2020 – A Year Like No Other

Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator

The staff and administration at Shaker Village entered 2020 with a high level of energy and excitement. 2019 had been a remarkable year at Shaker Village, and we put in place a great number of plans for 2020 that would further enhance the guest experience. But, “life is what happen to us while we are making other plans” (Allen Saunders; John Lennon).

As a non-profit cultural site, the mandated closure in the early weeks of the pandemic was difficult. But, it was within the Shaker journals that we found inspiration in this challenging time. The Shakers themselves were no strangers to adversity and had navigated through the Spanish Flu in 1918 as well Cholera outbreaks in 1820.

At different points in the history of Pleasant Hill, the Shakers in the community relied on healthcare provided by both Shakers, and non-Shakers. In this image, standing from left to right, are Dr. William Pennebaker, Francis Pennebaker (dentist) and a non-Shaker medical doctor. C. Late 19th Century.

Early on, our team committed to telling the story of the Kentucky Shakers through our digital media platforms. Bringing our humanities programming to you when you could not physically visit yourself, enabled us to act as a source of education, entertainment and an uplifting presence. As we reached out to you – our guests and supporters – to share this digital content, we received an outpouring of care and concern that meant so much to the staff who care for this powerful place every day.

2020 has turned out to truly be a year like no other, but despite the ongoing health emergency, Pleasant Hill remains and has been a peaceful retreat for our guests in an otherwise uncertain world. This has been possible because of you, your support, and your willingness to visit this summer and fall. Let’s take a look back at everything your support helped accomplish this year.

Preservation of The Historic Centre

When SVPH closed in March, the preservation staff was well-into a large project related to the 1817 East Family Dwelling.  A private donation from a generous donor enabled SVPH’s talented team of craftsmen to continue this work while the Village was closed to the public, focusing on the building’s windows and doors and replacing the wood shingle roof.

Preservation efforts in progress. July 2019.

Other notable preservation projects in 2020 included the completion of the 1833 Waterhouse and 1860 Bath House project, painting of the 1821 Ministry’s Workshop, installing a new roof on the 1809 Farm Deacon’s Shop, and cleaning and repointing of the masonry on the Farm Deacon’s shop and the 1811 Old Stone Shop. When you visit this winter, you’ll notice work has begun on the 1835 East Family Wash House. This building will be painted as soon as the winter weather breaks next spring.

Improvements to the Visitor Experience

During our closure, the Program Team, Marketing Team, Preservation Team, Farm Team, and Preserve Team produced digital content at a fast and furious pace. During this three-month time frame we posted six blog posts, over 20 interpretative videos, four photo slide shows, and many historical trivia posts. This work was made possible in part by a CARES grant through Kentucky Humanities. This type of work continued after our reopening as Program Specialist Laura Webb worked to prepare our collection records for online publication. She published nine blog posts featuring collections objects, photos and artifacts. Ms. Webb’s work was directly supported by a CARES grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities.

We also installed 20 new outdoor waystations thanks to the generosity of Community Trust Bank. These waystations provide our guests with information about the Shakers and Pleasant Hill as well as a myriad of topics related to the The Farm, The Preserve, and the natural landscape. They are positioned in key locations across the Village and add accessible interpretation of the Village to the guest experience.

Improving accessibility across the site is a long-term goal for us. In addition to the waystations, we installed an accessible path in the The Orchard, The Herb Garden, and The Native Garden as well as several picnic tables. We truly had no idea how big of an impact The Garden Project would have. This area became one of the most popular places in the Village this summer, much to the delight of our private donor.

The new accessible path that leads guests through the Apple Orchard.

We also continued our work to implement the new site-wide interpretative plan which is rolling out in stages across multiple years. In the first half of 2020, we installed 147 exhibition panels and 49 objects in six exhibits across four buildings. This is just the beginning of full, interactive exhibitions that are still to come!

