A House of Dignity and Charm

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

This is the fifth 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:

The Heart of Hospitality

The 1839 Trustees’ Office has been the focal point of welcoming guests to Pleasant Hill since its construction was completed by the Shakers in 1841. As a center of trade and commerce, the building was arguably more “of the world” then the other structures in the community.

New construction behind and adjacent to the 1839 Trustees’ Office would encompass new kitchens, storage, offices, HVAC systems and delivery area.

Near the end of the 19th century, the building came into private ownership, and since then it has served, almost entirely, as a house of hospitality. Millions of guests have passed beneath the wondrous twin spiral staircases on their way to dine on country fare in this building, once described in a popular postcard as A House of Dignity and Charm...

At the center of all food service for Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, the 1839 Trustees’ Office is not only home to our seed-to-table restaurant, The Trustees’ Table, but also to all food preparation for catered events across the 3,000 acre property. Additionally, the building houses eight overnight guest rooms, a craft shop, and four offices for employees.

The 1839 Trustees’ Office, c. 1880s.

Shaker Village’s Long-Range Planning Committee reviewed the challenges presented by operating a commercial kitchen in the cellar of an historic building. These challenges included an inefficient layout, limited capacity and the pressures this type of activity place on the fabric of this irreplaceable landmark. We also examined outdated HVAC systems, accessibility issues and difficulties with loading and unloading inventory and catered goods to and from the cellar.

What follows is an overview of key points of consideration, and potential plans for the future of the 1839 Trustees’ Office.

Space to Grow

The Long-Range Planning Committee determined that an expansion and modernization of kitchen facilities at the Trustees’ Office is necessary to increase service capacity for both the restaurant and catered events. This expansion provides an opportunity to offer “casual fare” for guests, filling a need in current dining offerings, and to increase cocktail and appetizer sales by creating a venue to capture both unique visitation and pre/post-dining guests.

The new construction necessary to achieve these goals will also provide an opportunity to: upgrade HVAC systems for the “central cluster,” add three overnight rooms that currently serve as offices back into service for guests, use the Trustees’ cellar as a tavern or rental space, add outdoor dining to the west side of Trustees’, add a walkup service window and bar facing the Trustees’ lawn, add accessible restroom facilities on the Trustees’ lawn, and create safe and efficient access for deliveries and waste removal.

A Brief History of the 1839 Trustees’ Office

Construction on the Trustees’ Office began in 1839, and the building was completed in 1841. The overall design of the building, along with the iconic, twin spiral stairs were likely influenced by public and private buildings in Lexington and Frankfort. For decades the Trustees’ Office served as the business offices for the Shakers and was also used to house and feed guests – both visiting Shakers and those of the “world.”

In 1896, in order to pay off debts, the Trustees’ Office and 766 acres of land were sold to John Castleman of Louisville. The building changed hands several times in the 20th century, but was used consistently as a public restaurant and inn, most notably as the “Shaker Village Guest House.” The last private owner of the building was Robert Renfrew.

In 1962, the Trustees’ Office was the first building purchased by the newly formed non-profit Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, Inc. This building was unanimously considered “the vital first purchase in the Shakertown project.”  The Shakertown Committee agreed that “possession of the inn would give the committee an asset that could be improved and turned into a moneymaker.”

Robert Renfrew receiving check for Trustees’ Office
Pictured left to right: Robert Renfrew, Bob Houlihan, Earl Wallace, Hillery Boone

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!”

These 1963 floor plans show an early concept for moving kitchens out of the Trustees’ Office and into a new addition, while creating an additional food and beverage venue in the cellar of the building.

By 1963, leadership at Shaker Village were drawing up plans to expand the kitchens of the Trustees’ Office, add outdoor seating and convert the cellar to a tavern. Keep in mind that Mercer County did not allow alcohol sales at that time.

While modern plans will not be identical to those from 1963, it is worth noting the continuation of this concept.

The Trustees’ Table

The Trustees’ Table restaurant opened to the public in April 1968, under the leadership of Elizabeth Kremer. Mrs. Kremer developed a menu with a few Shaker-inspired dishes and rounded out with traditional “Southern” fare. Meals were served “family style,” with the sides for each day standardized and served in shared dishes.

