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.

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!

The Power of Play

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

This is the fourth 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:

Too Many People Grow Up

Too many people grow up. That’s the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don’t remember what it’s like to be 12 years old. They patronize, they treat children as inferiors. – Walt Disney

Many people, myself included, first experienced Shaker Village as a child. My first visit came on a fourth grade field trip in the 1980s. Although my memories from that visit have surely faded a bit, if I close my eyes I can still feel what it was like on that first trip.

I remember the sun shining through the green leaves of so many trees. I remember running ahead of my group, as I often did, to try to be the first one to discover each new building we approached. I remember the smell of the farm, and of the wool that lay in a pile, freshly removed from a now undressed sheep. I remember the long, never-ending trip down to the river, for a riverboat ride. Everything seemed so large, so new, and so exciting.

Summer campers exploring Shawnee Run Creek at Shaker Village.

When I returned to Shaker Village in 2015, now as an adult joining the staff, the Village still seemed large, new and exciting. It was different though, as any place is when you haven’t visited since you were a child. Maybe not quite so large, or so new. There were also fewer children visiting Shaker Village on an annual basis then there had once been, which was a challenge that needed to be addressed.

A Place for Children

Why had the number of children visiting Shaker Village declined through the years? There are several, collective answers to that question. Classroom curriculum and priorities had been shifting through the decades, leading to an overall decline in student visitation to historic sites nationwide. The competition from phones, video games and multimedia of all kinds was certainly making an impact, as was the expanding variety of other options vying for the recreational time of families.

How could an historic site in Mercer County, Kentucky compete for the ever-shrinking attention span of today’s youth?

The answer was, and is, pretty simple, and it was hidden in our mission statement all along.

To inspire generations through discovery, by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers.

It’s all about discovery. Experiential learning. Getting dirty hands and sweaty foreheads. Exploring the architecture and landscape. Meeting animals. Hiking the trails. Making something of your own, rather than watching someone else (likely an adult) doing it for you.

With the basis of discovery, and experiential education, school programming was redesigned. Explorer Summer Camp was started. Family Fun Days, HarvestFest, Brunch with the Babies, Easter Egg Hunts and other events were born or revamped. Children are learning and having fun at high numbers once again at Shaker Village.

The Birth of the Playscape

As youth programs have grown at Shaker Village, our Leadership Team has recognized the need for more places on the property that are intentionally designed for the experience of children. We discussed playgrounds and park equipment, but that type of environment never felt like a good fit for our historic landscape. Fortunately, while visiting regional nature centers as part of our research, we came to Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, in Clermont, Kentucky. It was there that we were first introduced to the idea of a play landscape.

A play landscape is designed using natural materials: logs, branches, stones, earthen mounds, sand and water, built into an environment that encourages children to climb, build and explore. This concept was immediately striking to our team. Children that were raised by the Shakers at Pleasant Hill would have played in nature, with relatively primitive, natural materials. The use of natural elements in this playscape connects guests of all ages to the foundation of Pleasant Hill’s story, and blends much more seamlessly into the environment of this important cultural landmark.

The Benefits of Play in Nature

According to the Children at Play Network, some of the many benefits of playing in a natural setting include: a reduction in ADHD through improved concentration and focus, better physical coordination and balance, greater imagination and creativity, and improved cognitive development. Additional research has shown that play in nature buffers the impact of life’s stresses on children, helps them better deal with adversity and stimulates cooperation with others.

Armed with this information, and a supportive partnership from Bernheim Forest, our team helped to design a children’s playscape to be built along the south side of the historic vegetable gardens, alongside and behind the animal paddocks that run the length of those gardens.

Just Around the Corner

Through the generosity of two private donors, the Shaker Village Playscape is a fully-funded project. We expect work on the playscape to begin before the end of the summer this year, with the area fully operational in time for all of our spring events in 2024!

The next time you visit the Village and you see a child playing in the garden, the creek or the new playscape, take a moment to close your eyes and remember what true discovery feels like. It can inspire so much in us all. Maybe it will inspire you to get a little dirt under your fingernails, a little sweat on your brow, and to remember what a large, new and exciting world it can be!

Follow Our Progress

As projects develop, you can expect to hear more about the progress 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.

Landing in the Right Place

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

This is the third article in an ongoing series outlining long-range planning at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

One Project at a Time

Our first article in this series provided an overview of the long-range planning process at Shaker Village, while the second article shared the list of projects we have included in the plan. We’ve been thrilled at the response we’ve received from the public so far, with so many supporters of Shaker Village reaching out to share their excitement, ask questions and offer to help in a variety of ways. As they say, “It takes a Village!” We have certainly found that to be the case here, and truly cherish the enthusiasm our community has for this unique historic site.

This aerial shows the location of Shaker Landing, along the Kentucky River, as well as the location of a future parking area near the top of River Road.

