The Trail West

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

Trailhead on the Move

When Shaker Village introduced the list of projects associated with its Long-Range Plan in May, it was noted that “no project stands alone.” Each individual project represents a piece of a larger puzzle, and in many cases the completion of one project is critical to the success of another.

This week we’re going to look at the ongoing effort to move the location of the West Trailhead, one of three trailheads used to access the Village’s 33-mile trail system. Work to relocate the trailhead began just last week, and would not have been possible without a grant through the Kentucky Colonel’s Good Works Program.

The new location for the West Trailhead will not only be more convenient for guests, but will also alleviate traffic near the 1850 West Lot Wash House, a critical step in our plans for that important structure.

A Popular Destination

The West Trailhead is the most popular point of access to Shaker Village’s multi-use trails. All horseback and carriage riders launch from this trailhead, due to its proximity to the Village’s stables, paddocks, and equine obstacle course. Hikers enjoy a variety of trails with access to acres of river cane, scenic prairie views, Shawnee Run Creek and the Fulling Mill Waterfall.

Currently, there is limited parking for hikers at the West Trailhead, which leads many guests to park in areas not intended for vehicles. This can harm animal habitat, damage landscaping and create hazards for the large horse trailers flowing to and from equestrian areas.

Luckily, we have a “built-in” solution!

Work in Progress

The image above shows the current site of the West Trailhead, with equestrian stables in the background. While horseback riders will still enter the Preserve on a variety of trails from the stables, the new location of the West Trailhead will provide much-needed parking and other future amenities for hikers.

The 1828 West Lot Dwelling sits along the West Lot Road, on the way to the current trailhead. The new location of the trailhead will take advantage of the 70 car parking lot just behind the Dwelling. The West Trailhead kiosk and map will be located near the northwest corner of this parking area.

Shaker Village’s Preserve Team is working on a new connector trail that will lead from the trailhead at the West Lot Parking Lot, toward the Chinquapin and Shawnee Run trails. Eventually, as additional funding is secured, restrooms will be built near this trailhead to serve hikers and event guests.

Our goal is to complete the new connector trail, update directional signs and launch the new West Trailhead in late September or early October. We will keep you posted, and look forward to seeing you when you hit the trail again at Shaker Village!

Follow Our Progress

Expect to hear more about the progress of our Long-Range Plan projects 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 or 859.734.1574.

This is the twelfth 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 Believers

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

Telling the Story

Among the list of 34 projects that has been curated for Shaker Village’s Long-Range Plan, you will find several projects that are not new ideas, but have actually been underway for some time. Historic preservation, for example, is a never-ending project at Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark. So too is the implementation of interpretation to share the history of this remarkable site with our guests.

Since 2017, Shaker Village has been implementing components of a “new” interpretive model. We understand that our guests are not all identical, and that people learn and interact in many different ways. With this in mind, we interpret the natural and cultural history of Pleasant Hill through a variety of methods, including: guided tours, signs, exhibits, workshops, interactive apps, books, web pages, events and hands-on learning experiences.

Among our different methods, educational exhibits provide a solid interpretive foundation for the greatest number of visitors to the Village.

Exhibits allow guests to learn at their own pace, and to pursue topics that are of the greatest personal interest. Exhibits connect visitors to the material culture of the Shakers. Exhibits immerse guests in the time, the place and the story of Pleasant Hill.

You can currently explore exhibits in 12 different historic buildings throughout the Village, and one of these spaces is about to go through a massive transformation.

The Spiritual Center

In 2018, thanks to funding provided by the Eli Lilly Endowment, preservation of the 1820 Meeting House was completed. This project, along with the simultaneous preservation of the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling, marked the largest investment in historic preservation at Pleasant Hill since the original restoration in the 1960s and 1970s.

The work not only protected these structures, but also created opportunity for the future installation of high-quality, educational exhibitions in both buildings. Lighting systems, climate control and UV protection were all new features that expanded the potential for interpretive storytelling through compelling exhibits.

