It Takes a Village to Sustain a Village

Melissa Williams, Development Coordinator

“We are so indebted to the fact that they had that foresight and that passion to do it. We’ve got to have the same foresight today, and the same sense of passion about this place in order to make sure it’s here for the next generation and the generation after that.” – Maynard Crossland, President & CEO

Centre Family Dwelling today. A full renovation of this historic building was completed in 2019.

This month the nonprofit organization that operates this historic site celebrates its 60th Anniversary. As we cross this milestone, the enormity of what we have accomplished over the last six decades to preserve the site and interpret the Shakers is overwhelming.  But, perhaps what makes Shaker Village most special, is what it means to each person who has visited in the last 60 years.


A couple of years ago we asked our Facebook followers about their first visit to Shaker Village and we had 100+ responses.  While we knew that Shaker Village was a special place, the comments confirmed that our visitors feel that way too.  We were both inspired and humbled by the outpouring of love.  

“My college professor took us on a field trip there and we had lunch. I was 20. I’ve been smitten with Shaker village ever since.” – Debi Cain

“I have been several times, but the best was when all our family went with our dad. He is no longer with us, but the memory is everlasting. This is a beautiful place, with rich history.” – Cindy Bates

“I was 11 when we moved here from Michigan, 1995. We visited Shaker Village and I know I loved it then. I am an annual cardholder, take my children as an adult now.” – Kenna Routt

“I believe I was about 8 or 10 years old when my parent took me.  I liked it then but really grew to love it when I started coming back as an adult in my late 20s.” – Laura Hall

“I visited Shaker Village when I was around 13. My most memorable visit was Valentines Day 1985. My husband proposed that night.” – Connie Howerton

Over the years we have hosted individuals from across the country and abroad.  School children have explored The Farm and the historic buildings on field trips. Families have stayed with us over the Thanksgiving holiday year after year.  We’ve held events like Craft Fair, the Chamber Music Festival and Illuminated Events that have become annual traditions for many. Each visitor has a personal, unique reason that keeps them connected to the site and coming back time after time. 

This week we are launching a public Tribute to Shaker Village to capture the reason(s) why you love Shaker Village and your memories of visiting over the years. Click here to visit the Tribute page and join us in celebrating this important anniversary.


The stories that you share with us highlights how important it is to be persistent in our task. As we celebrate this milestone, we are already looking ahead to the next 60 years and considering how to preserve this site for future generations. 

To prepare, we are continuing to work on strengthening our business operations, which means continued improvements and innovations to the guest experience.  We are currently undertaking a $2.1 million project to install 20,000 square feet of new, permanent exhibits across the site.  Fundraising for this project is at about 17% of the goal, with contributions from private donors and funding through grant awards. These exhibits, and the Shaker Village App (launching soon), will provide guests with new ways to discover Shaker history. The dual approach of physical exhibits and a digital experience will also provide Shaker Village with the flexibility to adapt the guest experience over time as audience expectations continue to evolve.

The guest experience is only one of the keys to our future success.  We must also continue the preservation work of the 34 historic Shaker buildings that began in the 1960s. Shaker Village takes a dual approach to this important work by committing to annual maintenance while also taking on full-scale restoration projects such as the one underway now on the 1817 East Family Dwelling.  Full restoration will be needed periodically in the future as regular use of the buildings and environmental factors impact the structure.

To ensure the future of the site we are also working to build our endowment.  Since 2014, we have raised $6.2 million to grow our endowment to approximately $10 million.  There are several endowment funds, including one dedicated to building maintenance and preservation, that will provide operational income in the future. These endowment funds are critical to ensuring a strong financial future.


If we can learn one thing from the community leaders who helped form Shakertown in the 1960s, it is that we should remain undaunted by the task of preserving this site for future generations.  They succeeded in saving the 34 historic buildings that remain at Shaker Village today and they succeeded in drawing an audience who fell in love with and understood the specialness of Pleasant Hill.

A clipping from “The Harrodsburg Herald” announcing the opening of three buildings in Shakertown, and an open house celebration.

You can help support Shaker Village’s next 60 years!

