Communal Workspace – Then & Now

The Ministry’s Workshop at 200

Maggie McAdams, Education and Engagement Manager

The Ministry’s Workshop today.

“October 26, 1820: the Ministry’s Shop was raised and they moved into it the 9th of April following.”  Origins and Progress of the Society at Pleasant Hill

Members of the Pleasant Hill Ministry used the Ministry’s Workshop as an office space for almost 80 years.  The Ministry, composed of two men and two women, provided spiritual leadership for the community, kept journals, conducted the official correspondence for the Village, and performed physical labor to set as an example of industry for the other Shakers.

The Ministry’s Workshop is conveniently located in the center of the Village, right next door to the Meeting House, where members of the Ministry had living quarters on the second floor. The Ministry’s Workshop embodied the secular work of the leadership while the Meeting House represented the spiritual role.

200 years later, we are still using the Ministry’s workshop as office space! Now home to Shaker Village’s Program Team, Farm Team and Preserve Team, this building continues to provide necessary space, in a convenient location, to keep this Village running. 

Members of the Program Team attending a training next to the Water House.

The Program Team is tasked with interpreting the story of the Shakers for the public. Whether through programming or exhibitions, the team works hard to research and share the rich history of this community.

As a member of the Program Team, I feel honored to spend my workdays in a building that holds so much history, and my colleagues feel the same way. Not only is it a functional workspace, it is after all a Shaker structure with pegs and all, it is an inspiring structure as we are constantly reminded of the important legacy that surrounds us.  It is empowering that we continue to use this building as a communal workspace where we collaborate on effective ways to share the Shaker experience with visitors. It also doesn’t hurt to have multiple windows in every room!

Program Team office space inside the Ministry’s Workshop today.

Spring Ephemerals on The Preserve

Laura Baird, Assistant Preserve Manager

Spring is here and our forests have once again been transformed by delicate little wildflowers. Every spring some slopes are lucky enough to be carpeted in colorful, diverse blooms that seem to appear out of nowhere. If you revisit these spots in midsummer you’ll be hardpressed to find a single sign the dramatic display was ever there.

Many of our earliest flowers are considered “ephemerals.” They emerge early, before the trees have leaves. They flower quickly, create seed and then they disappear. But “ephemeral” does not mean short lived. Our spring wildflowers are mostly perennials, growing slowly, coming above ground and gathering their annual supply of sunlight during that short period of time between when the days get longer and when the forest gets too dark and shady.

Sessile Trillium
A small patch of sessile trillium.

One of our more common spring ephemerals is Trillium sessile (uncreatively given the common name of sessile trillium). Sessile trillium is often just a few inches high and has erect red flowers with three petals and three sepals sitting directly atop a whorl of three leaves. The “tri” in trillium refers to this three-ness while “sessile” refers to how the flower sits directly on the leaves, without a stalk to support it. The dark red flowers have a slightly unpleasant stink which attracts their primary pollinators of flies and beetles. The resulting seeds have a fatty appendage attached called an elaiosome, which attracts ants and wasps to carry the seed away from the mother plant.

Once an ant carries off the seed, it will take two seasons of cold for it to germinate. In its first year of growth the new seedling stays completely underground, slowly creating a root system. The year after that, a single leaf emerges. If enough energy is gathered, it will be slightly bigger the next year. In fact, it could take 10 years for a trillium to grow strong enough to produce its first flower. Some plants can live to be 25 years old if conditions are good.

One mature “mother trillium” (5+ years old), an immature three-leaved trillium (4+ years old) and a dense patch of single-leaved trilliums (3+ years old).

Repeated trampling, grazing or picking can kill any plant, but spring ephemerals are especially vunerable because of how slowly they grow. So always stay on trail and only take photographs, but be sure to enjoy the display soon before it disappears for the year. And, if you miss your chance this year, don’t be too sad… they’ll be back next year, just a little bit bigger.

Visiting New England Shaker Sites, Part II

Jacob Glover, PhD, Director of Public Programs and Education

A few weeks ago we began our blog series on our trip to Shaker sites in New York and New England in February and March 2020. Our trip was just days before the country came grinding to a halt with the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post, we are recounting our adventure to Massachusetts, New York and then back to Massachusetts to complete one whirlwind of a Saturday!