Since 2018 our team has completed new exhibits in several buildings, added outdoor interpretive signs, and launched the Shaker Village App, but had not, until recently, secured funding to complete exhibitions in the 1820 Meeting House. Fortunately, the Eli Lilly Endowment once again partnered with Shaker Village to protect and share the “spiritual center” of the community. In late 2022 a grant of $275,000 was awarded for The Believers, a permanent exhibit that will explore the Shakers’ faith, and how they expressed that faith in their music, worship and everyday lives.

Exhibit Design

The Believers will inhabit eight rooms on the second floor of the Meeting House. The six largest rooms will house exhibits on the Origins of the Shaker Faith, Theology, Worship, Music, the Era of Manifestations and Construction of the Meeting House. Two smaller rooms will be “reflection stations,” each having prompts for the consideration of guests, with the opportunity to respond and interact with the space in interesting ways.

At the core of Shaker Village’s interpretive plan is a key question. The Pleasant Hill Shakers’ beliefs influenced their actions and defined their lives. How do your beliefs define you? By sharing the story of the Shakers, we hope that our guests will reflect on their own beliefs, and how beliefs, manifested in religion, philosophy or morality, shape the world around us.

To advance this goal, The Believers has been designed as a space of inspiration and contemplation. Art, music and dance are key components. Sculptural elements help to drive the experience just as much as historic content. We want this exhibit to be emotive. We want visitors to feel something.

The Believers will open in late September (keep following our weekly emails for your invitation.) After it has opened, permanent exhibitions will still be needed for the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling, 1809 Farm Deacon’s Shop, 1817 Cooper’s Shop and 1835 East Family Wash House. Until then, seasonal and temporary exhibits will fill those spaces while fundraising continues toward the master plan. We hope you will join us for each new addition along the way, as we continue to explore the history of the Shakers and Pleasant Hill!

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 or 859.734.1574.

This is the ninth 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:

True North

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

This is the eighth 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:

A Note of Concern

For those who have been following this series of articles about long-range planning at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, I hope you will forgive me if I draw a conclusion about you. It appears, at least on the surface, that this remarkable place matters to you, and you are interested in its future.

Perhaps you have fond memories of visits to the Village. Maybe you have spent time here with family and friends. You might have been an employee or a volunteer. There’s a chance you have photographs with the landscape and architecture of Pleasant Hill in the background, and the smiling faces of people you love in the foreground.

If any of the above happens to be true, then it is also likely that you have, at some point or another, been concerned for the future of Shaker Village. After all, caring for 34 historic structures and 3,000 acres of natural and cultural landscape presents unique challenges. During your visits you have seen roofs that needed repair, windows that were leaking and plaster that was sagging.

In the last ten years, you have also seen much change at the Village, and a renewed investment in preservation. While we have made many strides and completed dozens of preservation projects, there is one building in particular that stands out as a reminder of the work that still needs to be done: the 1816 North Lot Dwelling.

New Life for the North Lot Dwelling

For the last 15 years, the North Lot Dwelling has been closed to the public. During the late 2000s, as the economy went into depression and the Village’s annual attendance was dropping, several buildings outside of the primary “historic centre” were shuttered due to a lack of resources to keep them open. Now, this once popular guest house with a fascinating history sits in silence, awaiting the next generation of preservationists who will bring it back to life.

For motorists who travel Highway 68 to and from Harrodsburg, the North Lot Dwelling currently appears as an abandoned home, set apart from the beauty of Shaker Village by two lanes of asphalt and a tattered covering of Tyvek. This won’t be the case for much longer. Soon, preservation work will begin to replace the building’s roof and front façade. After additional fundraising is completed, the North Lot Dwelling will return to its historic identity as both a welcoming face of the Village, and as a center for hospitality.

Recent History

After the dissolution of the North Lot Family by the Shakers in 1880, the buildings and adjacent property of the North Lot were soon sold to a private landowner. The following decades saw the North Lot used as a residence and for storage. In 1966 the North Lot Dwelling, now the last remaining extant building of the North Lot, and surrounding land was purchased by the nonprofit that manages Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. After restoration efforts that began in the late 1970s were completed in 1981, the North Lot Dwelling began to host overnight guests and small retreats in 1982. The three story building included a full kitchen, five bedrooms and a large sitting area that could be converted to meeting space.

