In the first decade after the arrival of Shaker missionaries in Mercer County, before the Pleasant Hill community had built many of the iconic structures that make up the village today, new converts lived on farmsteads scattered around what would eventually become the village center. Many of these homes and outbuildings had not been built by the Shakers, but were put to use to house the rapidly growing community as the Shakers bought land from their neighbors. Early journals make reference to many of these farmsteads, including “the Denny Farm on the hill West of the Grist mill pond, the Varner place about a mile North of the village, and the Brickey place about a half mile or more beyond that” (Church Record Book A, HHS, pg. 38).
One such property was a parcel of land the Shakers bought from William Hoard in 1807, just two years after Shaker missionaries arrived in Mercer County. The property included a frame house which had been built by a previous occupant, which became home for the next ten years to several groups of new converts, including some of Pleasant Hill’s most prominent early families – the Bantas, the Runyons, the Bryants, and converts like John Shain, who later became the village doctor.
A New Location
Over time, the Shakers at Pleasant Hill established two purpose-built Gathering Orders, the North Lot and West Lot, to house new members of the faith while they learned about Shaker lifestyle and religion. The scattered farmsteads that had characterized early village life were simultaneously being phased out. At this time, the Shakers chose to move the frame house from the Hoard property and rebuild the structure as the North Lot Family Dwelling.
On December 16, 1816, Shakers recorded this move in their journals: “Today we began to pull down and move away the old fraim house where Samuel Banta collected a Family in 1807, we intend establishing a gathering family or family of young believers, the family is to be 1 mile North E of the Center Family it will be known by the name of North Lot” (Origins & Progress of the Society, 123).
Over the next year, the Shakers rebuilt the frame house at its new location, adding a cellar and kitchen. The first residents moved to North Lot on November 25th, 1817. This building served as the primary dwelling house for the family until December of 1832, when a larger brick dwelling (lost to a fire in 1946) was completed, after which point it was used as a workshop.
Gathering Orders at Pleasant Hill
Shaker Gathering Orders hosted diverse and shifting populations of potential converts as needy families, European immigrants, spiritual seekers, free black Americans, and countless others arrived on the Shakers’ doorstep. Records note frequent arrivals and departures: members leaving the faith, novitiates transferring to other spiritual families, run-away children, expulsions and readmittances, births, deaths, and other dramas. Some residents of the North Lot Dwelling stayed for months, weeks, or years while never formally joining the community, while for others their time at North Lot was merely the first step toward a life lived in the Shaker community.
The North Lot Dwelling
Today, the frame dwelling is the only building remaining from the North Lot Gathering Order, 206 years after it was moved to its present location. Because the frame house was in existence before the Shakers began constructing some of their first structures on the site, the building likely contains some of the oldest materials still on the site today.
The building has been closed to the public since the 2000s, but is slated for restoration to begin this year. As preservation of the building begins and progresses, we will continue to research and share the story of this significant structure, while preparing it to be used again someday very soon.
2022 has been an incredible year at Shaker Village. There is so much to celebrate and none of it would have been possible without your support as a guest, a passholder, or a donor.
Major Milestone Achieved
Five years ago, William Updike joined the Shaker Village staff as the Vice President of Natural & Cultural Resources. His goal was to secure each of the 34 historic Shaker structures on the site. The first step was to replace aging (and failing) roofs. William says, “A dry building starts at the top!” Realizing this ambitious vision required significant resources and funding, and it happened.
When you take a stroll down the historic turnpike and throughout the Village you will notice new roofs have been installed on nearly every building over the past five years. Six roofs were replaced just this year. This is a quite an achievement!
Water poses the biggest threat in historic preservation. When a roof reaches the end of its useful life, it starts to let water in which can damage the building’s structure. Preventing leaks and deflecting water away from the building helps to preserve these original Shaker structures for future generations. And that is precisely our mission!
Our team of craftsmen have also been hard at work this year on windows in the Old Stone Shop and completing the full preservation of the 1817 East Family Dwelling. With help from the grounds crew, the Village has truly never looked better!
Growing a Farm, and our “Farmily”
The Farm at Shaker Village is one of the most popular spots on the property for our guests. Can you guess why? It’s the animals! The Farm and the Garden are cared for by four staff members, and their successes in 2022 are amazing! Check out some of their accomplishments this year:
Completed the 3rd year of solar grazing at LG&E, with our sheep, controlling vegetation across 32 acres of solar panels.
Increased our flock population and now have almost 200 breeding ewes!
Expanded our cattle grazing into a 60-acre sections of native grasses.
Added 3 new registered Shorthorn Heifers to our herd, 2 calves and 1 Texas Longhorn steer.
Built 2 large sections of woven wire fence in our pastures
Redesigned the garden area to have additional walkways for guests.
Built a High Tunnel to extend the growing season and completed its first year of production.