The Farm

The Farm here at Shaker Village is a year-round operation that requires daily attention to our more than 100 animals. This year our “farmily” grew to include six lambs, six calves, 18 ducks and 36 new sheep (two different breeds!). We also expanded the farm footprint to 118 acres by adding a 68-acre tract of native grasses and added blackberries, flowers and green space near The Orchard.

One of the biggest challenges we faced at the Farm was food production. When we closed in March, our Farmers already had hundreds of plants growing in the greenhouse to support our farm-to-table dining experience. With the dining room closed, and later open at a reduced capacity, we were able to donate more of our produce to food banks and pay-it-forward restaurants. We also began a CSA model in the fall that we will continue and expand in 2021.

If you didn’t know, we also entered into a partnership with LGE and KU this year to give “baaaaack” to the earth. This innovative project established a flock of grazing sheep at the E.W. Brown Generating Station in Mercer County where their solar array is located. The sheep replace the need to mow with gas-powered lawnmowers and has been a huge success! Over the winter the sheep will be back at SVPH so we can care for the growing flock.

The flock of “lawn mowers” that care for the E.W. Brown Generating Station’s solar panel field.

The Preserve

The Nature Preserve is always popular during the summer and fall. This year was no exception as we saw record numbers of visitors hiking and riding on our 37-miles of multi-use trails. If you hiked on the Shawnee Run Trail or the West Lot/Shawnee Run connector trail, you may have noticed that we corrected some drainage issues, making the trails more guest-friendly and environmentally sound. This project was supported by gifts from the Tirbracken Green Foundation and the Fort Harrod Backcountry Horsemen.

The Preserve at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

It turns out that it wasn’t just humans turning out in records numbers. This year, our naturalist tagged 200 Monarch butterflies during their migration – a sharp increase over last year’s population study. We also continued to monitor our avian population via mist netting efforts through our partnership with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.  Highlights from this year were the Nelson’s Sparrow, Pine Siskin and Purple Finch along with many of our regular breeding birds and usual migrants.

Protecting the natural landscape is always the focus at The Preserve. This year we conducted prescribed burns for over 300 acres of converted native prairie as part of our regenerative practices. We also continue to sample water in the Shawnee Run Creek for Kentucky River Watershed Watch and are seeing good results as far as water quality.

Looking Ahead to 2021

If we learned anything at Shaker Village in 2020, it was to be flexible, focus on what we could do to provide our guests with the best possible experience, provide support in the community where we could, and keep doing what we do on The Farm, in The Preserve and to sustain this site. 

We also learned that we are not alone – you’ve shown us that you care about this site as much as the staff does. At the time of this writing, over 900 individuals, families, companies and foundations have made a financial contribution to sustain our operations. An additional 1,075 households have purchased an Annual Pass in 2020 – revenue that also supports SVPH’s operations. Your support has helped tremendously, allowing us to reopen and remain a top destination. We cannot thank you enough.

2021 is likely to also be a year like no other. We’re going to take it month by month, but we can promise you that we remain committed to caring for this site, to serving our mission, and to providing you with an peaceful place to rest, relax and discover.


Barry Stumbo, Chief Development Officer
lissa Williams, Development Coordinator

It’s a festive time of year at Shaker Village!  Most of the guests visiting are settled in at The Trustees’ Table for a hearty meal or snuggled down in one of our 72 hotel rooms. The coziness of the Village and the prospect of the New Year before us is filled with anticipation and promise. This is a great time for reflection and for counting blessings in 2021.

As we do each year in December, we’d like to share several highlights and achievements. We know thousands of you visited this year and saw first hand how the Village sparkled like never before.

Over 20,000 hikers and horseback riders explored The Preserve.

Our multi-use trail system is open (nearly) year-round. It’s a popular destination for our guests, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom. Our two-person Preserve team works hard to manage the natural habitat and we have a growing number of volunteers who assist with invasive species mitigation and trail maintenance. This spring we completed a major upgrade and repair to the most popular section of the trail system near the Fulling Mill. This repair stabilized the trail, the creek, and the slope of the surrounding spring to ensure this historic feature remains for generations to discover.

