Knee-Deep in June: Summer Camp at Shaker Village

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming & Marketing

To think of the stunted and withered childhood of our hot streets taken out into the country to breath the fresh air, to lay down on the green grass, to look up thru the green leaves into the blue vault of Heaven… – “The Children’s Summer Home at Shaker Town,” The Lexington Leader, June 12, 1916

Two boys standing on Pleasant Hill’s historic turnpike. Early 20th-century.

Modest Beginnings

Organized summer camps for children first appeared in the United States in 1861 when, in the early days of the Civil War, Frederick W. Gunn took a group of boys from Connecticut on a two-week trip to “spend time in nature, enjoy physical activity, and build character.” The concept of summer camps quickly gained momentum, and by the end of the century YWCA, YMCA, Boys’ Club, and a myriad of private camps had begun to open across the country. 1

It was the summer of 1916 when the idea of a summer “camp” for children at Pleasant Hill first sprung to life. Only six years earlier, the few remaining Shakers of the society determined to close their covenant to new members. Much of the property had already been sold to private owners, with many Shaker buildings being used as businesses, homes, and for agricultural purposes.

One of the remaining Shakers, Dr. William Pennebaker, took private ownership of a parcel on the west end of the Village, including the 1821 West Family Dwelling and 1811 Old Stone Shop. In 1916 the management of Lexington’s Associated Charities was seeking a “home during the hot months of July and August for some of the little children of Lexington whose parents…are unable to give them even the actual necessaries for life.” In partnership with Dr. Pennebaker, “Shakertown” became that home, and the first “organized summer camp experience” took place at Pleasant Hill.

Explorer Day Camp at Shaker Village includes activities and programs across 3,000 acres of natural and historic landscape.

That summer the experience was described as “…running knee-deep in June amid grass and wildflowers and beneath the overhanging branches of big trees, with the added joys of an abundance of cold, sweet milk, bread, butter, vegetables, watermelons and fruits – what a prospect the Shakertown adventure offers!”2

Summer Camp Returns

The partnership between Dr. Pennebaker and Associated Charities was short-lived, bringing summer camp at Pleasant Hill to a close after only one season. It would be 100 years before organized summer camp experiences would return to the Village.

In June 2016, Explorer Day Camp was born. Over the course of two, one-week sessions, 22 children became the first participants in a new summer tradition. Taking full advantage of the resources at Shaker Village, campers participated in programs for gardening, environmental education, archery, fishing, crafts, hiking, music, field games, and more.

Camp staff and campers during the first summer of Explorer Day Camp in 2016.

In subsequent years the program has continued to grow, adding year-round, dedicated staff, additional camp sessions, expanded opportunities for teen campers, and constantly evolving programs and activities. Explorer Camp now operates seven sessions of camp throughout June and July, while Teen Service Leadership and Leaders-in-Training welcome teen campers to develop their leadership skills. In total, 240 children will spend a portion of their summer in camp at Shaker Village this year.

Why Camp?

If you or your child have never experienced summer camp, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. What makes camp different from other childcare options? Is it worth the cost and effort?

A well-run summer camp with trained counselors is one of the best investments you can make for your child. Here are a few reasons why:

Explorer Camp counselors facilitate activities that develop teambuilding and leadership skills.
  • Camp is a safe and nurturing environment that enhances social skills. Camp is for everyone, so children and youth have the opportunity to meet and interact with peers from outside their school environment.
  • Camp supplements traditional education. Camps use intentional programming to create a balance of experiential learning opportunities that are physical, emotional, and social.
  • Camp is a natural extension of the classroom. Research indicates that by participating in strategically planned, structured summer experiences, children reduce summer learning loss. Camp challenges children, keeps them engaged, develops creativity and their talents, and expands their horizons.
  • Camp provides experiences that promote self-confidence and future academic growth. American Camp Association independent research shows that parents and camp staff, as well as the campers themselves, report significant growth in several areas, including leadership, independence, social comfort, and values and decisions.
  • Camp encourages a respect and love of nature. Children are able to learn about the natural world. Camp also gives them a chance to “unplug.” More and more experts are advocating the value of time spent in nature for children — and camp is a perfect place to do that.
  • Camp provides the opportunity to stay physically active. Camp is the ultimate outdoor experience with programs that offer physical activities and enhance health and teach self-confidence.3

