In the first decade after the arrival of Shaker missionaries in Mercer County, before the Pleasant Hill community had built many of the iconic structures that make up the village today, new converts lived on farmsteads scattered around what would eventually become the village center. Many of these homes and outbuildings had not been built by the Shakers, but were put to use to house the rapidly growing community as the Shakers bought land from their neighbors. Early journals make reference to many of these farmsteads, including “the Denny Farm on the hill West of the Grist mill pond, the Varner place about a mile North of the village, and the Brickey place about a half mile or more beyond that” (Church Record Book A, HHS, pg. 38).
One such property was a parcel of land the Shakers bought from William Hoard in 1807, just two years after Shaker missionaries arrived in Mercer County. The property included a frame house which had been built by a previous occupant, which became home for the next ten years to several groups of new converts, including some of Pleasant Hill’s most prominent early families – the Bantas, the Runyons, the Bryants, and converts like John Shain, who later became the village doctor.
A New Location
Over time, the Shakers at Pleasant Hill established two purpose-built Gathering Orders, the North Lot and West Lot, to house new members of the faith while they learned about Shaker lifestyle and religion. The scattered farmsteads that had characterized early village life were simultaneously being phased out. At this time, the Shakers chose to move the frame house from the Hoard property and rebuild the structure as the North Lot Family Dwelling.
On December 16, 1816, Shakers recorded this move in their journals: “Today we began to pull down and move away the old fraim house where Samuel Banta collected a Family in 1807, we intend establishing a gathering family or family of young believers, the family is to be 1 mile North E of the Center Family it will be known by the name of North Lot” (Origins & Progress of the Society, 123).
Over the next year, the Shakers rebuilt the frame house at its new location, adding a cellar and kitchen. The first residents moved to North Lot on November 25th, 1817. This building served as the primary dwelling house for the family until December of 1832, when a larger brick dwelling (lost to a fire in 1946) was completed, after which point it was used as a workshop.
Gathering Orders at Pleasant Hill
Shaker Gathering Orders hosted diverse and shifting populations of potential converts as needy families, European immigrants, spiritual seekers, free black Americans, and countless others arrived on the Shakers’ doorstep. Records note frequent arrivals and departures: members leaving the faith, novitiates transferring to other spiritual families, run-away children, expulsions and readmittances, births, deaths, and other dramas. Some residents of the North Lot Dwelling stayed for months, weeks, or years while never formally joining the community, while for others their time at North Lot was merely the first step toward a life lived in the Shaker community.
The North Lot Dwelling
Today, the frame dwelling is the only building remaining from the North Lot Gathering Order, 206 years after it was moved to its present location. Because the frame house was in existence before the Shakers began constructing some of their first structures on the site, the building likely contains some of the oldest materials still on the site today.
The building has been closed to the public since the 2000s, but is slated for restoration to begin this year. As preservation of the building begins and progresses, we will continue to research and share the story of this significant structure, while preparing it to be used again someday very soon.
Who was Sister Mary, and why are we trying to find her?
A born storyteller, Sister Mary Settles was by all accounts well read, well written, and loved to talk. She had a knack for effective, entertaining, and engaging communication.
“One of a few brilliant conversationalists now living. She will not only talk for publication but she does it so entertainingly and so accurately, that your only trouble lies in being able to keep up with the facts and dates, for which she has an alarming memory.” – Ella Hutchinson Ellwanger, 1919
Sister Mary arrived at Pleasant Hill in 1859 as a single mother of two young children. She claimed to be a widow, but records indicate that her husband, Frank Settles was still living at the time and married another woman in the early 1860s. No matter the circumstance surrounding her arrival, she found a refuge at Pleasant Hill and a place to call home for the final 64 years of her life.
Pleasant Hill’s Last Shaker
Sister Mary took on many roles in the community, notably as a leader and an educator, but one title often overshadows the rest, she was the very last Pleasant Hill Shaker. As the 19th century came to a close, the population of Pleasant Hill was dwindling. The Shakers decided to close the covenant in 1910, meaning they would no longer accept new members. With only twelve Shakers left, including Sister Mary, it was challenging to maintain buildings and grounds, so they deeded their property to a local businessman in exchange for his care in the final years of their lives. With this agreement, the remaining Shakers ensured that they would receive the care and support that they needed. With the buildings in private hands, more hotels and restaurants began to open, and more visitors started to pass through.
