What we refuse to destroy…

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.” -John Sawhill

For more than 60 years, our nonprofit organization has been on a mission to preserve the buildings and property that belonged to the Shakers of Pleasant Hill, and to share this unique historic landscape with the public. This mission has not been achieved without struggle. Preserving a historic place presents many challenges, and doing it while also hosting 100,000 visitors each year can be quite a juggling act!

Although we have developed a sustainable, nonprofit model to support the preservation of Pleasant Hill, we are fortunate the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) was passed early in our organization’s history. The layers of protection and support this legislation, and its later amendments, has offered historic properties like Shaker Village cannot be overstated. As Preservation Month comes to a close, it seems appropriate to take a moment to reflect on some of the designations this legislation provided that have impacted our mission.

The National Register of
Historic Places

The NHPA legislated the creation of the National Register of Historic Places. Designation on this list provides national recognition to a historic property, even if the scope of its story may be deemed to be local or regional. Listing on the National Register can provide certain federal incentives, though it doesn’t inherently protect a property or building from alterations, or even demolition.

The Centre Family Dwelling underwent preservation work in 2018.

There are currently 95,000 properties listed on the National Register, with over 1.4 million individual historic resources identified on those properties. You can search the National Register Database here.

While Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, when our organization was added in 1971 we were also made part of a much more exclusive club…

National Historic Landmarks

National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) are properties that have national historic significance. These properties have exceptional value, or quality, and represent a special category of designated historic structures.

There are currently just over 2,600 NHLs in the country (32 in Kentucky) representing less than 3% of National Register properties. Other NHLs include places like Mount Vernon, Alcatraz, Pearl Harbor and Graceland. Search for National Historic Landmarks here.

Aerial view of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

While, similar to the National Register listing, being an NHL doesn’t necessarily protect a property from alterations, or even demolition, the listing does create a buffer against a number of state and federal intrusions. It also creates an increased awareness of the property’s value to our nation’s cultural history.

The nomination process for both the National Register and to become an NHL can be extensive. In 1971 Shaker Village’s full nomination totaled 360 pages! A few dozen of those pages were photos, but still, wow! Nominations are archived online, so if you have some time on your hands it’s interesting, and inspirational to read Shaker Village’s nomination form. So many people have given so much of their time and talent so that this incredible place can be passed on from generation to generation. It’s almost overwhelming to think about.

This Place Matters

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned the “juggling act” that can take place when trying to balance preservation and public access. There’s no doubt that visitor usage can add wear and tear to any property, particularly historic properties. But, we must always remember why we preserve this history. If we don’t share the story Pleasant Hill has to tell, we aren’t accomplishing our full mission. And if we don’t inspire future generations with this story, then who will care about Pleasant Hill when we are gone?

Visitors tour the historic turnpike at Pleasant Hill.

Ultimately, while national designations and legislation can provide layers of protection, the preservation of our historic places is an action undertaken by us every day. It must be undertaken relentlessly and with enthusiasm, because once a place like Pleasant Hill is lost, it can never be replaced.

So, as Preservation Month comes to a close, we thank all of our guests, hikers, diners, shoppers, donors, sponsors, vendors, staff and volunteers for helping to preserve Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark, each in your own way.

Learn more about how you can support Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

Bibliography

Tyler, Norman, Ted J. Ligibel, and Ilene R. Tyler. Historic Preservation, 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.

Celebrating National Arts and Humanities Month

Melissa Williams, Development Coordinator

Imagine yourself standing on the turnpike here at Shaker Village. Close your eyes for a moment.

Can you feel the soft, rustling breeze through the trees? The sun shining warm on your face? Each step you take is accompanied by the crunch of gravel on the path. In the distance the ducks are quacking, the donkey brays. There’s a group of people up ahead on a tour listening intently to the guide. They are nodding and smiling.

How do you feel in the moment?

This Place Matters

When our nonprofit organization formed in the 1960s, the original board members and the public worked tirelessly to restore the Village. It was a not an easy undertaking. They persevered because they felt the same way you feel when you visit Pleasant Hill: this place is special.

How is it special? It’s hard to articulate an answer to that question.

It’s educational.  It’s entertainment. It’s fun. It’s an escape.

It’s a sense of peace. A feeling of lightness. A connection to nature and to beauty.

It’s hope in the midst of a chaotic world.

Finding Relevance Today

The 1820 Meeting House.

The Shakers built their environment to reflect their view of Heaven on Earth. Interestingly, their view of Heaven on Earth was adapted over time – both proactively and reactively. One notable example was the shift in how the Village was oriented. The community was initially laid out north to south.  Within the first 20 years of establishing the Village, the orientation shifted to run east to west as the turnpike remains today. While there were likely multiple factors in this decision, the New Madrid earthquake in 1811 damaged the original meeting house. The need to construct a new Meeting House may have been the impetus for this change.

It’s lessons like this that the Pleasant Hill Shakers left us to examine. Their ability to adapt over time and their resilience is an important example that we can find relevance in as we navigate our changing world.

Celebrating National Arts and Humanities Month

Today more than ever, we all need someplace where we can take refuge. A place where we can rest. Where we can reflect. Where we can consider steps we can each individually take to help adapt our communities to be more inclusive, equitable, cohesive and proactive.

This year we join the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to celebrate the 35th anniversary of National Arts and Humanities Awareness Month.