Continuing to provide a high-quality summer camp experience is now firmly engrained in the mission of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

If you would like to learn more about upcoming summer camp programs at the Village, or the benefits of summer camp, please contact us! [email protected]

  1. “Timeline of ACA and Summer Camp”, American Camp Association, 2024 ↩︎
  2. “The Children’s Summer Home at Shakertown”, The Lexington Leader, June 12, 1916 ↩︎
  3. “The Long-Lasting Benefits of Camp”, American Camp Association, 2013 ↩︎


Lucy Dever, Collections Specialist

We don’t tend to give the mail a lot of thought these days. With email, cellphones, and especially the internet, so-called “snail mail” is increasingly neglected, fit only for low-stakes correspondence like birthday cards or letters to Santa. But once upon a time, the mail was all-important, the lifeline connecting anyone who lived farther than a few miles’ walk.

Though it may no longer serve as our primary means of communication, the mail still brings us something that electronic messages can’t—tangible human contact. Think about that birthday card you still have in your drawer, the one with your grandma’s signature that you run your fingers over from time to time. Or the letter from a childhood pen-pal, yellowed with age but still fresh in your memory. These things are precious, physical reminders of our connection with people who are absent from us. The mail, though it may seem archaic and irrelevant in our modern world, fosters family and community—just like the Shakers.

Functional Elegance

Earlier this week, the US Postal Service released a collection of twelve stamps in honor of the 250th anniversary of the Shakers’ arrival in America in 1774. The collection, titled “Shaker Design,” focuses not only on the beauty of Shaker craftsmanship, but also on the practical use of these objects by real people, for real working tasks. The stamps celebrate this “functional elegance” on large and small scales, from the smallest corner of a handkerchief to the expansive façade of a family dwelling. One even features the famous double spiral staircase of the Trustees’ Office here at Pleasant Hill, designed by Micajah Burnett in 1839.

The spiral staircase in the Trustees’ Office graces one of the 2024 Shaker Design stamps.

The collection’s “selvage,” or backing paper, ties these twelve seemingly disparate images together with a photograph of Shaker Brother Ricardo Belden crafting oval boxes in his workshop at Hancock Shaker Village, circa 1935. The photo is striking, giving a face to these objects handcrafted long ago.

The collection’s selvage shows a Shaker brother making oval boxes, emphasizing the handcrafted nature of Shaker objects.

But an emphasis on human connection is far from the only thing linking the Shakers to the Postal Service. In fact, the two have a long and deeply connected history—especially at Pleasant Hill.

Celerity, Certainty, Security

The United States Postal Service was founded by the Second Continental Congress in 1775, predating the Declaration of Independence by nearly a year. Instrumental to the Revolutionary cause and indispensable to citizens of all kinds, the USPS expanded significantly westward in the late eighteenth century, and Kentucky’s first post office was established in Danville in 1792. Harrodsburg followed shortly after in 1794, giving Mercer County residents access to reliable communication networks for the first time. Mercer County’s second post office, however, was established in the spring of 1818, right here at Pleasant Hill.

The founding of the Pleasant Hill Post Office came just after the introduction of a major innovation to mail services in the Bluegrass: the stagecoach. Stagecoaches, so named because they carried out their journeys in different stages with different horses, could carry correspondence at around eight miles per hour, especially if they had macadamized, or hard paved, roads to drive on. After the introduction of the mail stagecoach in Kentucky in 1816, constructing these macadamized roads became a top priority for the young state.