A Local Celebrity
Automobile tourism in the 1910s and 1920s meant that people were looking for countryside attractions, and this opened a new world of activity at Pleasant Hill. This coupled with a natural curiosity felt toward the Shaker sect, as communities were waning throughout the U.S. during this time.
Because of this increased visitation, Sister Mary became a local celebrity and tourist attraction. With the passing of Brother William Pennebaker in 1922, her status as the last Pleasant Hill Shaker only intensified the public’s fascination with her and the community. Luckily for Sister Mary and the visitors alike, she was always ready for a good conversation.
At a time when the community and the religion were fading around her, and the world was closing in, Sister Mary decided to spend her time helping curious people of the world understand her way of life. She welcomed questions on the Shaker faith and kept up with the daily newspapers so that she could voice her opinion on all manner of topics. She eagerly contributed to discussions on women’s suffrage and when asked if she voted in the 1920 election, she claimed, “Of course, isn’t the equality of women part of our religion?” – The Courier Journal Sun, November 21, 1920. She lent her voice where she could, and she used her celebrity platform as a tool to educate and instruct, as any teacher would.
Sister Mary, Remembered
Sister Mary passed away on March 29, 1923, so on the centennial anniversary of her death, we ask, how should Sister Mary be remembered? By who she was, by where she lived, by what she did, or by how she made people feel?
At Shaker Village, we believe that studying the history of the Shakers, of Pleasant Hill, and of individuals like Sister Mary gives us perspective on our own beliefs, roles, and identities. Which begs the question: How will you be remembered?
Join us in exploring Sister Mary’s life at Pleasant Hill in our upcoming exhibit, Searching for Sister Mary located on the second floor of Center Family Dwelling.
2022 has been an incredible year at Shaker Village. There is so much to celebrate and none of it would have been possible without your support as a guest, a passholder, or a donor.
Major Milestone Achieved
Five years ago, William Updike joined the Shaker Village staff as the Vice President of Natural & Cultural Resources. His goal was to secure each of the 34 historic Shaker structures on the site. The first step was to replace aging (and failing) roofs. William says, “A dry building starts at the top!” Realizing this ambitious vision required significant resources and funding, and it happened.
When you take a stroll down the historic turnpike and throughout the Village you will notice new roofs have been installed on nearly every building over the past five years. Six roofs were replaced just this year. This is a quite an achievement!
Water poses the biggest threat in historic preservation. When a roof reaches the end of its useful life, it starts to let water in which can damage the building’s structure. Preventing leaks and deflecting water away from the building helps to preserve these original Shaker structures for future generations. And that is precisely our mission!
Our team of craftsmen have also been hard at work this year on windows in the Old Stone Shop and completing the full preservation of the 1817 East Family Dwelling. With help from the grounds crew, the Village has truly never looked better!
Growing a Farm, and our “Farmily”
The Farm at Shaker Village is one of the most popular spots on the property for our guests. Can you guess why? It’s the animals! The Farm and the Garden are cared for by four staff members, and their successes in 2022 are amazing! Check out some of their accomplishments this year:
Completed the 3rd year of solar grazing at LG&E, with our sheep, controlling vegetation across 32 acres of solar panels.
Increased our flock population and now have almost 200 breeding ewes!
Expanded our cattle grazing into a 60-acre sections of native grasses.
Added 3 new registered Shorthorn Heifers to our herd, 2 calves and 1 Texas Longhorn steer.
Built 2 large sections of woven wire fence in our pastures
Redesigned the garden area to have additional walkways for guests.
Built a High Tunnel to extend the growing season and completed its first year of production.
Finished our 2nd full year of CSA garden shares across two, 10-week periods totaling 11 shares per season
Taught dozens of summer campers and hundreds of guests about honey bees and draft animals on our farm.
Donated hundreds of pounds of food to those in need.