“Three and a half decades after its official recognition, National Arts and Humanities Month takes on new relevance to American life today. Music inspires and uplifts us, poems and stories spark our imagination, and museums teach us about the world and ourselves. The arts and humanities have the power to unite us, to heal us, to sustain us, to help us better understand each other, and to guide us through challenging times.” – joint statement by IMLS, NEA and NEH.

Shaker Village is a place where everyday we think about the human experience and study history, philosophy, religion, community development and more. Sixty years ago, the leaders of our nonprofit could not have guessed just how important Shaker Village would be today, but today it’s certain that Pleasant Hill will remain special for generations to come.

If You Build It…

Billy Rankin, VP of Public Programming and Marketing

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

In previous posts we introduced three main goals that the team at Shaker Village keep in mind when developing any new exhibit:

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

Today we’re going to get our hands dirty, as we enter the fabrication phase of this exhibit!

Floor plans like this provide a quick touchpoint to cross reference the graphics, artifacts and built environment of an exhibit space.
A Little Help from Our Friends

Over the last several months the Shaker Village team has been researching and reviewing content, examining artifacts and working on the design of Local Economies, Global Impacts. This project was not undertaken alone. We’ve partnered with outside scholars and a nationally-recognized exhibit design firm. We’ve funded the project through private donations and a matching grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

It’s hokey, I know, but it really does take a village.

We’re now entering the all-important fabrication phase, where each component of the exhibition will be constructed and fit together. Strategic partnerships will be as important as ever.

Much like a major home interior renovation, constructing a museum exhibit takes special skillsets that not everyone will have. At Shaker Village however, we are fortunate to have skilled carpenters, like Terry Cowart, who can produce the cases, platforms and frames called for in our exhibit designs.

Team members from Shaker Village on a visit to the exhibit fabrication shop of Solid Light, in Louisville.

There are also many components in this exhibit’s design that our carpentry team would not be able to tackle. Printed graphics, metal work, interactive displays and large models are a few examples of items that we will outsource to professional exhibit fabricators. In Kentucky, we happen to be home to one of the best exhibit fabrication firms in the country, Solid Light. Items that will be too much for our team to bite off will be produced offsite and installed in tandem with the portions of the exhibition built in-house.

All About the Details

Have you ever heard the saying, measure twice, cut once? When you work on an exhibit design produced by one firm that will be built by two different teams working in two different locations, you measure at least half a dozen times before you can sleep at night!

Curator Becky Soules measures artifacts to ensure case designs will provide adequate space for display.

Not only do the different components need to fit together, but the location of heating vents and electrical outlets, and the swing direction of every door must be accounted for in the final product.

For the past two weeks, and for the next two weeks, our teams have been meeting to review details, compare notes, and spend some time together in each of the spaces where exhibits are to be installed. Open communication and clear guidance are keys to making sure the pieces fit together when they are finally placed in the 1845 East Family Brethren’s Shop and 1855 East Family Sisters’ Shop.

Case “schedules” are provided as a reference for fabricators, ensuring each team member has the correct number and dimensions of “typical” design elements.
Making Sawdust
Lumber orders for “typical” elements are arriving and being pre-cut for use in the exhibit.

Some details of “atypical” elements in the exhibit are still being massaged out, but construction can begin in earnest on many of the “typical” elements. These include artifact stands and platforms.

Materials that can be ordered are on the way or already onsite. We all love the process and understand the importance of each step along the way. However, in the words of Terry Cowart: “It feels good to finally start making some sawdust on this project.”

Next Month: We’ll continue our journey through the fabrication of Local Economies, Global Impacts.

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

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.

The Saving of Seeds

Brandi Duff, Farm Assistant

For more than two centuries, seeds have been saved from the vegetable gardens at Pleasant Hill for use in subsequent years. For the Shakers, there were many reasons to save seeds from the bountiful gardens they grew. By saving the seeds they knew produced well, the Shakers ensured they had what they wanted for the following year. This was a sustainable and cost-effective use of resources.

A Market Industry

Though seed saving was a common practice in early agrarian America, the Shakers quickly turned it into a market industry. Credited with being the first to sell seeds in small pre-packaged envelopes, the Shakers at New Lebanon, NY perfected this process as early as the 1790s.

They kept detailed records and divided the process into four areas: the field, the barn, the shop, and the world.

Seed saving became profitable for most Shaker communities, and we see evidence of this industry at Pleasant Hill in the early 1800s. According to Pleasant Hill records, seeds were saved throughout the growing season and were sent to consignment shops in September and October, remaining there through February or March.

Okra seeds are commonly saved at Pleasant Hill to be planted in the next growing season.

Seed packets evolved throughout the years, beginning as small envelopes in tan or orange colors. Print shops at each location printed the intricately designed border adding planting instructions on the packaging later in the process. The Shaker name on seeds soon became synonymous with “quality.” This allowed them to thrive in the industry.

After the civil war, the Shakers began to see stronger competition in the seed market. The combination of superior printing technology using brighter colors, better growing locations, and the fact that many Shaker communities were in decline, led to the Shaker seed market eventually closing.

Seed Saving Today

Today at Pleasant Hill, we still proudly grow and save heirloom varieties of plants. Our seeds are open-pollinated, which means that they either self-pollinate or are pollinated by the same plants. This ensures the reliability to produce the same plants as the parent plant.

We proudly offer many of the same varieties in our shops that the Shakers grew. Learn more about seed saving by attending one of our educational tours or a farm workshop.

To purchase heirloom seeds from the Shops at Shaker Village, come on out for a visit, or visit our online store!