With Watervliet in the rearview mirror, we headed east towards Pittsfield, MA, and Hancock Shaker Village. Along the way we passed the location of the Mount Lebanon, NY, Shaker community, a destination that we would return to later in the day. At Hancock, we were graciously welcomed by several staff members and a volunteer, and we were even provided special access to view the Shaker gift drawings in their Collection!

The Shakers produced most of these “gift drawings” during the Era of Manifestations in the mid-19th century. They are a wonderful example of American folk art, and we felt lucky to view them up close.

While the sunshine was abundant by the early afternoon, it remained quite cold as we toured the beautiful grounds at Hancock. Originally founded in the late 1780s, Hancock grew to more than 300 Believers and 3,000 acres by the 1830s. As with most other Shaker communities, decline in the late nineteenth century led to the selling of outlying lands and diminishing numbers. Despite this, Hancock remained an active Shaker community until 1959—nearly fifty years after the closing of the covenant at Pleasant Hill.

Inside the 1826 Round Stone Barn – one of the architectural wonders we visited on our trip.

Hancock today is very well preserved, with 20 existing Shaker buildings, a modern welcome center, a working farm, programs and exhibits. Although many of the structures were awe-inspiring, the 1826 Round Stone Barn is the unforgettable cornerstone of the experience at Hancock. After a few hours on the grounds and one more trip to the gift shop, we said our goodbyes, regretful that we had so little time to explore the beautiful village.

Then we backtracked over the mountains and into eastern New York for a quick afternoon jaunt to the Historic Mount Lebanon Site. Although today many of the Shaker buildings have been repurposed into a school and an eco-Sufi community, the Shaker style is evident throughout.

The original seat of Shaker government, Mount Lebanon was active from the early 1780s until the 1940s when the community sold most of their land and buildings to the Darrow School—a school that just happened to win a basketball championship the day of our visit! Today, the Historic Mount Lebanon Site only offers self-guided tours and hiking, but if you ever have the chance we highly recommend stopping by to see the Great Stone Barn. It is easily one of the most impressive architectural marvels we have ever seen.

Photos don’t do it justice, but hopefully you get the idea of the scale of the Great Stone Barn. It’s an absolutely massive and impressive structure.

Having been thoroughly impressed, but also cut to the bone by the howling wind and the fading sun, we hopped back on the road and made our way to Boston, MA for the night. There would be no rest for the weary; however, as we had to be at Shaker Meeting at Sabbathday Lake the next morning at 10 a.m. sharp. We would end up cutting it close…VERY close!

Check back in a couple of weeks for the next installment of our adventure!

For more information on Hancock Shaker Village, please visit

For more information on the Historic Mount Lebanon Site, please visit​

African American Experiences at Pleasant Hill: Patsy Roberts (Williamson)

Holly Wood, Music Program Specialist

“Mother’s Good Drink” note the attribution in the corner which says, “Patsy Williamson coloured Sister.”

Born January 7, 1791, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, Patsy Roberts or Patsy Roberts Williamson belonged to a household originally from Rockingham County. The Roberts family moved to Madison County, Kentucky and by August of 1808 21-year-old Eunice (Betsy) Roberts, the oldest of the Roberts siblings, arrived at Pleasant Hill.

She was followed by Susannah in January of 1809. Susannah was listed in the Pleasant Hill records as a twin, born January 7, 1791 –the same birth date as Patsy. What is most interesting is that Patsy is listed as black and enslaved while Susannah is not. Patsy is the only Roberts recorded to have been of African descent. 

According to Shaker records, Patsy Roberts joined the society of Shakers at Pleasant Hill in 1809, three years before moving to the Village. In the fall of 1812, Namon Roberts and his wife Jinny Roberts moved to Pleasant Hill with the rest of their household. Eunice (Betsy), Susannah and Patsy were the only Roberts to sign the covenant making them full members of the Church.

In January of 1815, Namon and wife Jinny made the decision to “return to the world” with their five younger children. Before Namon Roberts departed he offered Patsy for sale and the Shakers purchased her legal freedom so that she could remain with them.  

Patsy lived 51 years as a Believer experiencing the strong bonds of sisterhood as she worked and worshiped at Pleasant Hill. Her faith was reflected in her songs that she composed with references to Mother Ann Lee, the joy she experienced in the dance and childlike simplicity and freedom she felt in worship. 

Music Program Specialist Holly Wood and Music Interpreter Sarah Porter sing “Pretty Mother’s Home.” The song was composed by Patsy Roberts Williamson.