Engaging Our Guests
Every day at Shaker Village there is a schedule of daily programs and tours for our guests to enjoy. Our Program Team takes great care and preparation in putting these programs together. They have a lot of fun interacting with our visitors. It is the most rewarding part of our work. Continually enhancing the guest experience is our top priority.
This year we launched the much-anticipated Shaker Village App. This FREE app places hundreds of historic images and other rarely seen content right at your fingertips. It is a great way for you to explore the Village and learn the stories of individual Shakers. Through the App, we hope you will gain a deeper understanding of the Pleasant Hill Shakers and their legacy.
The Program Team and the Curator of Collections are also working on the development, fabrication and installation of two exhibits that will open in 2023. The first, Searching for Sister Mary, will open in March 2023. It will celebrate Sister Mary Settles who was the last Shaker to live at Pleasant Hill. The second exhibit, The Believers: Shaker Theology and Worship, will be installed on the second floor of the 1820 Meeting House. It will open in fall 2023.
Volunteers Make Improvements to The Preserve
Since the unofficial beginning of The Preserve, we have been constantly working to improve the habitat for all the wild things that call this area home. We gauge our progress through surveys of plants, trees, birds, small mammals and insects. This year a quick plant inventory revealed approximately 130 different plant species in The Preserve. And over the years we have observed 108 different species of birds.
As a guest, you can make your own observations in The Preserve by hiking or riding on our multi-use trails. Our trails are maintained by a team of two staff members and a growing number of dedicated volunteers who meet every third Saturday of the month (March through October). Our volunteers worked throughout the past year to improve the Heritage Trail by removing overgrown honeysuckle. This work opened up the trail and hikers should be treated to a beautiful wildflower display next spring!
We also encourage you to spend some time at the Bird Blind, which was updated this past summer. It’s a great place to see some of the area’s most abundant birds and insects. The Bird Blind is located at the center trailhead and is accessible.
We Make You Kindly Welcome
The Pleasant Hill Shakers were known for their hospitality and we carry that legacy forward today. Whether you are visiting for the day, staying overnight or spending a holiday here, we look forward to seeing you!
At The Inn this year, we renovated the bathrooms in four of our guest rooms. These updated bathrooms now feature walk-in showers and more spacious bathrooms. These upgrades were made possible by generous donor support and are part of our ongoing efforts to improve accessibility across the site.
At The Trustees’ Table, we welcomed over 62,000 diners to our table. The fried chicken, Shaker Lemon Pie, and tomato celery soup are our guests’ tried and true favorites. If you’re looking for something a little bit different, check out our Fresh Food Adventure Series. Chef Amber Hokams is able to show off her skills and the best of the Shaker Village Farm during these events. This past year we hosted six of these culinary adventures – and we invite you to join us in January 2023 for the Bourbon Dinner!
With Gratitude…to our Guests, Passholders and Donors
As the year winds down, we are so humbled by the support you’ve shown Shaker Village in a year that has been challenging for all of us. The best part about Shaker Village is that it is nestled in this beautiful rolling hills of the bluegrass. When you visit, it’s because Shaker Village is your destination and you have made an effort to get here to enjoy the peace and tranquility.
In a year when the market has been unstable and inflation has caused rising gas prices, food costs and more, we know your charitable dollars may be limited. Yet we are celebrating all the things that you helped make possible in 2022. We cannot say thank you enough.
Pleasant Hill is a magical place. When the Shakers settled here in 1805, they had no way of knowing that this site would remain two centuries later. Thank you for making that happen, and for generously supporting Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark. We are so excited for 2023 and all the possibilities it will bring.
Shannon Timmons, Annual Passholder Program Coordinator
As we enter the month of November, many of us turn our thoughts to Thanksgiving, and what we are grateful for from the past year. At Shaker Village we have many things to be grateful for, and the support of our 3,300 Annual Passholders is at the top of the list.
Annual Pass fees support 3,000 acres of discovery, new programs and educational opportunities for our guests. Pass fees also go towards the preservation and maintenance of our pristine grounds which includes 37 miles of walking and riding trails, and 34 original 19th Century buildings.