  • Come and visit us!  Participate in the Daily Programs, dine at The Trustees’ Table, and stay overnight in one of our 72 hotel rooms.
  • Hike or Ride on the trails.  We have nearly 37-miles of multi-use trails that run through our stunning nature preserve. The summer and fall are great times to explore the natural habitat.
  • Bring a friend with you! Or tell a friend about the experience you had when you visited.
  • Purchase an Annual Pass. We offer three types of passes which provide you with special benefits and your passholder fees directly support our programming, historic preservation, The Preserve and more.
  • Donate. A gift of any size will support Shaker Village today and help us build a bright future.
  • Consider a donation to the Endowment. Your gift today, or through a planned estate gift, carries your love for Shaker Village and your concern for the site forward into the future to ensure Shaker Village is here for the next generation and the generation after that.

Finding Relevance in a Changing World

Maynard Crossland, President & CEO

Historic sites are very traditional places.  Obviously the missions of these institutions are based on the traditional values of preserving and interpreting the collective stories of our past.  History doesn’t change – what happened happened, or so it would seem.

So, if history doesn’t change, does the interpretation of history have to change and evolve?  I would argue that, yes, it does.  Certain facts about our history may not change, but our knowledge and understanding of that history does.  That dynamic is what keeps our history and the stories of the past alive and relevant from generation to generation.

Historic sites, museums and other cultural institutions are constantly struggling with this paradox.  Sometimes those of us who work to promote and interpret history feel like we have one foot in the past and the other in the future.  In order to survive, we must be relevant in the present, anticipate the future and keep digging deeper into our past.

Shaker Village has been focused on this paradox from the beginning of its development as a historic site.  In 1961, a group of dedicated preservationists organized to save what was then known as Shakertown.  As the restoration progressed, the discussions on how to tell the stories of those who lived here began.  James Cogar was soon hired as the first cultural historian with the responsibility of designing and implementing the site’s interpretation.   Mr. Cogar was one of the country’s leading experts on developing new and modern ways of interpreting historic sites.  Through his work at Colonial Williamsburg he brought a first-person interpretative model to Shaker Village.

James Cogar (right) pictured with Jim Thomas.

This method of interpretation consisted of craftsmen, artisans, and interpretive staff dressed in period- appropriate costumes demonstrating crafts and day-to-day living routines of the Shakers.  It was a major departure from the more traditional interpretive format that was commonly used at that time which was based on the display of furniture, clothing, tools, and other inanimate objects safely secured behind barriers.

Interpreter Devola Collier weaving on a loom at Shaker Village.

The decision to do things differently was in direct response to the dramatic cultural shifts that were happening after World War II into the 1960s.  The invention of television and full-color movies were major reasons the public began to expect a more interactive experience at cultural institutions and historic sites.  The first-person interpretative model met that need.  It was a major reason for the success of the Village in those early years.  The Village prospered and grew based upon that success and people came in droves to experience this new way of interpreting history.

Now let’s fast forward 60 years.  Consider the speed and intensity of cultural change between 1961 and 2021.  Who would have believed in 1961 that 60 years in the future everyone would be carrying around a powerful computer in their pocket, or that our kids would have instant access to facts and knowledge as vast and varied as the holdings of a major library?  Suddenly we are able to connect with people from all over the world with a single click, and are bombarded with instant knowledge of newsworthy events without having to wait for the morning delivery of a printed newspaper.

The effects of this change on human interactions, social norms and our daily lives is dramatic.  We can endlessly ponder both the good and the not-so-good effects of this technological revolution but none-the-less, cultural institutions, just like other businesses, must respond in order to stay relevant and engaging to the next generation.

Shaker Village found that once again our audience began signaling changing expectations, wants and needs.  This became painfully obvious as our customer base began to recede and the institution suffered significant consequences.  We were not alone as historic sites across the country began to see similar issues. Attendance and financial public support dropped off dramatically beginning in the 1990s and was heightened by the economic crisis of 2008.  We needed to respond and discover new ways of engaging the public.  The need for change was heard loud and clear. In some ways the path forward was easy to describe—identify the audience, ask them what they want, then give it to them.  Putting that in to practice is much more difficult.

Beginning in 2011 the Board of Trustees knew the future of the Village was in peril and significant steps needed to be taken.  We launched two independent studies to help guide our way forward.  One study focused on the restoration of our historic infrastructure and the other provided research and verification of our need to attract a wider customer base.  The result of these initiatives launched a capital campaign to both restore our infrastructure and modernize the guest experience.  Today we have made major progress in restoring buildings throughout the Village and have developed an expansive interactive guest experience with a major exhibition plan, outdoor learning stations, and a new app that will feature in-depth interpretation on that little computer everyone has in their pocket.   Through all of this however, one thing remained constant–the Shaker legacy and the stories that have, and always will, meander through this beautiful landscape and intertwine with the simplicity of the built environment that makes Shaker Village a very powerful place.