Upgrades to the Shawnee Run Trail at the Fulling Mill waterfall.

The Trustees’ Office and Old Ministry’s Shop were the beneficiaries of new roofs!

In November the 1839 Trustees’ Office got a new roof. There were enough materials left over to also replace the roof on the 1813 Old Ministry’s Shop. Not only do they look beautiful, the new roofs will help to secure the building envelop for 25-30 years. That’s cause to celebrate. As we wrote in May, water is the biggest threat to the long-term sustainability of the remaining Shaker Buildings. Every time we replace a roof, we are deflecting water and preventing it from damaging the historic structures.

The Trustees’ Office received a new roof.

They Shaker Village craftsmen also worked to complete over $1 million worth of preservation work in 2021:

  • The preservation carpenter gave the 1847 Cooper’s Shop a lot of attention as he repaired the building’s framework and siding. 
  • Loose mortar within the stone and brick masonry of the 1817 East Family Dwelling was replaced. Windows, sashes, and porches at East Family Dwelling were also repaired.
  • Across the Village, the paint crew cared for building interiors and painted walls, ceilings, doors and windows as needed.

The Farm thrived and got a little bigger!

The Farm team manages 118 organic acres and partners with our Program team to support educational programming.  In addition, they care for over 125 animals! This year The Farm expanded with the addition of a 30’ x 60’ high tunnel (funded in part by the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels). This high tunnel houses 12 new planting beds and will allow the Farm Team to grow vegetables during the winter months.  This food source is not only important to our onsite restaurant, but we also sell produce through our low-cost CSA program and donate local food banks.  Thousands of people benefit through the efforts of the Farm team.

The frame of the new high tunnel.

Signature Events Returned in 2021 and so did you!

When we opened ticketing for Family Farm Days and Brunch with the Babies, we suspected there would be a demand for event programming, however in the continuing pandemic, we were not sure what to expect. Your response was incredible!

Our signature events were high on your to-do list this year! Every event in 2021 (including Vintage Baseball, Craft Fair, Community Sing, the Kentucky Heritage Jazz Fest, Harvest Fest, Trick or Treat and Illuminated Evenings) was well attended.  In many cases, including the Craft Fair and Harvest Fest, the attendance for each was the highest in our history! 

Harvest Fest was a hit this year with record attendance.

You also attended our daily tours and programs and our specialty workshops.  You stayed overnight at The Inn, you dined (often!) at the Trustees’ Table and filled the house for the Fresh Food Adventures.  We are ending 2021 feeling overwhelmed by your enthusiasm for this place and for the work we do.

Celebrating 60 years as a nonprofit organization.

As the year comes to an end, we close our 60th year as a nonprofit organization. We cannot help but feel inspired and encouraged by 2021, though it was challenging at times. The Village at Pleasant Hill remains stronger than any time in our history. The buildings and grounds look spectacular. A new, permanent exhibit – the first in a series – is slated to open in March 2022. We have a great number of programs planned for the upcoming year – even new ones like Watercolor for Beginners.

But most of all, you’ve supported us through two tough and unprecedented years. You’ve kept coming back to the Village. You’ve shopped, dined, hiked, stayed and donated. Your passion for Pleasant Hill and the Kentucky Shakers is driving us forward for the future.

Last year we wrote: “we promise you that we remain committed to caring for this site, to serving our mission, and to providing you with a peaceful place to rest, relax and discover.” The promise rings true as we enter 2022. We look forward to seeing you at Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark in the New Year and are grateful for your trust and support!

Access for All

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Marketing and Public Programming

34 historic structures. 36 miles of hiking trails. 3,000 acres of natural and cultural landscape.

The vastness of the experience at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is an incredible attraction for the guests that travel from around the world to visit Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark. However, this grand scale can also be a challenge for guests with limited mobility.

The Challenge

Consider the 34 historic structures at Pleasant Hill. Of these, 20 are buildings with multiple levels. While we admire the simple elegance of Shaker staircases, in the words of one recent guest, “They were great at building stairs, but not so much elevators, huh?”