The aesthetics of the restaurant were based on Shaker design, with servers in costume, menus based on the look of Shaker journals, and table settings resembling those found in upscale country homes.

Dining at the Trustees’ Table, c. 1990s.

By all accounts, the Trustees’ Table has been a popular and profitable venue for almost the entirety of its operation. While experiencing some decline in the 2000s, the expansion of onsite catering, outdoor dining and dining events, along with a resurgence in overall site visitation, has once again pressed restaurant operations to high productivity.

Shaker Village has also managed overnight guest rooms in the Trustees’ Office since 1968. Currently there are 8 overnight guest rooms in the building, though 11 rooms were developed for overnight use. The 3 rooms located on the second floor, above the kitchen, have been repurposed as offices due to the disturbance caused for guests by being above a kitchen area.

Catered events at Shaker Village take place in venues across the 3,000 acre property, with all food produced in the 1839 Trustees’ Office kitchens.

The front desk for the Inn was located in the Trustees’ Office until 2017. At that time the front desk was relocated to the Welcome Center (1815 Carpenter’s Shop) and the former front desk area was converted to additional retail space.

Future Plans

  • Construct a new kitchen with space and equipment to enable an expansion of services in the Trustees’ Table restaurant and for onsite catered events
    • Dry storage, cold storage, supply storage, alcohol storage, offices, break room, dishwashing, prep cooking, baking, grill lines, salad lines, service bar, beverage stations, first aid/safety station and loading/unloading areas to be included
    • Locations and routes related to deliveries, catering and waste removal to be considered, along with staff parking and access
    • Kitchen work spaces to be designed to allow appropriate walkways and flow for prep, service and delivery
    • Kitchen operations would be removed from 1839 structure, reducing risk of loss/damage to the historic building as well as risk to employees currently navigating narrow stairs and walkways.
  • Provide additional food and beverage venues at the Trustees’ Table, with focus on casual fare and alcohol sales
    • With cellar emptied of kitchens, space can be opened up to create an accessible “tavern” with capacity of 60-75 patrons. Alternatively, this space could be used as a location for interpretation and/or group rentals
    • A walk-up bar and grill can be included in the new construction, providing service to the Trustees’ lawn
    • Additional terrace seating can be added outside the cellar entrance on the west side of the building, making a more attractive approach to the Village center while increasing casual service capacity.
  • Add public restrooms in the cellar, along with new restrooms with outdoor access from the Trustees’ lawn, as part of the new addition, resolving a bathroom capacity issue in the center of the Village.
  • Replace HVAC system for “central cluster,” installing in new addition to Trustees’. Impacts Ministry Shop and Post Office along with Trustees’ Office.
  • Increase overnight lodging capacity by providing offices in the new addition, allowing three overnight rooms currently serving as office space in Trustees (above current kitchens) to go back into service for guests.

Design Goals

Before any design will be rendered for this important projects, a number of key design topics will be discussed by a variety of experts and stakeholders, including:

  • New construction should not impede the historic viewshed from Trustees’ Office to garden
  • One outcome is to create a more attractive and obvious approach from guest parking area to the Trustees’ Office
  • The Long-Range Planning Committee is also working with historic preservationists, architects and artists to determine our approach to the following questions: Is the new construction a showpiece, or meant to be unobtrusive? Is new construction blending with Shaker architecture, or does it have a more modern design? How will landscaping tell an historic story, while also creating the appropriate aesthetic atmosphere for guests?

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 [email protected] or 859.734.1574.

Happy Hammering!

Preservation Projects for the Summer of 2019

William Updike, Vice President of Natural and Cultural Resources

This is an exciting time, and we wanted to post an update on several on-going and upcoming projects you may see during visits to the Village over the summer and into the fall!

For starters, we re-opened the 1834 Centre Family Dwelling this spring after a year-and-a-half of work! (There are several prior blog posts about this project, if you’d like to learn more!)

Work is already underway on several of our other historic buildings. So far this year we have re-roofed the 1811 Old Stone Shop, and made repairs to the Old Ministries Shop and Cooper’s Shops.

Roofing underway on the 1811 Old Stone Shop.
Roofing completed on the 1811 Old Stone Shop.
Threshold on 1813 Old Ministry’s Shop before repair.
Threshold on 1813 Old Ministry’s Shop after repair.