A 1982 report to the Shaker Village Board of Trustees’ stated, “The North Lot rooms are all open. Brown-Forman brought a group here this week and stayed overnight for two nights. They were delighted with it. The large first floor sitting area worked well for a meeting space.

Not only was the building a favorite for small meeting groups, due to its flexible space, full amenities and private setting, but families also found it appealing for getaways and retreats. Although the Village has a variety of family-friendly suites and cottages, no other overnight space could accommodate over a dozen guests in a “single” space.

The exterior of the North Lot Dwelling began to degrade after its public closure in the late 2000s. Some efforts were made on superficial repairs in the 2010s, but upon discovering the depth of preservation work required, especially where water had infiltrated around windows and doors, that work was stopped and a Tyvek cover was placed over the vulnerable west façade. The building has remained in this state, slowly degrading while being accessed rarely.

Brighter Future

Shaker Village’s Long-Range Planning Committee toured the North Lot Dwelling extensively before making recommendations for the future of this historic building. The first priority is, of course, preservation. As mentioned above, work to replace the roof and repair the front façade should begin later this year, thanks to the generous donations of several caring individuals. As additional funding becomes available, our teams will complete the preservation of the building’s exterior, safeguarding the structure from continued water damage.

Once exterior work is completed, attention will turn to the interior of the building. Plaster walls and ceilings, wood trim, wood floors, stairwells, steps and fixtures will all be cleaned, repaired and, where needed, replaced. New appliances and installations will modernize the kitchen and bathrooms. The building will be refurnished and decorated with an eye to Shaker design and modern comfort.

Flexible Space

Once work on the North Lot Dwelling is completed, and the building is reopened, it will provide a resource like no other at Shaker Village. A gathering for a large family or a scout group could sleep up to 24 guests in the building. A retreat of a dozen adults will have ample indoor space. Outdoor parties, luncheons and reunions will gather on the picturesque grounds, using the North Lot Dwelling as a base of operations and catering kitchen.

Bunk-style beds, with a queen mattress on the bottom and a twin above, will provide flexibility for different types of guests, while maximizing occupancy for the building. Fold out sofas and the installation of laundry facilities will provide additional flexibility for extra guests or longer stays.

As the North Lot Dwelling “comes back to life,” we will keep you updated with stories and photos. We hope you’ll stop by to welcome back this familiar friend that has needed our aid for so long.

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 or 859.734.1574.

The Natural Element

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

This is the seventh 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:

3,000 Acres of Discovery

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is an expansive property with an interesting balance of land use. By the numbers, the 3,000 acres that make up Shaker Village’s property are divided approximately in this way:

  • 200 acres are “developed,” with buildings, roads and parking areas.
  • 800 acres are agricultural, with most of this being leased land for modern farming, and a little over 1/8 of this acreage used for the Village’s educational farm.
  • 2,000 acres comprise the Preserve at Shaker Village. Of this, 1,000 acres are managed as a prairie, with a habitat of summer grasses and wild flowers. The remaining 1,000 acres are woods, wetlands and waterways.

The Preserve comprises 2/3 of Shaker Village’s land. Each year, between 10-20,000 guests visit the Village specifically for the Preserve. These guests come to hike, bike and ride horses. They come for nature-based programming, and family photos. They come for 5k’s and stargazing. And more are coming every year.

Recent History

Although the Preserve and its 33 miles of multi-use trails are a major part of the Shaker Village experience today, it is a relatively new addition to the organization’s offerings. Until 2008, most of the land that is now managed as a prairie had been operating as a cattle farm. Unfortunately, the cattle operation was not financially sustainable and, as with many business operations during the economic downturn of ’08, change was necessary. The Shaker Village Board of Trustees’ voted to forego management of the cattle operation, scaling down to focus on the educational component instead.

So, what was to become of the cattle pastures that remained?

While the Board realized they needed to move out of the cattle business, there was not yet a consensus on what to move toward. The idea of converting over 1,000 acres to prairie was one born of being in the right place at the right time.