Now that everyone has been “introduced” to our Long-Range Plan, our next articles will each take a more detailed look into specific projects from the plan. We’ll begin by sharing the vision for Shaker Landing, with a bit of history and context to set the stage.

Shaker Landing from the Kentucky River, c. late 1800s.

A Place on the River

The Pleasant Hill Shakers began acquiring land for river access as early as 1813, when they purchased Fulkerson’s Ferry a few miles downriver.

By 1843 the Shakers had amassed an additional 200 acres of land on both sides of the Kentucky River. At its peak, Shaker Landing spanned from Brooklyn to the mouth of the Dix River, about a mile upstream. Along this site the Shakers built 13 structures, including a dwelling, warehouses and a stable.

Shaker Landing served as the launch point for Shaker trade deacons for almost 50 years. The river connected the Shakers to markets as far south as New Orleans, where they would sell their goods and return with precious cargo such as sugar and coffee. Shorter trade routes were more common, with Louisville and Cincinnati as the most visited destinations.

This 1864 Warehouse stood at Shaker Landing until it was washed away during the flood of 1978.

For nearly 100 years, the Shakers operated a ferry that would shuttle travelers across the Kentucky River for a small toll. Due to the construction of High Bridge and the increase of railroad travel, operation of the Shaker Ferry ceased in the late 1890s.

The Pleasant Hill Shakers sold their ferry, and Shaker Landing, in 1909. Non-Shakers continued to run the ferry as a tourist attraction under its original namesake until 1940.

The impact of flooding is one major reason why more original Shaker structures are not standing at Shaker Landing. During the historic flood of 1978, river waters reached 53 feet. Currently, the only remaining Shaker building at the Landing is the 1866 Timber Frame Stable.

Recent History

The “Dixie Belle” began operating at Shaker Landing in 1982.

In 1982, Shaker Village purchased the Dixie Belle riverboat, which had been previously operating at Fort Boonesborough. The riverboat operated from 1982 – 2021, when it was decommissioned due to age, ongoing maintenance challenges and declining use.

Hiking trails to and from Shaker Landing comprise roughly two miles of the Village’s 33-mile trail system, and provide some of the only dog-friendly trails on the property.

Plans for the Future

As with all plans for the property at Shaker Village, or for that matter, any National Historic Landmark, great pains will be taken to ensure our work is not disruptive to the natural and cultural landscape, but rather, supportive of it. Archaeological assessments will be completed where necessary, care will be taken to consider the aesthetics of the Shakers and their land in any new designs, and the safety of all guests and staff will be paramount to our completed projects.

The 1866 Timber Frame Stable

Upcoming Projects at Shaker Landing

We plan to outfit the 1866 Timber Frame Stable as an event venue, providing space for dinners, receptions, social gatherings and educational programs. This work will begin in 2023 thanks to a generous contribution from a private donor.

  • Dining seating for 90-100 guests
  • Add market lights, fans, event tables and chairs, accessible entry path, exterior lighting, exterior restrooms, exterior patio seating, kitchen prep equipment, historic images and interpretation.

We will modify and add to the current dock system on the Kentucky River. This work will provide a safer and more efficient launch for private canoes and kayaks, create space for educational programming and allow visitors a scenic location to relax and enjoy river views.

  • A new kayak and canoe launch will be added in 2023 to the downstream side of the current dock at Shaker Landing. Continuing plans will be to expand the dock system with a design to complete all of the above functions, while being more aesthetically pleasing to guests.
A new canoe and kayak launch, using segments of “E-Z Dock” seen here, will be attached to the current dock at Shaker Landing this summer.

We plan to invest in a new motorized touring boat, and explore opportunities to provide additional canoe and kayak programming on the Kentucky River.

  • Add a new, motorized touring vessel with a minimum capacity of 35 guests for interpretive programs, student activities and general river cruises.
  • Continue our ongoing partnership with Canoe Kentucky to offer guided paddling experiences, while investigating options for purchasing large, touring canoes for guided group programs.

We plan to beautify Shaker Landing and River Road by manicuring the grounds, determining locations for future activities and adding interpretive elements where needed.

  • Create interpretive signage for historic and natural features, build hardscape for paths, fire pits and dock access, and sight locations for large event tents. Begin promoting Shaker Landing for weddings, social events, youth camping trips and public boat launches.

Another important project will be to provide shuttling and guest parking options that allow safer access to Shaker Landing.

  • Rent 15-passenger vans to shuttle guests to Shaker Landing for events. School buses and private boat launches may still access the Landing directly.
  • Construct a new, semi-permeable parking area with a 60-car capacity off River Road, behind the current gated access. Install a shelter that can be used by Village staff for check-ins, and for guests shuttling to and from the landing.

Follow Our Progress

As projects develop, you can expect to hear more about the progress 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.