Long-Range Planning: Project Progress Report

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

Two months ago we introduced you to a project list proposed by the Shaker Village Long-Range Planning Committee as part of the Village’s next ten-year plan. While many of these projects still require years of additional planning, fundraising and prep work, our team has been able to begin on several this summer.

I hope you enjoy this brief photo tour of our progress!

Shaker Landing

Learn about the full plan for Shaker Landing.

Thanks to a generous private donation, work has begun on the 1866 Timber Frame Stable at Shaker Landing. In addition to preserving this important building, our team is outfitting the space so it may be used as a venue for dinners, receptions, educational programs and other events. Electrical upgrades, installation of fans and lights, and the conversion of a side room into a service kitchen have already begun.

We hope to begin using this venue for Shaker Village programs before the end of this fall, and it will be available for rental to groups beginning in the spring.

The boat launch at Shaker Landing has also received an upgrade this summer, with a new kayak/canoe slip added at the dock. Paddlers now have the option to launch from the concrete ramp, or to avoid muddy conditions and tow their boat out to the slip, with tethers provided along the walkway.

Learn more about launching your canoe or kayak from Shaker Landing.

Children’s Playscape

Learn about the Children’s Playscape.

Construction of the Children’s Playscape is in full swing (excuse the pun)!

Natural materials are arriving to create mounds, sand pits and climbing elements. Ground preparations, including grading and drainage, have begun, and several experiences within the playscape have already been arranged.

There is still much to do, and we are hoping for a “formal” opening of this area, located just behind our vegetable gardens, in late September. Thank you to the private donors that stepped up to make this experience possible!

The Believers

Learn about The Believers.

The floors of the 1820 Meeting House have been repaired and refinished, and new exhibit lighting has been installed throughout the second floor of the building. Full installation of the latest, permanent exhibition at Shaker Village will begin just after Labor Day. The exhibit will be open to the public before the end of September.

Watch your email for an invitation to the grand opening!

Workshop Room in the East Family Sisters’ Shop

A first floor room of the 1855 East Family Sisters’ Shop, previously used for storage, has now been converted to host workshops and craft classes. In this photo, the space is set for an upcoming chair taping workshop.

If you would like to attend a workshop in our new space, the next program (that has not already sold out) is Herbs for Home and Health on Saturday, October 7.

Check out the Shaker Village Event Calendar for more great workshops and programs!

Roads and Infrastructure

Shaker Village’s team of carpenters, painters, maintenance technicians and groundskeepers are constantly caring for the Village’s 3,000 acre property and buildings.

In addition to massive HVAC systems, electrical stations and a wastewater treatment plant, there are miles of buried utilities, stone and plank fences, gravel roads and paved surfaces. These structures and systems are typically not the focal point of a guest’s visit to Shaker Village – unless they are broken or out of service. Then they can ruin an otherwise peaceful and inspirational experience.

While plans are underway to upgrade “behind the scenes” infrastructure Village-wide, one area has received some immediate attention this summer. Travelers venturing out to the West Lot will no longer have to traverse the “minefield” of potholes and broken asphalt along the West Lot Road. New pavement and repairs were completed on the most heavily damaged segments of the 1.5 mile long road in July.

Enjoy your smooth ride, there’s more to come!

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 brankin@shakervillageky.org or 859.734.1574.

This is the eleventh 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 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 brankin@shakervillageky.org or 859.734.1574.

Preserving the Past, Planning for the Future

Creating a New Long-Range Plan for Shaker Village

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

For most visitors to Shaker Village, the typical conversation is framed in the “past tense.”
Who lived here? How were these buildings used? What did this look like in the 19th century? What did the Shakers believe?

As Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark, this makes perfect sense, of course. It has been over 200 years since Shaker missionaries first came to our state, and the rich and vibrant stories of Pleasant Hill’s rise, decline and restoration have attracted millions of visitors since our nonprofit opened the Village to the public in 1968.