A model of an 1818 stagecoach used to carry mail, currently on display at the National Postal Museum.

In 1833, the Kentucky legislature called for the construction of a paved turnpike connecting Lexington, Harrodsburg, and Perryville to facilitate easier trade, travel, and communication. The proposed route ran through the heart of Pleasant Hill, and the Shakers quickly got to work on their portion of the new macadamized road. Spearheaded by Micajah Burnett, Pleasant Hill’s engineering wunderkind, the new turnpike was completed by 1839, and quickly became an integral part of postal services in the region.

A Rising Star (Route)

When Lexingtonian William T. Barry was appointed Postmaster General in 1829, he quickly began working on “the great mail development,” a project which would increase the reach, speed, and reliability of postal service on what was then just short of the western frontier. At the start of this venture, all mail from the eastern states was carried westward on the Cumberland Road, running from Maryland to Missouri. But soon Barry began to plan a new route into the south, branching off from the Cumberland Road in Zanesville, Ohio. This route would showcase the efficacy and potential of the mail coach—and it would run right through Pleasant Hill.

Known as the Zanesville-Florence Star Route, the road began in Zanesville, Ohio, then on to the ferry at Maysville, then stopping in Lexington, Harrodsburg, Perryville, Lebanon, Campbellsville, Glasgow, Gallatin, Nashville, and Columbia before terminating in Florence, Alabama. If a letter was destined for an address even further south, it could be taken on board a steamboat and delivered all the way down to New Orleans.

Partly conceived to facilitate this new route, Pleasant Hill’s new turnpike, with its smooth macadamized surface, was an ideal road for mail coaches. These vehicles, pulled by teams of four to six horses, were the dominant means of mail delivery in the US for nearly forty years. They only began to decline in the mid-1850s, when railroad technology had improved enough to overtake the stagecoach in both speed and efficiency. The route through Pleasant Hill was discontinued by 1877, and the post office followed in 1904.

Located near the Welcome Center, Kentucky Historic Marker No. 1816 recounts the importance of Pleasant Hill in the construction of the new mail route.

While the mail coaches may be gone along with Pleasant Hill’s Shakers, the need for communication and connection to each other persists, beyond what’s possible in an intangible, typed message. So, this summer, why not do as the Shakers did—slow down, take a deep breath, and send a letter to someone you love.

And when you do, imagine the sound of hoofbeats.

The Shaker Design Stamp Collection can be purchased online here, onsite at Shaker Village’s Shops or at your local Post Office.


Lucy Dever, Collections Specialist

A Shaker Elder and two Eldresses stand on the side steps of the Trustees’ Office, once used to house and feed guests.

Pleasant Hill has changed a lot in the 218 years since its founding. To the Shakers, it was a home, a place separate and apart where they could worship as they wished. To the people of Mercer county in the early twentieth century, it was Shakertown, a quaint little village with odd architecture and fading memories. To those of us here today, it’s a place to connect with people past and present, and to experience the peace offered by the beautiful landscape around us. But though Pleasant Hill has been many things to many people, one aspect has stayed constant for over two centuries: Shaker hospitality.

From the Shakers’ own guest house in Trustees’ Office to Nannie Embry’s Shakertown Inn, making visitors kindly welcome has always been of the utmost importance here at Pleasant Hill. But it wasn’t until 1967 that the true spirit of Shaker hospitality manifested in our nonprofit, and it came in the form of Elizabeth Kremer.

A Culinary Life

Elizabeth Cromwell Kremer was born in 1901 in Cynthiana, Kentucky, and took an interest in food from a young age. In 1925, she graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Home Economics, and soon after set off for a restaurant career in New York City. There, she worked as one of the few female managers in the industry, often facing resistance and open criticism from men who did not like to see a woman in charge. In 1930, she returned to Kentucky to open The French Village restaurant, during which time she met and married Harold “Doc” Kremer. Though she left restaurant work in 1940 to raise her daughters Pem and Evalina, the kitchen would soon call her back.