A full restoration of Centre Family Dwelling began in 2017 and was completed in 2019.

Letting go of old ways and launching into the unknown is never easy; it can be downright scary.  Our mission, our greatest responsibility, is to preserve the legacy of the Shaker community that rose up on this beautiful landscape overlooking the palisades of the Kentucky River.  We must give voice and power to the experiences and stories that were left behind and to the lives that were lived in order to inform, encourage and engage every new generation that follows.

The world will continue to evolve and many people will pass through yearning for answers that are hidden within our history.   What happened here will continue to have relevance and importance to each person as they travel through this continuum of life.  We must be ready and willing to change in order to meet them where they are and gift them the opportunity to find their own answers. Ultimately, isn’t that what we all want?

One Building at a Time

Preserving and Interpreting Pleasant Hill

Maggie McAdams, Education and Engagement Manager

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is the largest National Historic Landmark in Kentucky with 34 original Shaker structures and 3,000 acres, but it took time and dedication to make it what it is today. 

After Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, KY, Inc. was formed in 1961, the task before the organization was massive.  The single purpose adopted by the original Board of Trustees was “to preserve the heritage of the Shakers and to promote an awareness on the part of the public of the historical significance of the Village of Pleasant Hill.”[1]  They thus began the process of reassembling Pleasant Hill, one property at a time. 

Earl Wallace, Betty Morris, Jim Thomas and James Cogar. Betty Morris was the first employee of the organization, and along with Cogar and Thomas, was instrumental in the early restoration project.

The buildings were in varying states of deterioration in the 1960s, so the first goal after acquisition was stabilization and preservation.  The initial estimate to preserve and restore Shaker Village as a whole was $2,000,000, which today would come to $17,827,483. This sent a bit of a shock wave through the new organization. Though private support was, and still is, instrumental in ensuring the success of the site, the board successfully applied for an Area Redevelopment Act loan in 1963 to start the initial restoration work.   

Earl Wallace and the board invited James Cogar, who had been the first curator at Colonial Williamsburg, to lead the restoration effort at Pleasant Hill.  The organization chose to restore the buildings to the 1840s to capture a moment in time for this community, and followed an “adaptive reuse” preservation model.  While building exteriors were being restored to the mid-19th century, some of the building interiors were being modified to accommodate overnight guests.  This model meant that Shaker Village could continue to operate with earned revenue, and sometimes the best way to preserve a structure is to use it!

One of Jim Thomas’s first responsibilities was to train local carpenters to make reproduction furniture to populate the buildings. Much of this furniture is still being used today throughout the site.

With only half of the buildings restored, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill officially opened to the public on April 15, 1968.  To tell the story of the Shakers in the 1840s, the organization employed the living history interpretive model in which interpreters, wearing period clothing, carried out tasks in order to set a scene of daily life in this community.  The rise in popularity of living history sites coincided with the social history movement of the 1960s and 1970s in which scholars were focusing more on the lived experiences of the past.  Social history sought to turn attention to the everyday experiences of people, and living history helped to answer this call in the public sector. 

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill opened in 1968 with all public staff, even servers in the restaurant, wearing period clothing.
Interpreter Dixie Huffman, interacts with visitors while demonstrating traditional cooking methods.

Today, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill continues to explore the everyday lives of the Shakers, but in different ways.  The past is stagnant and unchanging, history on the other hand is dynamic.  History, as an interpretation of the past, is always changing as we uncover new evidence and find new ways to tell the stories of the past.  

[1] Earl D. Wallace, A Review of the First Fifteen Years of Financing the Restoration of Pleasant Hill (KY: Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, KY Inc., 1975-1976), 4.

Saving Shakertown

It takes a Village to save a Village.

Maggie McAdams, Education and Engagement Manager

After the last Pleasant Hill Shaker passed away in 1923, the once vast Shaker community ceased to exist as a religious society. The historic buildings that once formed the foundation for this community found new uses with new owners. Shakertown, as it was known locally, became another stop along Highway 68, with gas stations, general stores, restaurants and hotels interspersed among farms with houses and barns.  