There are a committed few, however, that have recently been framing their conversations about Shaker Village in the “future tense.” With these conversations come a very different set of questions.
How will we use this building? What will happen in this space? What infrastructure is needed to support higher visitation? What will our guests need, that we don’t already provide? How do we ensure Shaker Village will be healthy for generations to come?

After 55 years of sharing Pleasant Hill with the public, Shaker Village is creating a new Long-Range Plan.

Building on Success

So, what has prompted this new planning process, and what are the intended outcomes?

Over the last decade, Shaker Village has tackled a number of major challenges and celebrated many successes. We have made great strides in historic preservation, exhibit installation, care of the grounds, upgrades to infrastructure, growth of our endowment and increases in annual visitation, passholders and individual donors. There is still much to be done to preserve and care for the buildings and property at Pleasant Hill, but we have turned an important corner. Our successes have built momentum, and with this momentum comes the opportunity for continued growth.

Shaker Village staff meet with representatives from Bernheim Forest to discuss initiatives to increase youth engagement at the Village.

In late 2021, the Shaker Village Board of Trustees, recognizing this pivotal moment in our nonprofit’s history, created a Long-Range Planning Committee (LRPC) and commissioned it with developing a new Master Site Plan for the property.  The committee, chaired by Centre College President Emeritus Dr. John Roush, is comprised of a select group of architects, preservationists and business people from the Board of Trustees, joined by members of the Village’s Senior Leadership staff.

Doing Our Homework

The LRPC wasted no time getting started with their assignment. In the last 18 months this committee has conducted studies of Shaker Village’s operations and identified key challenges and opportunities.

Shaker Village Curator Becky Soules speaks with an interpreter during a site visit to Colonial Williamsburg.

Members of the LRPC have made site visits to nearly 20 other cultural sites to draw comparisons and learn from shared experiences. These visits, to organizations including Colonial Williamsburg, Conner Prairie, Bernheim Forest, Yew Dell Gardens, and the Kentucky Historical Society, have inspired the team at Shaker Village not only through learning of successes, but by also learning of mistakes made by each organization along the way. 

The LRPC also conducted a series of interviews with architects, landscape designers and master site planning specialists to prepare for the questions and inevitable hurdles Shaker Village will face when implementing its own Master Site Plan.

Staying on Mission

One bit of wisdom the LRPC has taken from their study has been: “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something.” Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is an incredibly special place, and always has been. As our team works to enhance guest experiences, grow visitation and increase accessibility, it is incredibly important that nothing we do detracts from what the Village already is.

Shaker village staff and board members visited many other cultural sites over the last 18 months, including Conner Prairie in Indiana.

This perfect balance of preservation and hospitality is where the magic of Shaker Village is found.

To guide our team’s efforts, every idea and concept is run through a series of “strategy screen questions” and ultimately viewed through the lens of our mission, to inspire generations of guests through discovery, by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers.

As our team examines needs for additional overnight rooms, kitchen space, programming areas and more, coming back to our strategy screen and mission ensures that future projects are in line with the spirit and identity of Shaker Village, and only augment the overall experience of the site.

What Comes Next?

In the coming months, the LRPC will select and partner with a firm that specializes in master site planning for large, diverse properties. Together, they will refine a list of projects and initiatives that help to preserve the property, while enhancing guest experiences. At the end of this process, the leadership of Shaker Village will have drawings, site maps and other renderings to share this vision for the future to the public.

According to Dr. Roush, “Shaker Village is going to be here, as an organization and as an historic site, for a very long time. We are taking our time to plan for the long-term. Some tasks we discuss may be accomplished relatively soon, while others are years away, but the important thing is that we have a thoughtful plan that provides a playbook for the success and longevity of this incredibly unique place.”

Follow Our Progress

As plans 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, please reach out to our Vice President of Public Programming & Marketing, Billy Rankin at brankin@shakervillageky.org or 859.734.1574.