Mrs. Kremer’s hard work and exacting standards led to a glowing review featured in The Los Angeles Times in 1977.

The founding board members of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill knew a quality restaurant was a necessity, both to support the new non-profit institution and to provide a better guest experience. Mrs. Kremer was personally recruited by Chairman Earl T. Wallace in 1967, first opening a small soup-and-sandwich bar in the Old Stone Shop and later moving to the Trustees’ Office for a full-scale restaurant. Upon accepting the position, she conducted extensive research on Shaker cooking, dining, and dress, striving to make the Trustees’ Office true to the Shaker spirit while serving the very best of homegrown Kentucky cooking. Mrs. Kremer personally developed beloved recipes such as Tomato Celery Soup, and made old-fashioned dishes like Shaker Lemon Pie favorites for a new generation. In 1986, after a long and celebrated second career, her health forced her to retire, and she passed away in September 1988.

Though she may have passed, her legacy can be seen throughout the village, from the daily fare at the Trustees’ Table to the “Mind Your Head” signs scattered throughout our buildings, made by her daughter Evalina. Recently, however, more personal memories of Mrs. Kremer have been made available even to those of us who never had the pleasure of meeting her.

Celebrating Mrs. Kremer

In collaboration with Evalina Kremer Settle, Deirdre A. Scaggs of the UK Libraries Special Collections Research Center has recently published Simplicity and Excellence: Elizabeth Kremer from Beaten Biscuits to Shaker Lemon Pie. This book—half biography, half cookbook—tells the story of Mrs. Kremer’s life through her culinary journey, from her childhood in Cynthiana to her nineteen years here at Pleasant Hill. It’s a remarkable book, suffused with memories of every sense—the clicking of heels, the taste of pastry, even the feel of a butterball in the palm of your hand.

The back staircase of The Trustees’ Office graces the cover of Scaggs’ new book, emphasizing the similarity between Mrs. Kremer’s culinary ethos and the Shaker way of life.

For those who want to experience Mrs. Kremer’s story in a more tangible way, please consider joining us on June 29th for our newest Fresh Food Adventure: A Step Back in Time. In celebration of the release of Simplicity and Excellence, Trustees’ Table Chef Amber Hokams will create a multi-course dining experience in honor of Mrs. Kremer and her contributions to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. The evening will also feature a meet-and-greet with author Deirdre A. Scaggs.

Though thirty-eight years have passed since Elizabeth Kremer left the Trustees’ Table for the last time, we at Pleasant Hill are eternally grateful for her many years of constant dedication, creativity, and most importantly, hospitality. We strive to do her proud.

Simplicity and Excellence is available for purchase here, as well as in The Shops. Tickets for the Fresh Food Adventure: A Step Back in Time can be purchased here.

May Is For The Birds

Laura Baird, Stewardship Manager

Spring is one of the best times on the Preserve at Shaker Village. Our forests suddenly light up with a burst of competing colors as wildflowers explode onto the scene amidst a lush green carpet. Every spring feels like a miracle as the landscape returns to life after a long gray winter. The month of April is for flowers, but May is for the birds.

Blue Jay Bird
This beautiful Blue Jay was spotted at Shaker Village.

By early May, the spring migration of birds is well underway. Billions of birds travel north from their overwintering grounds to return to their breeding territory – a spectacular display that coincides with the fresh new growth of plants and the return of large masses of insects. Birds need insects, especially soft-bodied, plentiful critters like caterpillars, to feed their young. Insects, in turn, need a diverse selection of native plants to survive.  The spring migration relies on this complicated web of natural relationships, so much so that the campaign slogan for World Migratory Bird Day on May 11th is “Protect insects, protect birds.”