Though this comment was made in jest (and the guest was probably a bit winded from the climb), providing inclusive access to spaces throughout a historic property is a very real challenge. Here are three specific areas we’re working to address:

  1. The historic, Shaker sidewalks that remain at Pleasant Hill are typically too narrow for wheelchairs, walkers and scooters. They can also become worn and uneven through aging, increasing the risk of slips, trips and falls.
  2. All of the 13 buildings that contain overnight guest rooms at the property currently require guests to navigate at least one step to access.
  3. Although there are educational exhibits in a dozen buildings at Shaker Village, only three of these buildings are accessible for guests using a wheelchair, and even in those, that access is restricted to only portions of the building.

So, how do we provide better access for guests with limited mobility, without damaging the aesthetic and historic integrity of this irreplaceable Village?

You Have to Start Somewhere

To be fair, there have been prior efforts toward accessibility at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. There are outdoor lifts to provide access into The Trustees’ Table restaurant and to meeting spaces in the West Lot Dwelling. Public restrooms at the Village are accessible as well. The difference today is that these efforts are now part of a strategic planning process, and are being emphasized as a critical part of our site plan moving forward.

The biggest limitation to implementing plans for increased accessibility at Shaker Village is, of course, funding. Fortunately, we have been able to complete several projects through the generosity of private and corporate donors.

In 2020 the Village installed 20 outdoor, educational waystations thanks to a gift from Community Trust Bank. These waystations were placed in locations that are accessible, and have made a positive impact for those guests who are unable to navigate the multiple levels of exhibits in many of the buildings.

Around the same time, new pathways that meet ADA standards were created near the 1820 Meeting House and through the heirloom apple orchard. These paths are part of a larger plan to connect all the major buildings at Shaker Village with ADA compliant paths and sidewalks, and were made possible by the contribution of an individual donor.

Continuing the Progress

This month, two projects are underway that will dramatically impact accessibility at two of the most important buildings at Shaker Village.

The 1815 Carpenter’s Shop serves as the Welcome Center for the Village. While a sidewalk addition in 2017 made it possible for all guests to enter the building from one side, passing through the building and into the Village has been prohibitive for guests in wheelchairs. A new, permanent ramp is being constructed that will resolve this issue.

The 1839 Trustees’ Office, home to The Trustees’ Table restaurant, is also seeing an upgrade to improve accessibility. A new sidewalk is currently being laid, leading to the front entrance of the building and connecting to the lift on the building’s east side. By replacing a non-historic stone path that had many bumps and divots, this sidewalk is not only ADA compliant, but much safer for all of the restaurant’s patrons.

Where Do We Go From Here

The Shaker Village app will bring the story of Pleasant Hill to more guests with multimedia options.

In the coming years, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill will continue to make improvements that increase access on the property for all guests.

Here are some projects to keep an eye on in the months and years to come:

  • The Shaker Village App is about to go live! The App will provide an additional layer of educational information for all guests to the Village, and the multimedia content, with closed captioning, will not only provide more access for visitors with limited mobility, but also those with visual and hearing impairments.
  • More ADA compliant sidewalks, pathways and ramps will be built. There are still several important areas of the Village where access needs to be improved. In the coming years you’ll see work to provide this access in the East Family area of the Village, at key buildings like the Meeting House, and around trailheads and hiking trails in The Preserve.
  • Select guest rooms will be modified to meet ADA standards. This step will take a while, but we have our eyes on some spaces where building access and ADA compliance can be accomplished while maintaining the historic integrity of the buildings.

As with all undertakings of true value, there isn’t a shortcut to improving accessibility across a 3,000 acre historic property. Along the way there will be difficulties, and it will never move as quickly as we would like. However, Shaker Village should be a place where every single person can feel ‘kindly welcomed,’ and we are committed to living up to that standard.

If you would like to learn more about how you can support accessibility projects at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, please contact us at info@shakervillageky.org or call 859.734.5411.