Finished our 2nd full year of CSA garden shares across two, 10-week periods totaling 11 shares per season
Taught dozens of summer campers and hundreds of guests about honey bees and draft animals on our farm.
Donated hundreds of pounds of food to those in need.
Engaging Our Guests
Every day at Shaker Village there is a schedule of daily programs and tours for our guests to enjoy. Our Program Team takes great care and preparation in putting these programs together. They have a lot of fun interacting with our visitors. It is the most rewarding part of our work. Continually enhancing the guest experience is our top priority.
This year we launched the much-anticipated Shaker Village App. This FREE app places hundreds of historic images and other rarely seen content right at your fingertips. It is a great way for you to explore the Village and learn the stories of individual Shakers. Through the App, we hope you will gain a deeper understanding of the Pleasant Hill Shakers and their legacy.
The Program Team and the Curator of Collections are also working on the development, fabrication and installation of two exhibits that will open in 2023. The first, Searching for Sister Mary, will open in March 2023. It will celebrate Sister Mary Settles who was the last Shaker to live at Pleasant Hill. The second exhibit, The Believers: Shaker Theology and Worship, will be installed on the second floor of the 1820 Meeting House. It will open in fall 2023.
Volunteers Make Improvements to The Preserve
Since the unofficial beginning of The Preserve, we have been constantly working to improve the habitat for all the wild things that call this area home. We gauge our progress through surveys of plants, trees, birds, small mammals and insects. This year a quick plant inventory revealed approximately 130 different plant species in The Preserve. And over the years we have observed 108 different species of birds.
As a guest, you can make your own observations in The Preserve by hiking or riding on our multi-use trails. Our trails are maintained by a team of two staff members and a growing number of dedicated volunteers who meet every third Saturday of the month (March through October). Our volunteers worked throughout the past year to improve the Heritage Trail by removing overgrown honeysuckle. This work opened up the trail and hikers should be treated to a beautiful wildflower display next spring!
We also encourage you to spend some time at the Bird Blind, which was updated this past summer. It’s a great place to see some of the area’s most abundant birds and insects. The Bird Blind is located at the center trailhead and is accessible.
We Make You Kindly Welcome
The Pleasant Hill Shakers were known for their hospitality and we carry that legacy forward today. Whether you are visiting for the day, staying overnight or spending a holiday here, we look forward to seeing you!
At The Inn this year, we renovated the bathrooms in four of our guest rooms. These updated bathrooms now feature walk-in showers and more spacious bathrooms. These upgrades were made possible by generous donor support and are part of our ongoing efforts to improve accessibility across the site.
At The Trustees’ Table, we welcomed over 62,000 diners to our table. The fried chicken, Shaker Lemon Pie, and tomato celery soup are our guests’ tried and true favorites. If you’re looking for something a little bit different, check out our Fresh Food Adventure Series. Chef Amber Hokams is able to show off her skills and the best of the Shaker Village Farm during these events. This past year we hosted six of these culinary adventures – and we invite you to join us in January 2023 for the Bourbon Dinner!
With Gratitude…to our Guests, Passholders and Donors
As the year winds down, we are so humbled by the support you’ve shown Shaker Village in a year that has been challenging for all of us. The best part about Shaker Village is that it is nestled in this beautiful rolling hills of the bluegrass. When you visit, it’s because Shaker Village is your destination and you have made an effort to get here to enjoy the peace and tranquility.
In a year when the market has been unstable and inflation has caused rising gas prices, food costs and more, we know your charitable dollars may be limited. Yet we are celebrating all the things that you helped make possible in 2022. We cannot say thank you enough.
Pleasant Hill is a magical place. When the Shakers settled here in 1805, they had no way of knowing that this site would remain two centuries later. Thank you for making that happen, and for generously supporting Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark. We are so excited for 2023 and all the possibilities it will bring.
Today we’re going to dive into the third goal: Be Relevant.
“Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile.” – Freeman Tildan
There are some things that all of us have in common. We all need water to survive. We all breath air. We interact with other humans. We all have some belief, or a system of values, that inform our lives.
Finding these common threads, or “universal” concepts, can build a bridge between your own experience and the experience of someone else.
Here’s an example relevant to our upcoming exhibit. I’m willing to bet that right now you are probably wearing clothes. (If you aren’t, let’s just keep that to yourself for now!)
Since you are wearing clothes, you are part of the textile industry.
Wool, linen and silk were the most prevalent textiles used for clothing and other needs at Pleasant Hill. The Shakers raised flocks of sheep for wool, fields of flax for linen and silk worms for their silk. They knew exactly where their resources were coming from, and how much was used each year.
Today, we are part of a global textile market. You probably don’t know where your shirt was made without checking the tag. It was also likely made in a place that you have never visited. And yet, we are still part of the same overall system, though on a larger scale, that the Shakers were part of. This will be true for every visitor to this exhibit.