To celebrate World Migratory Bird Day, thousands of community scientists will go birding on May 11th – also called Global Big Day. More than 58,700 birders from 199 countries went out during 2023’s Big Day, finding 7,626 species of birds all over the world. This massive effort becomes a global snapshot in time, capturing an enormous amount of valuable ornithological data every year. Last year, Mercer County recorded 137 species. Shaker Village’s property accounted for two out of the top four eBird hotspots in the entire state! 

Birdwatchers at Shaker Village
Birdwatchers have several opportunities for special bird-related events at Shaker Village in May.

Anyone can participate in Global Big Day – just go outside and report what you see and hear to eBird, a bird checklist website and app run by the Cornell Ornithology Lab and used by millions of birders worldwide. Birders interested in a refresher course of grassland bird ID can join us on May 3rd for “Birds of the Palisades”. Or, if you’re new to birding, join us on May 11th for our “Birding for Beginners” hike and we’ll celebrate Global Big Day together!

Carriage House Restoration

Hannah Williams, Development Coordinator

As we shared in the December year in review post, almost a year ago, the nineteenth-century Carriage House was crushed by a tree during an unprecedented storm. We were able to salvage many of the original materials and focus our efforts on rebuilding this piece of history to its full glory. 

After this full restoration of the Shakers’ Carriage House, we sat down with Shaker Village Carpenter Robert Brown to ask a few questions regarding his experience and work in bringing restoration to this important building at Pleasant Hill.

Carpenter Robert Brown works on all of the Village’s historic buildings. He’s pictured here doing door frame repairs on the 1809 Farm Deacon’s Shop.

Tell us about your background in carpentry and how you got started in this field. How many years have you been with Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill?
My background in carpentry was basically out of necessity. I wanted a house, and I knew I couldn’t afford to hire someone to do it, so that was really my start. I was entirely self-taught. Of course, growing up on a farm, you’ve got to do things yourself without having the opportunity to hire people out for that work. As far as how long I have been doing carpentry and restoration with Shaker Village, I have been here for just about six years.

How did you approach preserving the original craftsmanship and historical elements during the reconstruction of the Carriage House?
First, we had to start disassembling and labeling everything that we could label so that it could go back in the same spot. It was a process of excavating and figuring out what went where-essentially making it a huge jigsaw puzzle. There were pegs that held the rafters into the notches that were labeled so that they would be placed back in the same spot. The main frame was salvageable as well as a lot of the
original rafters.

The remains of the Carriage House that Robert excavated and repurposed where possible.

Can you share any interesting discoveries or surprises you encountered while working on the building?
The rafters were walnut which was a surprise to find. It is not the case for most rafters dating back to the 19th century to be made of walnut. There was also an unusual architectural element called the birdsmouth joint within the rafters which was found to have a double notch-a very untypical find for this type of rafter cut.

What was the most rewarding aspect of working on this restoration project? Were there any moments that stood out to you as particularly challenging or memorable during the restoration?
Being able to reuse most of the original stuff was really rewarding as a preservationist. There was only one beam that I had to completely replace due to previous rot, which we were able to source from an
old log.

Did you collaborate with other professionals or experts during the restoration, and if so, how did that collaboration enhance the project?
I am always the one to ask for opinions! Monty Kelly who does a lot of great work here and his father, who is very instrumental in stonework, were both large helps in giving their wisdom and expert eye towards this project.

Progress on the Carriage House rebuild.

What advice would you give to future carpenters or restoration specialists who might follow in your shoes here at Shaker Village?
Be willing to ask questions and be teachable. There are a lot of things you won’t know without getting your hands dirty and being willing to have a teachable mindset in every aspect of restoration.

We are thankful for the hard work, passion, and expertise of Robert and all the hands involved, including the financial gifts in making this restoration possible. A special “thanks” as well to the University of Kentucky students for their partnership in making the restoration and installation of the flooring within the Carriage House an incredibly smooth process.

To learn more about the historic preservation projects at Shaker Village, visit our website. Additionally, you can learn how to support these projects to continue the legacy of the Pleasant Hill Shakers.