On August 28, 1860, Patsy passed away in the East Family Dwelling after an undisclosed illness of four or five years. The writer of the journal described Patsy as being “zealous in the cause.”    

Making Connections

Billy Rankin, VP of Public Programming and Marketing

This is the third part of our behind-the-scenes look at the development of Local Economies, Global Impacts, a new exhibition that will open this summer at Shaker Village.

Last month we introduced three main goals that the team at Shaker Village keeps in mind when developing any new exhibit:

  1. Tell a Meaningful Story
  2. Connect with Different Audiences
  3. Be Relevant

If you need to revisit how we craft our exhibit’s “story” and integrate it into the site’s larger interpretive plan, you can catch up here!

Today I’d like to spend some time on “connecting with different audiences.” Talk about a BROAD topic, right?!

A Diverse Audience

Each year Shaker Village has nearly 100,000 visitors to its historic property. These guests come from every imaginable background. Some are elementary students on field trips. Some are international travelers. Many come for their love of history, while some are dragged here because of a family member’s love of history!

Some of our guests will have trouble navigating the steps and historic sidewalks on our property, and some of them are unable to read the signage we hang up, or hear the voices of our staff.

With the universal impact of COVID-19 still being very real, many of our guests will be hesitant to join a group of strangers on a tour, or approach an Historic Interpreter with a question.

Shaker Village’s guests represent a broad cross-section of ethnicities, religions and backgrounds. And, every single one of our guests will come to our exhibit with a different perspective. To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

Just the Facts

So, how do we account for all of these different perspectives when trying to fulfill our mission to inspire generations through discovery by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers?

We start by sticking to the story we know. It’s important for museums like Shaker Village to share facts. This isn’t always easy. Often history is muddy and mysterious. Our team of scholars work hard to check and double-check their sources. We guard against jumping to conclusions, and select the words we use very carefully so they are not easily misinterpreted. It is tempting in this “editorial age” to lead a narrative in the direction you’d like it to go. Aside from this being unethical, it also defeats the purpose of studying our history. How do we learn from it, if we don’t look at it for what it is?

By sticking to the facts we allow ALL of our guests to trust the content they are being introduced to, and this trust provides the foundation for the connections we want to make.

People Learn in Different Ways

We’ve all seen it before. Someone may be a great student in class, but struggle with experiential projects. Another person may be able to grasp complex concepts quickly, but find difficulty staying engaged for a long period of time. Many people love watching historic documentaries, but were bored to sleep in their history classes.

When we develop a new experience at Shaker Village, we are committed to meeting people where they are, not where we want them to be.

To accomplish this, we layer in several different approaches when developing a new exhibit.

  • Visuals, including: images, graphics, maps, videos and other multimedia
  • Audio components that are both ambient and interpretive
  • Text written without jargon, and kept as succinct as possible
  • Tactile elements that allow guests to get hands-on
  • Personal Stories that can make the content more relatable
  • Programs, tours and workshops connected to the exhibit to add the personal touch and expertise of an Historic Interpreter

Not every visitor will engage with every method we use. That’s not even our intent. Our intent is to have at least one method that is engaging for every visitor.

A Spark of Inspiration

Hands-on workshops and daily programs are a valuable way to connect visitors to exhibit content.

Interpretation is revelation based upon information.”
Freeman Tildan

So, what exactly is the point of learning about the industries and economy of the Shakers at Pleasant Hill? Well, here’s the secret. It’s not actually about the Shakers. It’s about you.

Throughout Local Economies, Global Impacts we will place questions, prompts and activities that allow visitors to question how the topic at-hand is relatable in their own life. For instance – we have relatively few examples of Shaker clothing, due to the fact that older clothes were often cut up and used to make rugs or other items. What do you do with your old clothes when you are done wearing them?

This is an “inquiry-based” method. Causing the visitor to consider a question and discover their own response. There is no correct answer. Only your answer. Pair with an interactive that allows you to see how others have responded to the same question (this is called user-generated content) and now we’re on to something!

Every exhibit and program we produce at Shaker Village contains a TON of information. Our goal is to move from information to inspiration. Guests might not remember everything they learned, but they will certainly remember how they felt.

Next Month: Learn how Local Economies, Global Impacts will use “universal” concepts to create a story that is relevant to a modern audience.

Local Economies, Global Impacts is funded in part through a Museums for America matching grant, administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.