Don Pelly had worn many hats at Shaker Village during his years associated with the nonprofit. While working as a science teacher he found time to participate in the Pleasant Hill Singers, assist with photography at the Village and lead some public programs here and there. When he retired from teaching, he took on a full-time role at the Village. In 2008 he was the Village’s Property Manager, and attending the retirement party for a colleague.

It was at this party that the seeds for the Preserve were sown, if you’ll excuse the pun, as Don first learned in casual conversation that government grants were available for converting pastures to native prairie. After some research into the opportunity, Don presented this option to Shaker Village’s leadership team, and work on creating the Preserve we know today was begun.

Although the Village had previously provided some hiking and riding trails, the initiative to diversify the natural environment on the property also led to the establishment of an expanded trail system. These new resources led to additional environmental studies and educational opportunities. Each success and challenge led to the next opportunity. Soon, Don was appointed as the Village’s first Preserve Manager, a title he passed on in 2015 to Ben Leffew, who had worked alongside Don for years and still oversees operations in the Preserve today.

Jumping Off Points

To access Shaker Village’s trail system, guests begin at one of three different trailheads: East, Center or West. Over 90% of guests use the Center or West trailheads, as they provide access to the greatest variety of trails for hikers, and an equestrian center for horseback riders. As use of the trail system has increased, the need for additional infrastructure to support the guest experience, while also protecting delicate ecosystems, has become more apparent.

Without adequate parking, guests are more likely to park in the grass, along the prairie or near erosion-prone locations near waterways. Without convenient restrooms, guests are more likely to “make their own” wherever nature calls. A higher number of guests is a very good thing, but without the proper amenities, the quality of the experience can decline for everyone.

With these challenges and opportunities in mind, Shaker Village’s Long-Range Planning Committee began a plan to design and construct a new nature center along the road to the Center and West trailheads.

A Prairie Home

A nature center will provide a first-class introduction to the natural and cultural environment surrounding Shaker Village. Along with educational exhibits and indoor gathering space that can be used for a variety of events, the nature center will also provide staff offices, a lab and supply storage. Restroom facilities and public parking will alleviate immediate needs in this area of the property, and the Village’s capacity for hikers, field trips, group tours, summer campers and other guests will expand greatly.

A new nature center at Shaker Village may be located near this location, along the West Lot Road, just prior to the Center Trailhead.

The addition of a nature center will relieve pressures from historic buildings like the 1815 Carpenter’s Shop (Welcome Center) and the 1820 Meeting House (the largest indoor area for banquets currently).

While the design of the new nature center is not yet determined, the Committee has recommended a site that is not in the viewshed of the Historic Centre of the Village, or any other historic buildings. This will allow some flexibility in design, perhaps taking more inspiration from the natural environment than from historic architecture.

Functional goals for the building have been discussed at length, however. After a series of visits to nature centers across the Commonwealth, and an assessment of needs at Shaker Village, the Committee has recommended the following functional goals:

  • A welcoming space to provide visitor orientation to the Preserve
  • ADA compliant throughout the building, and with accessible parking
  • Indoor and outdoor gathering spaces for group programs
  • Ability to seat a minimum of 150 guests for an indoor banquet or reception
  • Flexibility to divide gathering spaces to accommodate multiple and smaller groups
  • Exhibition and gallery space to support interpretation of natural and cultural landscape (could surround reception area)
  • Restrooms with both indoor and outdoor access and ability to subdivide as needed
  • A service kitchen to support hosting catered events
  • Retail opportunities for basic hiking supplies, snacks and souvenirs
  • Staff dedicated spaces, including: offices, breakroom, laboratory, meeting space, restrooms, mud room
  • Adequate storage for event supplies, programming supplies, field supplies, retail inventory and office supplies
  • Parking for guests, staff, coach and school buses
  • Equestrian tie points and loading steps

While the nature center at Shaker Village will be under development in the coming years, you can expect to see additional pilot programs and initiatives in the Preserve that will help our team hone their vision for the new facility. We look forward to sharing more with you, and hearing your feedback along the way!

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 or 859.734.1574.