The Annual Pass Program has incredible value! We have three different passes and a variety of ways to customize them to fit your needs. The Village Pass, Equestrian Pass and Photography Pass all include tremendous benefits:
Additional passholder-only discounts several times a year across the Village.
Discounts on Discovery Treks and Workshops.
Insider emails and exclusive promotions.
The Village Pass is designed for singles, couples, and families who enjoy strolling the trails, picnics at the pond, exploring the history of our original Shaker structures, or just simply soaking in the peace and tranquility of the property.
The Equestrian Pass is prefect for equine aficionados who bring their horses and explore our 30 miles of riding trails. This pass also includes free stall use and two complementary admission passes to The Historic Centre to share with family and friends.
If you are a photographer, thePhotography Passis for you! Your clients receive free admission to the property during their photo session, and you won’t find a more beautiful location in Central Kentucky for outdoor photo shoots.
Not only is an annual pass a wonderful gift for yourself, it makes the perfect gift for the holidays. Giving the beauty, history and hospitality of Shaker Village is a unique way to treat your loved ones. So, as we approach the season of giving and of thanksgiving, we say THANK YOU to our annual passholder supporters. For those of you who are interested in joining our passholder family, please visit our website for more information and to sign up.
If you’d like to give the gift of an annual pass, or have any questions about the program, please contact Shannon Timmons, Annual Passholder Program Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 859.734.1553.
A few months ago, Shaker Village hosted Little English, a female-led Lexington, Ky. basedchildren’s clothing line, for their fall collection photoshoot. The Village was a perfect fit for thecountryside chic vibe they were looking to capture. We enjoyed having them so much that weinvited them to be a guest blogger this month. Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at themaking of the shoot and visit littleenglish.com to shop the collection, and receive 10% off through October 31, 2022 by using code: SHAKERVILLAGE10at checkout.
Guest Blogger Siobhan O’Neill, Little English Affiliate Marketing Specialist
Established in 1805, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill was once the third largest Shaker community in the US. This landmark destination includes 3,000 acres of discovery in the spirit of the Kentucky Shakers and is home to the country’s largest private collection of original 19th century buildings. Shaker Village’s rich history, beautiful countryside, and proud roots were a few reasons Little English decided to host our fall 2022 photoshoot at this destination, just outside of Lexington, in Harrodsburg, KY.
Like Shaker Village, Little English values tradition. Shaker Village’s mission is to inspire generations through discovery, by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers. Similarly, Little English works to preserve tradition in clothing by curating classic and high-quality children’s clothing that celebrates childhood. The emphasis Shaker Village places on nature preservation, history, and tradition made it an easy location choice for Little English.
One of the historically significant and well-preserved landmarks of Shaker Village are the dry-stack stone fences that can be seen when you first drive onto the property. Pleasant Hill once had more than 40 miles of dry-stack stone fences. Today, they repair and maintain 25 miles of these fences famous to the Bluegrass. Like most of the stone fences in the Bluegrass region, the ones that surround Pleasant Hill were built by Irish and African-American stone masons (learn more about their history here). Little English featured these stone fences in our photoshoot because of their beautiful and unique texture and historical significance to Kentucky.
The display wagon, used in Little English’s photoshoot, is housed in the Scale House. Built in 1875, the Scale House was used as a weigh station for heavy loads of cargo used by the Shakers. The wagon you see today is a reproduction of the Pennebaker Brother’s original wagon used to haul coal, brick, and other supplies on the property.
Utilized as a location for retreats, meetings and reunions today, the West Lot Dwelling was once a gathering house for apprentice members of the Shaker community. In the late 19th century, it became a home for Swedish immigrants and later turned into the Pennebaker Home for Girls. Little English did the majority of our shooting in and around the West Lot Dwelling because of the beautiful interiors, grand porches, and lush outdoor areas.
Little English was so grateful for the opportunity to partner with Shaker Village on our fall 2022 photoshoot. The 3,000 acres of rolling hills and 19th century buildings provided endless shooting opportunities to capture Shaker Village’s beauty and highlight the mood and inspiration behind our fall collection.