Navigating A Year of Change

Melissa Williams, Development Coordinator

Today marks one year since Shaker Village reopened to the public after a temporary, three-month closure. It’s been a year like no other for all of us and we wanted to take a moment to say thank you.  We are especially grateful for your continued support over the past 12 months as you have shopped, dined, stayed, explored and donated.

Shaker Village is a nonprofit organization and we maximize our income to preserve Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark and share the legacy of the Pleasant Hill Shakers. We continually reinvest generated revenue and charitable donations into the 34 historic buildings, the grounds, Preserve and education. Our balanced financial approach to historic preservation and programming has helped sustain the Village and create an engaging guest experience. When we closed in March 2020, we did so with limited financial resources on hand. It was a challenging time for the organization and our staff. Our most pressing concern was when we could reopen, what the Village experience would look like and if we could generate enough income to fund critical operations.

The historic turnpike was quiet while the Village was temporarily closed.

Adapting to the New Normal
Early on our team committed to telling the story of Pleasant Hill in new ways that could be accessed through our digital media platforms. As we reached out to our donors and guests with stories of the Shakers and the historic preservation work that continued during the closure, we received an outpouring of care and concern.

In the last 12 months, we have welcomed more donors to our community than ever before with gifts ranging from $5 to $10,000. Collectively our 1,200 donors generously contributed $1.8 million, which funded one third of our fiscal year operating expenses. Your support enabled Shaker Village to bring our staff back and reopen to the public on June 15th one year ago.

Masked up guests explored the Village and checked out the newly installed educational waystations.

Peaceful Through the Pandemic
Throughout the pandemic guests have remarked that Shaker Village has been a peaceful retreat in an otherwise uncertain world. With 3,000 acres to explore, there is ample room to practice social distancing. A record number of guests visited to hike the trails, stay in one of our 72 historic hotel rooms at The Inn, dine outdoors at The Trustees’ Table and enjoy Music on the Lawn and other socially distanced programming.

Recently a donor enclosed a note with her gift that read, “My new favorite place.”  As guests have returned, more and more have shared this sentiment and enrolled in our Annual Passholder program. The Passholder programs provides an avenue for guests to support Shaker Village but also offer great perks such as free admission. At present more than 1,300 individuals and families have expressed their commitment to Shaker Village by becoming a passholder. The revenue generated has enabled Shaker Village to rethink educational programming and introduce virtual workshops, innovation stations and more.

While Shaker Village has a physical presence in the land and historic buildings located here at Pleasant Hill, it has always been the people that make it a special place. That was true when the Shakers lived, worked and worshipped here. It was true in the 1950s and 1960s when private citizens organized and fundraised to preserve Pleasant Hill, and it remains true today. 

One year after reopening, Shaker Village is here because of your generous support. Thank you for donating. Thank you for visiting. And thank you for supporting this powerful place.

Funding Historic Preservation

Melissa Williams, Development Coordinator

Planning for Preservation

The master preservation plan for Shaker Village lays out short, mid and long-term goals to care for the property’s 34 historic buildings and 3,000-acre cultural landscape. From a fundraising perspective, this plan can seem a bit daunting when you add-up the amount of funds needed to achieve our goals! To help fund historic preservation projects, the Shaker Village Board of Trustees launched a comprehensive capital campaign in 2014. To date, Shaker Village has raised over $14 million towards the $25 million goal for historic preservation, to enhance visitor education and to strengthen the Shaker Village endowment.

Historic preservation can be a costly endeavor. That cost goes up the longer a structure sits and deteriorates without maintenance or regular upkeep. This makes sense considering we would expect the cost to rise as the extent of damage increases. It also highlights just how urgently some of our 34 historic buildings need attention. But what damages these buildings in the first place?

Exterior of West Lot Dwelling.
Old Stone Shop masonry before repairs.
Water at Work

We are fortunate in Kentucky to experience all 4 seasons, but this means that buildings are exposed to a wide range of temperatures, rain and snow. Over time the weather and environment cause damage to materials and surfaces, such as wood, stone and plaster. Water is a particular concern because wet materials can rot, mold and mildew; frozen water expands and can cause cracks or displace materials; and humidity introduces water to interior surfaces.