Last summer we began work on the 1833 Water House. The first phase of this project completed a major structural repair to the front (south) wall of the building. This summer we will complete the preservation work on this building including repairs to the roof framing, siding, windows, a new shake roof and a fresh coat of paint. We are re-roofing and painting the nearby Brethren’s Bath House which will complete work on structures adjacent to the Centre Family Dwelling.

1833 Water House during recent preservation efforts.
1860 Brethren’s Bathhouse roof repair in progress.

In other work, we will also be installing a new roof on the 1821 Ministry’s Shop. This project will begin the preservation work on this building, and we intend to also make repairs to the exterior of the building and to repaint it prior to winter. We will begin to repair and repaint all of the windows, exterior doors, and exterior trim of the East Family Dwelling. This is a large project and plan to complete late in the fall, or possibly next spring if the weather cooperates.

Our work at Shaker Village is never truly finished. Use, time and the elements take a toll on our buildings and it is our duty to maintain them for future generations. You can help by making donations, and/or joining us on an upcoming volunteer day!

Click here to learn more about how to support our efforts!

Old Buildings, New Tricks

Sustainability through Geothermal Systems

William Updike, Vice President of Natural and Cultural Resources

Shaker Village is on a mission to be good stewards of our resources. One way we do this is through the Geothermal Heating and Air Conditioning systems in the East Family Dwelling, West Lot Dwelling, Centre Family Dwelling and Meeting House.

Geothermal supports our stewardship in two ways.

First, geothermal heat pump systems are more than three times as efficient as the most economical furnace. Instead of burning a combustible fuel to create heat, a ground-source system uses the earth’s energy as the heat source. Geothermal systems provide three to four units of energy for every
one unit used to power the system’s compressor, fan and water pump. The U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency identify geothermal as having the lowest environmental impact of all heating systems.

Secondly, geothermal systems are able to reach very high efficiencies. For example, geothermal heat pump can be up to 600% efficient on the
coldest days of the year—a normal air source heat pump will only be 175-200% efficient on cool days—meaning the geothermal system is using far less electricity than a comparable heat pump, furnace or air conditioner. Thus, this installation will help us save financial resources in the long run
on our purchase of electricity.

Our goal is to prolong the lives of these buildings for the next generation to enjoy. Guests now have a better experience inside the buildings during hot or cold days—regulating the temperature and humidity inside the building help us preserve the buildings and allow us to display furniture and
textiles that are too fragile for non-climate controlled spaces.

I hope you enjoy these images of the geothermal installation during the recent preservation of the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling!

October 2017. Laying out the well field.
October 2017. Drilling wells and placing pipes.
November 2017. Connecting the geothermal piping to the Centre Family Dwelling.
May 2019. Completed geothermal well field for the Centre Family Dwelling.

Preservation work is never completed! Ongoing repair, maintenance and upkeep is critical for the sustainability of our historic village. Thank you to everyone who has visited, donated and contributed to make projects like this possible!

Doorways Through Time

How often do you stop to admire a door, when passing from one room to another? If you are like most people, a doorway is simply your connection between spaces. You probably give more thought to where you are going then to the details of the passageway you take to get there.

At Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, we think about doors. A lot. And there are a lot of them to think about! Across the Village we care for hundreds of historic doors (there are over 70 doors in the 1824-1834 Centre Family Dwelling alone!)

For this post, let’s take a closer look at one door in particular. Ironically, it’s probably a door that the Shakers themselves spent little time considering, but to our team it has taken on great value. We call it the “Blue Door.”

Originally located on the second floor of the Centre Family Dwelling, this door provided access to the attic. Utilized by those who might make repairs to the bell tower, or need to get onto the roof, this was not a doorway for daily traffic. In fact, the inside, stairway-facing side of the door was opened very little. This is what makes it so important to us today.

The Pleasant Hill Shakers took the time to paint both sides of this door blue. Given the limited exposure to light, this has allowed one side of the door to maintain the same color, without fading, for nearly 200 years. Today, you can view this door on display in the East Family Brethren’s Shop.

