocked for catch-and-release fishing. The Shakers called this pond the “Big Pond” or “West Pond.” Historically, it was an important source of water and ice for the Shakers, especially during periods of drought. The smallest pond in the project area is roughly 0.2 acres and catches water released from an on-site wastewater treatment facility. The project also includes the small stream that connects these ponds and the remaining length of this drainage until it connects to a tributary of Shaker Creek, which drains into the Kentucky River after approximately 4.5 miles.

This map shows the 20-acre restoration and educational area including three historic farm ponds. 

Restoration and Habitat Improvement

For habitat improvement, the project focuses on the removal of invasive plants such as bush honeysuckle and garlic mustard as well as replanting native species selected to support birds and pollinators. Both the Preserve and Program departments, as well as community volunteers and Mercer County students have played an integral part in this stewardship.

Upland streams, headwaters and wetlands are considered priority habitats in Kentucky’s State Wildlife Action Plan and many of the birds who utilize this habitat are considered priority species in this area of the state. This project builds upon previous work completed on property to improve the habitat and the quality of the watershed. Since 2009, more than 1,000 acres of surrounding fields at Pleasant Hill have been converted from modern farmland to native shortgrass prairies and managed for grassland bird diversity. 

Click here to learn more information on the land conservation efforts in the Preserve at Shaker Village.

Environmental Education Programs for Mercer County Students

NFWF also funded the development of two environmental education programs in this project area specifically for students in Mercer County, Kentucky:

  • Pond Restoration, Habitat Improvement, and the Importance of Native Plants
  • Water Quality Testing in Shaker Village Ponds

Over the winter of 2022-2023, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill’s Program and Preserve teams developed these stewardship programs; ran a teacher focus group for participating teachers; and cleared a temporary hiking path through the area. In the spring of 2023, we piloted and launched the two new programs for grades 3-12. We ran 11 programs with nine different teachers and provided programming for 174 students! Students from Burgin Independent and Mercery County High School used a hands-on 3D model to explore how watersheds work and the impact of possible pollutants. Hiking a little over a mile through the project area, students also performed water quality testing in two Shaker Village ponds and planted native trees/shrubs in riparian areas. Students learned how Best Management Practices like planting native plants and vegetation buffers near our waterways help mitigate non-point source pollution.

8th grade students from Burgin Independent using a 3D watershed model to learn about water pollution.

Students planted a variety of bareroot native trees and shrubs including Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Common Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum), Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), American Hazelnut (Corylus Americana), Eastern serviceberry (A.canadensis), American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and Common Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Students also placed tree protectors (blue tubes pictured) to protect the young trees from the elements and from foraging deer.

Third grade students from Burgin Independent planting native trees and shrubs.
A 10th grade student from Mercer County High School holds a streamside salamander (Ambystoma barbouri).

What’s Next?

Beginning this fall, the Program team will continue running these two stewardship programs where students from Mercer County will have the opportunity to test water quality, plant native plants and explore the Nature Preserve. The Preserve team will continue working on establishing the educational foot trail while the Program team will also be working on interpretive signage in this area including information on the Shaker Village wastewater treatment plant. Looking to 2024, Shaker Village plans to offer these two programs as educational field trips for students in our state and region. Please keep an eye on our school programs webpage as we continue to expand our environmental education offerings in this project area and beyond!

Gotta Have Faith

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

Excitement and Worry

Each time a new exhibit installation takes place in the Village, I’m filled with equal parts excitement and worry. This is especially true when the exhibit will be “permanent,” and is being installed in one of the most significant buildings at Pleasant Hill!

The built environment at Pleasant Hill is the physical embodiment of Shaker heritage in central Kentucky. Each building speaks to multiple aspects of Shaker life. The iconic architecture of these historic spaces has long inspired visitors to the Village. As historians and preservationists, our goal is to craft experiences that add depth to this inspiration by interpreting the story of the Pleasant Hill Shakers.

In July, we shared plans for The Believers. This new exhibition will explore the faith and theology of the Shakers, and is currently being installed on the second floor of the 1820 Meeting House.

Bringing Spirit to the Space

When we began planning The Believers, our team quickly realized the opportunity at hand.

Every visitor to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill comes with their own set of individual beliefs. They may be religious beliefs, but can also be embodied by a personal philosophy, or set of values. Although our interpretive staff do a wonderful job leading guided tours and conducting Shaker music programs in the Meeting House, many visitors to the building come outside those program times. For them, it is an empty space, and they must “fill in the blanks.”

The Pleasant Hill Shakers were renowned for the fervor of their worship, and the depth of their faith. They endeavored to live their lives without sin. They sought to create Heaven on Earth. This was the reason for their society, and their mission.

The goal of The Believers is to encourage our visitors to learn more about why the Shakers lived, not just how. By doing this, we hope that in some small way guests to Pleasant Hill consider their own purpose, and how their personal beliefs impact every decision they make, building their world around them.

Join Us

On Friday, September 22 at 6:00 p.m. Shaker Village will host the grand opening of The Believers. This is a free event, with online registration still available. Funding for the Believers and our grand opening has been provided by a generous contribution from the Eli Lilly Endowment.

Until then, I hope you enjoy these preview photos from our ongoing installation!

Follow Our Progress

Expect to hear more about the progress of our Long-Range Plan projects on social media, through emails and on the Shaker Village blog. We hope you follow along!

If you have questions about master site planning at Shaker Village, or if you would like to support our efforts, please reach out to our Vice President of Public Programming & Marketing, Billy Rankin at brankin@shakervillageky.org or 859.734.1574.

This is the thirteenth article in an ongoing series outlining long-range planning at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. New to the series? You can visit our previous articles here: