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.

Putting the Puzzle Together

Billy Rankin, VP of Public Programming and Marketing

This is the sixth part of a behind-the-scenes look at the development of Local Economies, Global Impacts, a new exhibition that will open this December 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

We also looked into the process of fabricating an exhibit.

It’s now crunch time, as we are in the process of installing each component that will make the final exhibit experience!

Placing the Pieces

Over the last year and a half we have conducted research, written content, selected artifacts, compiled images, designed graphics, chosen contractors, built components and finally, FINALLY, we are putting it all together.

This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.

Are the stands we built here at the Village going to fit the acrylic covers manufactured offsite? Will every artifact fit correctly on the platforms designed for them? Did we double-check that each component can actually fit through the doors? How heavy are those millstones, exactly?

With a planned opening on December 10, we are in that timeframe where we bite our fingernails, hoping that all of our planning has paid off.

It’s not always smooth.

For instance, as murals were being installed on the walls it became obvious there were several locations where we hadn’t accounted for the full height of the wall mounted lighting units. These will need to be modified so we don’t have a wooden frame obscuring an important quote. Fortunately, we have a talented team onsite that will make adjustments that, once completed, will never be noticed.

How Heavy Are They?

For an exhibit that aims to demonstrate the one-time enormity of Shaker industry at Pleasant Hill, you need BIG artifacts to help tell the story. Enter two, unfinished 500+ pound millstones from our collection. Once again the problem-solving skills of our exhibit team and partners were put to the test. How do you move these two behemoths into the East Family Brethren’s Shop? Once there, how do you display them?

Fortunately, with a combination of great planning, a well-built platform and a little help from the Village’s tractor, we were able to safely mount these two stones. Let’s hope this exhibit stays in place for a while!

Water at Work

Another interesting feature of Local Economies, Global Impacts will be our model waterwheel. This 9 ft. diameter wheel will demonstrate how the Shakers powered many of the mills constructed at Pleasant Hill. Maps, cutaway images and audio/video components will add greater depth to the history of mills at the Village.

During our planning stages we looked at a number of different designs for the waterwheel. No mills remain standing at Pleasant Hill, so we found inspiration from archival images of the 1816 Grist Mill. The locations of bolts, spokes and other features were designed to mimic what the Shakers had built long ago along Shawnee Run.

Every End is a New Beginning

The installation of Local Economies, Global Impacts marks the beginning of a new phase of museum exhibitions at Shaker Village. These fully-realized exhibits will be a model for the museum experiences we will construct in buildings across the property. Combined with tours, workshops and other learning experiences, immersive exhibits will tell the story of the Pleasant Hill Shakers to our guests in a new and exciting way.

Be on the lookout for upcoming announcements about the opening of this new experience! We look forward to new generations of guests experiencing the legacy of the Kentucky Shakers.

Next Month: We’ll discuss the grand opening of this new exhibit, and how we evaluate the impact of the experience on our visitors.

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

Access for All

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Marketing and Public Programming

34 historic structures. 36 miles of hiking trails. 3,000 acres of natural and cultural landscape.

The vastness of the experience at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is an incredible attraction for the guests that travel from around the world to visit Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark. However, this grand scale can also be a challenge for guests with limited mobility.

The Challenge

Consider the 34 historic structures at Pleasant Hill. Of these, 20 are buildings with multiple levels. While we admire the simple elegance of Shaker staircases, in the words of one recent guest, “They were great at building stairs, but not so much elevators, huh?”

Though this comment was made in jest (and the guest was probably a bit winded from the climb), providing inclusive access to spaces throughout a historic property is a very real challenge. Here are three specific areas we’re working to address:

  1. The historic, Shaker sidewalks that remain at Pleasant Hill are typically too narrow for wheelchairs, walkers and scooters. They can also become worn and uneven through aging, increasing the risk of slips, trips and falls.
  2. All of the 13 buildings that contain overnight guest rooms at the property currently require guests to navigate at least one step to access.
  3. Although there are educational exhibits in a dozen buildings at Shaker Village, only three of these buildings are accessible for guests using a wheelchair, and even in those, that access is restricted to only portions of the building.

So, how do we provide better access for guests with limited mobility, without damaging the aesthetic and historic integrity of this irreplaceable Village?

You Have to Start Somewhere

To be fair, there have been prior efforts toward accessibility at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. There are outdoor lifts to provide access into The Trustees’ Table restaurant and to meeting spaces in the West Lot Dwelling. Public restrooms at the Village are accessible as well. The difference today is that these efforts are now part of a strategic planning process, and are being emphasized as a critical part of our site plan moving forward.

The biggest limitation to implementing plans for increased accessibility at Shaker Village is, of course, funding. Fortunately, we have been able to complete several projects through the generosity of private and corporate donors.

In 2020 the Village installed 20 outdoor, educational waystations thanks to a gift from Community Trust Bank. These waystations were placed in locations that are accessible, and have made a positive impact for those guests who are unable to navigate the multiple levels of exhibits in many of the buildings.

Around the same time, new pathways that meet ADA standards were created near the 1820 Meeting House and through the heirloom apple orchard. These paths are part of a larger plan to connect all the major buildings at Shaker Village with ADA compliant paths and sidewalks, and were made possible by the contribution of an individual donor.

Continuing the Progress

This month, two projects are underway that will dramatically impact accessibility at two of the most important buildings at Shaker Village.

The 1815 Carpenter’s Shop serves as the Welcome Center for the Village. While a sidewalk addition in 2017 made it possible for all guests to enter the building from one side, passing through the building and into the Village has been prohibitive for guests in wheelchairs. A new, permanent ramp is being constructed that will resolve this issue.

The 1839 Trustees’ Office, home to The Trustees’ Table restaurant, is also seeing an upgrade to improve accessibility. A new sidewalk is currently being laid, leading to the front entrance of the building and connecting to the lift on the building’s east side. By replacing a non-historic stone path that had many bumps and divots, this sidewalk is not only ADA compliant, but much safer for all of the restaurant’s patrons.

Where Do We Go From Here

The Shaker Village app will bring the story of Pleasant Hill to more guests with multimedia options.

In the coming years, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill will continue to make improvements that increase access on the property for all guests.

Here are some projects to keep an eye on in the months and years to come:

  • The Shaker Village App is about to go live! The App will provide an additional layer of educational information for all guests to the Village, and the multimedia content, with closed captioning, will not only provide more access for visitors with limited mobility, but also those with visual and hearing impairments.
  • More ADA compliant sidewalks, pathways and ramps will be built. There are still several important areas of the Village where access needs to be improved. In the coming years you’ll see work to provide this access in the East Family area of the Village, at key buildings like the Meeting House, and around trailheads and hiking trails in The Preserve.
  • Select guest rooms will be modified to meet ADA standards. This step will take a while, but we have our eyes on some spaces where building access and ADA compliance can be accomplished while maintaining the historic integrity of the buildings.

As with all undertakings of true value, there isn’t a shortcut to improving accessibility across a 3,000 acre historic property. Along the way there will be difficulties, and it will never move as quickly as we would like. However, Shaker Village should be a place where every single person can feel ‘kindly welcomed,’ and we are committed to living up to that standard.

If you would like to learn more about how you can support accessibility projects at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, please contact us at info@shakervillageky.org or call 859.734.5411.

Funding Historic Preservation

Melissa Williams, Development Coordinator

Planning for Preservation

The master preservation plan for Shaker Village lays out short, mid and long-term goals to care for the property’s 34 historic buildings and 3,000-acre cultural landscape. From a fundraising perspective, this plan can seem a bit daunting when you add-up the amount of funds needed to achieve our goals! To help fund historic preservation projects, the Shaker Village Board of Trustees launched a comprehensive capital campaign in 2014. To date, Shaker Village has raised over $14 million towards the $25 million goal for historic preservation, to enhance visitor education and to strengthen the Shaker Village endowment.

Historic preservation can be a costly endeavor. That cost goes up the longer a structure sits and deteriorates without maintenance or regular upkeep. This makes sense considering we would expect the cost to rise as the extent of damage increases. It also highlights just how urgently some of our 34 historic buildings need attention. But what damages these buildings in the first place?