Floor board repair in the Meeting House.
Wear and Tear

Regular use of the buildings, which can have a positive impact on preserving them, can also have detrimental factors. The Shaker buildings are the most valuable items in our collection and most enduring testament to the Shaker legacy at Pleasant Hill. We could lock the buildings and ask our guests to observe them from a distance, but that would be an injustice and diminish the guest experience, which relies on the ability to move within the spaces where Shakers lived, worked and worshipped.

Because we use these buildings daily, doors and windows are opened and shut, floors and stairs are walked on and walls are touched. Over a long period of time, regular use will cause the buildings to show wear if they are not regularly maintained.

Across the property, the building conditions vary. The restoration work in the 1960s was just the beginning of our tasks as a nonprofit to preserve them. It is an ongoing project that will never quite be completely done.

The Old Stone Shop.
The North Lot Dwelling in 2012.
Working the Plan

Earlier this month I wrote about the full-scale preservation projects completed since 2016. Since completing this work, these buildings require regular maintenance to keep them in pristine condition.  In 2020 we established the Building Preservation and Maintenance Endowment to help fund this ongoing task and prevent these buildings from slipping into a state of deterioration in the future.

You’ve also read about several of the preservation projects in progress. To date we have fully-funded large-scale preservation projects for the 1817 East Family Dwelling, 1821 Ministry’s Workshop and 1811 Old Stone Shop, and we have partially-funded large-scale projects for the 1809 Farm Deacon’s Shop, 1835 East Family Wash House, 1824 Tanyard and 1813 Old Ministry’s Shop.  Fundraising for the four latter projects continues with a combined goal of $600,000.

Thirteen additional large-scale preservation projects are planned over the next five to ten years with a total cost of $3.7 million at today’s cost of materials. The scope of work ranges from $15,000 to $1.5 million, with most needing a new roof and repairs to windows, doors, woodwork and masonry. A small handful of these buildings (1847 Cooper’s Shop, 1816 North Lot Dwelling and 1850 West Lot Wash Lot) are of high concern because of the degree of their needs. The Cooper’s Shop, for instance, features exhibit space on the first floor and overnight lodging on the second, and is the highest fundraising priority because water is infiltrating the building through the siding, roof and windows causing significant damage and a cycle of constant maintenance.

Building Infrastructure

Over the years, SVPH has also been working to upgrade the infrastructure that serves the Village. This includes the heating and cooling systems and the water treatment plant. Theses systems were originally installed in the 1960s when the nonprofit organization formed. While some areas of these systems have been upgraded through the years, the majority has not.

For example, in 2017 the 1824-34 Centre Family Dwelling and the 1820 Meeting House were switched to a geothermal heating and cooling system that is more sustainable, efficient and cost effective.  However, there are seven buildings in the West Family area that are heated and cooled by a boiler/chiller system which is generally described as being in “fair condition” overall. Components of this system were installed in 1966, and although the boilers and chiller have been replaced since that time, the ones currently in place are critically past their expected useful life. The cost of reconfiguring and replacing this complex system has a starting cost of $1.5 million.

Continuing the Work

When our nonprofit organization turns 60 later this year, we’re going to celebrate the commitment made in 1961 to preserve this powerful place. Over the years, you have told us how much Pleasant Hill means to you… all of those times you visited with your family, stayed overnight with loved ones, attended events and sang around the illuminated tree on a cold December night.

We won’t be daunted by the costs and challenges associated with preserving Pleasant Hill for future generations. Instead, we will be inspired by your personal stories and we will carry on with the important work we do here so that Pleasant Hill and the story of the Shakers will continue to inspire guests for many years to come.

Learn more about preservation at Shaker Village and how you can support these efforts.

Ever wonder what lies behind a closed door? Learn how our guided tours take you to rarely-seen areas of the Village.