Robert Renfrew, Bob Houlihan, Earl Wallace and Hillery Boone inside The Trustees’ Office at the time of purchase.
The First Attempt to Save Shakertown

There were very clear and deliberate efforts in the 1930s and 1940s to see Pleasant Hill set aside as a historic site or state park. Individuals and organizations were working on many fronts to see this happen. Burwell Marshall had purchased quite a bit of land during this period under the name Pleasant Hill Realty Co., and eventually opened a museum in the Centre Family Dwelling. It appeared that almost everyone with an interest in this village during this period, wanted to see it set aside and saved, and wanted to help interpret Shaker history by doing so.

By the 1950’s; however, momentum to save the site had waned. Though there were still interested parties, the buildings were in worse shape than ever with many on the brink of collapse. 

The Renfrew Restaurant

By this time, the bulk of the original Shaker buildings were in the hands of just five individuals. The Gwinn brothers owned much of the West end of the Village, while Burwell Marshall retained ownership of the Centre and East portions. Robert and Bettye Renfrew purchased the Trustees’ Office in the 1950s to run a restaurant. 

According to one of the restaurant regulars, “the place had a lot of character. It was like something out of a Faulkner novel, going there for dinner. It was a bring-your-own-bottle operation, and the food was wonderful. They just had a few things – a special eggplant casserole and fried chicken and old ham, but they’d never get it ready. Guests would sit out on the front steps and ‘kill a bottle of whiskey,’ and finally a member of the party would stroll back into the kitchen and casually ask, ‘How’re things coming, Mrs. Renfrew?’ The lady would look up at her interlocutor from her cup of tea, ‘but it wasn’t tea.’ Finally everybody would get fed, and then somebody would wind up the old Victrola in the corner and put on a record, and sometimes the waitress would join the dancing.”[1]

Raising Funds to Save Shakertown

Despite the charm of the buildings, it was apparent something drastic needed to be done. The effort to save Pleasant Hill was revived with the Shakertown Committee of the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation.  At a dinner in 1959 at the Shakertown Inn, the Renfrew’s restaurant, members of the Harrodsburg Historical Society, the Chamber of Commerce and other community leaders excitedly announced the formation of a committee to “explore methods to restore some fifteen buildings at Pleasant Hill and to make the place a historical and tourist site.”[2] 

By 1962, the Shakertown Committee had secured options to be able to purchase many of the remaining Shaker buildings, but the combined figure of $362,000 was daunting! Earl Wallace, then chair of the board of Trustees, claimed “the first challenge to our enthusiasm came as the option on the present Trustees’ House was about to expire. We were faced with the payment of $62,500 which we did not have. The challenge came from Barry Bingham of Louisville who said that he would give $25,000 if we would raise the balance. The seriousness of our undertaking dawned on me and five other trustees when we had to endorse Shakertown’s note at a Lexington Bank to get the balance. I recall we said at that time that Shakertown would own one property if never another!”[3]

Fundraising efforts led by the non-profit Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, Inc.

The Trustees’ Office was the first building purchased by the newly formed non-profit Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, Inc., and this decision was very deliberate; they viewed this building as the key to the restoration effort. This building was unanimously considered “the vital first purchase in the Shakertown project.”[4]

Preserving the Past for the Future

After subsequent waves of preservation and fundraising, the Village currently sits on 3,000 acres of Shaker land, which includes a nature preserve, farm and a historic site with 34 original Shaker structures remaining. Today, the Trustees’ Office continues to serve as an integral part of the Shaker Village experience. With shops, a restaurant, and guest rooms, this space allows visitors to connect with this historic site in a personal way.

Our mission at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is to inspire generations through discovery by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers. We do this by inviting the public to explore the Village, to stay the night and to take part in our daily programs that help interpret the Pleasant Hill story. We take the legacies of the Pleasant Hill Shakers to heart, and hope that these legacies continue to welcome visitors for years to come. 

[1] Thomas Parrish, Restoring Shakertown: The Struggle to Save the Historic Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill (KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2005), 2.

[2] Ibid., 41-42.

[3] Earl D. Wallace, A Review of the First Fifteen Years of Financing the Restoration of Pleasant Hill (KY: Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, KY Inc., 1975-1976), 4.

[4] Parrish, Restoring Shakertown, 47-18.

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.