Exterior of West Lot Dwelling.
Old Stone Shop masonry before repairs.
Water at Work

We are fortunate in Kentucky to experience all 4 seasons, but this means that buildings are exposed to a wide range of temperatures, rain and snow. Over time the weather and environment cause damage to materials and surfaces, such as wood, stone and plaster. Water is a particular concern because wet materials can rot, mold and mildew; frozen water expands and can cause cracks or displace materials; and humidity introduces water to interior surfaces.

Floor board repair in the Meeting House.
Wear and Tear

Regular use of the buildings, which can have a positive impact on preserving them, can also have detrimental factors. The Shaker buildings are the most valuable items in our collection and most enduring testament to the Shaker legacy at Pleasant Hill. We could lock the buildings and ask our guests to observe them from a distance, but that would be an injustice and diminish the guest experience, which relies on the ability to move within the spaces where Shakers lived, worked and worshipped.

Because we use these buildings daily, doors and windows are opened and shut, floors and stairs are walked on and walls are touched. Over a long period of time, regular use will cause the buildings to show wear if they are not regularly maintained.

Across the property, the building conditions vary. The restoration work in the 1960s was just the beginning of our tasks as a nonprofit to preserve them. It is an ongoing project that will never quite be completely done.

The Old Stone Shop.
The North Lot Dwelling in 2012.
Working the Plan

Earlier this month I wrote about the full-scale preservation projects completed since 2016. Since completing this work, these buildings require regular maintenance to keep them in pristine condition.  In 2020 we established the Building Preservation and Maintenance Endowment to help fund this ongoing task and prevent these buildings from slipping into a state of deterioration in the future.

You’ve also read about several of the preservation projects in progress. To date we have fully-funded large-scale preservation projects for the 1817 East Family Dwelling, 1821 Ministry’s Workshop and 1811 Old Stone Shop, and we have partially-funded large-scale projects for the 1809 Farm Deacon’s Shop, 1835 East Family Wash House, 1824 Tanyard and 1813 Old Ministry’s Shop.  Fundraising for the four latter projects continues with a combined goal of $600,000.

Thirteen additional large-scale preservation projects are planned over the next five to ten years with a total cost of $3.7 million at today’s cost of materials. The scope of work ranges from $15,000 to $1.5 million, with most needing a new roof and repairs to windows, doors, woodwork and masonry. A small handful of these buildings (1847 Cooper’s Shop, 1816 North Lot Dwelling and 1850 West Lot Wash Lot) are of high concern because of the degree of their needs. The Cooper’s Shop, for instance, features exhibit space on the first floor and overnight lodging on the second, and is the highest fundraising priority because water is infiltrating the building through the siding, roof and windows causing significant damage and a cycle of constant maintenance.

Building Infrastructure

Over the years, SVPH has also been working to upgrade the infrastructure that serves the Village. This includes the heating and cooling systems and the water treatment plant. Theses systems were originally installed in the 1960s when the nonprofit organization formed. While some areas of these systems have been upgraded through the years, the majority has not.

For example, in 2017 the 1824-34 Centre Family Dwelling and the 1820 Meeting House were switched to a geothermal heating and cooling system that is more sustainable, efficient and cost effective.  However, there are seven buildings in the West Family area that are heated and cooled by a boiler/chiller system which is generally described as being in “fair condition” overall. Components of this system were installed in 1966, and although the boilers and chiller have been replaced since that time, the ones currently in place are critically past their expected useful life. The cost of reconfiguring and replacing this complex system has a starting cost of $1.5 million.

Continuing the Work

When our nonprofit organization turns 60 later this year, we’re going to celebrate the commitment made in 1961 to preserve this powerful place. Over the years, you have told us how much Pleasant Hill means to you… all of those times you visited with your family, stayed overnight with loved ones, attended events and sang around the illuminated tree on a cold December night.

We won’t be daunted by the costs and challenges associated with preserving Pleasant Hill for future generations. Instead, we will be inspired by your personal stories and we will carry on with the important work we do here so that Pleasant Hill and the story of the Shakers will continue to inspire guests for many years to come.

Learn more about preservation at Shaker Village and how you can support these efforts.

Ever wonder what lies behind a closed door? Learn how our guided tours take you to rarely-seen areas of the Village.

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.