But what of the passageway left open with the “Blue Door’s” absence? This is where our carpentry team comes into the story…

Tyler Brinegar, Carpenter Foreman

We needed to build a door to replace the original “Blue Door” at the Centre Family Dwelling. After sourcing old-growth poplar from the rafters and roof of an offsite, demolished structure, I started removing the nails and old fasteners and deciding which pieces of lumber would be suitable for each part of the door. Being old rafters and sheathing, there were cups and crowns and bows and twists that helped determine where it would be most suitable. The straightest pieces became the left and right stiles, while the rafters with the worst crowns I cut into the middle stiles and rails, because those were only 32” long, or shorter.

My first step in milling the lumber was trimming up one face, then one edge on the jointer, for the rails and stiles. I then went to the planer to take it to the correct thickness of 1 ¼”. I had to change the infeed direction of the lumber a few times to allow for less chipping of the poplar. Grain direction impacts how smooth the cuts will be.

Once at the correct thickness, I ripped the nails and stiles 1/16” wider than needed for each rail and stile so I could go back to the jointer for a perfectly machined edge. The same process was applied to the roof sheathing for the raised panels. I ran the profiles on the rails and stiles before cutting them to length.

I cut the stiles to length then laid out the mortises with a marking gauge, similar to the way a Shaker carpenter would have done. I then cut my four rails to length and marked the tenons.

After cutting the tenons on the table saw, and mortises on a mortise machine, I smoothed up and finely fit the joints with a Stanley 92 rabbet plane and ¼” and ¾” pfeil chisels. I coped the roundover part of the profile by hand with chisels in a similar manner to how it would have been done during the 19th century.

Once the rails and stiles were fit together I verified the sizes and proceeded to the shaper to cut the profile. Where there were small checks I applied a butterfly repair to keep it from splitting apart. With all the parts fitting nicely, I proceeded to apply epoxy to all the joints and clamped the door together. Then I placed 3/8” oak pegs through the mortises and tenons in the same positions as the original “Blue Door.”

With what appeared to be the original hinges, I completed my hinge mortises by hand with a chisel. The new door fit right in place!

It’s hard to fit all the details in a (short) article, and there are many more that could be added. I truly enjoyed every second of retrieving the lumber and building the door. It is a blessing to share my account of this construction, and I hope people will come to admire the work we have done.

See the new “Blue Door” on a Centre Family Dwelling Top to Bottom Tour, every day at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill!



It’s almost Preservation Month, and preserving Shaker Village is no small task! The Shakers built more than 260 structures during their time here, and 34 of those structures are left standing today. With lots of love, but finite funding, our to-do list stays long around here. Carpenters, painters, architects, maintenance techs and more come together to preserve these amazing pieces of history. During your visit to Shaker Village, you can find many preservation projects going on at once.

One of our most recent endeavors has been the West Family Wash House. About a year ago, we undertook the preservation of this beautiful yellow building. With the intention of replacing the siding, construction began last April; however, we quickly realized the framework needed some major TLC. And so, here we are. A year later, window sashes have been remade, siding has been replaced, plaster has been repaired and much more.

While the original siding was made of beveled poplar, most of the siding left on the Wash House before this project was not original to the building. After much research and with the blessing of the Kentucky Heritage Council, the decision was made to try something new during this preservation project and use boral siding: a synthetic blend that replicates the look, feel and character of traditional wood siding, while resisting rot, splitting, cracking and termites. Many hands contributed to this project, as our carpenters and painters worked side-by-side to ensure everything was done correctly (including beveling each piece of siding to custom fit the building)!

With just a few loose ends to tie up and exterior painting to be done, the West Family Wash House will soon be finished (for now). Preservation is a never ending task around here, and we intend to do our best. Stay tuned for other preservation@work happenings! We’ve got several history-making projects coming very soon!

West Family Wash House Facts:

  • It was completed in 1842. The inhabitants of Shaker dwellings were responsible for their laundry; therefore, each family had its own wash house. The East and West Family Wash Houses still stand today, and we continue to run daily and special programs inside them. 
  • Today, it is used primarily as a meeting space for groups and programming.
  • In the 1960s, the West Family Wash House was used as a storage shed.
  • The siding was most likely replaced at some time since the nonprofit’s original restoration in the 1960s.
  • There are no original window sills on this building.

Mike Worthington, Paint Foreman

You can learn more about this project and others during, Preservation Now, a program offered daily this Spring. Plan your visit to Shaker Village.