The Unexamined Life
Okay, so big deal. I wear clothes. The Shakers wore clothes. Is this supposed to be some sort of revelation?
Not exactly. It’s really just a foot in the door. The next steps are what really matter.
By interpreting universal concepts we are attempting to lead our visitors to two important considerations. The first is simply to take interest in how someone other than yourself has lived. This can require some level of empathy, and if the story is compelling and relatable you are more likely to care. Learning how to care about others, or at least take some interest in their lives, is a noble endeavor.
The second consideration we are guiding our guests toward is the examination of their own life. As I said in our last exhibit blog post – It’s not actually about the Shakers. It’s about you.
Many who proclaim a love of history enjoy the study of things that have already happened simply because they have already happened. There’s some security in that thought.
The more challenging, but infinitely more fulfilling approach to studying history is to actually learn from it. Not just names and dates. By learning the successes, struggles, beliefs and compromises of those who have come before us we build the mirror with which we can examine ourselves.
Local Economies, Global Impacts
Global markets are immensely detailed and complicated to understand. However, the basics of managing resources, production and trade have really not changed so much since the time of the Shakers at Pleasant Hill. In addition to the textile industry, our upcoming exhibit will tell the stories of the broom industry, Shaker mills and shops, trading routes, market places and Pleasant Hill’s business leaders.
When visiting the exhibit after it opens this summer, put yourself in the place of the Shakers. How would you handle situations they faced? What role might you play? When looking at your life today through this lens, do you discover anything about yourself?
Next Month: We’ll go behind-the-scenes for the fabrication of exhibit features for Local Economies, Global Impacts.
Jacob Glover, PhD, Director of Public Programs and Education
On January 24, 1871, Pleasant Hill took the step of expelling a family of seven from their ranks. Interestingly enough, this newsworthy note is intermingled amongst more practical concerns in a Shaker journal:
Trip – El. H. L. Eades started for South Union via Lebanon. See 13th inst
Expelled – The Morrison family from the Society. Minerva the mother & Henry from the West Lot, & Hiram, Jacob, Leah, Belle & Ginny from the Center Family. See March 7, l870.
Trip – H. Daily went to Lexington with two wagons, & returned the following day.
As the entry reveals, this expulsion had evidently been in the works for a rather long time! Going back to review that entry from March 1870:
“Mon. 7 Sent Away – The Widow Morrison family – who came some time since from the Mouth of Salt River viz. the Mother Manerva Ann & children William J. Morrison, Jacob T. Leah Ann, Sarah Isabel, Mary Jane & Henry William Morrison. the Mother & youngest from the West Lot. The rest from Centre all went on board the Boat for Louisville thence to their home.”
That’s all the Shakers wrote. It makes one wonder exactly what they had done to be “sent away” and “expelled” during a time of general population decline at Pleasant Hill.
Jacob Glover, Ph.D., Director of Public Programs and Education
“Great architecture has this capacity to adapt to changing functional uses without losing one bit of its dignity or one bit of its original intention.
– Thomas Krens, former Director of the Guggenheim
As we approach the end of October and the 200th anniversary of the Pleasant Hill Meeting House, we have taken the opportunity to reflect on the both the history of the Meeting House and its continuing legacy and influence here at Shaker Village. As the quote that opens this blog post implies, the Meeting House has been remarkably resilient throughout the course of its existence and its many alterations since 1820.
When thinking about the original intention of the Meeting House for the Shakers at Pleasant Hill, it is important to keep in mind how the space was purpose-built to allow certain aspects of Shaker society to flourish. For the Shakers, the Meeting House was always about things such as unity, community, and faith. Of course, the Shakers’ religious beliefs influenced all aspects of their life, but the common worship area of the Meeting House was an extremely important physical space where the Shakers could gather on a weekly basis and reinforce communal ties, a shared sense of belonging, and strengthen their union with one another.
Given the important of these notions to the entire Shaker worldview, it is no wonder that the Meeting House held such a place of prominence in every community. When Shaker brothers and sisters danced and sang with each other, they cemented bonds that not only held together the community at Pleasant Hill — these actions provided a shared identity for Shakers all across America who danced the same dances and sang the same songs in similar buildings from Maine to Ohio.
At Shaker Village today, the Meeting House retains much of its original charm and capacity to inspire, even if the form and shape of that inspiration holds different meanings for us than it did for the Shakers. The sense of belonging and togetherness that was so important to the Shakers remains present in our daily Shaker music programs and special events like the Community Sing and Illuminated Evenings, as building community through song is still as strong an influence as ever.
The solidity and permanence of the Meeting House is also reminder of the power of place in a modern world that seems to become more transient and transparent by the day. Walking in the attic, the massive king posts and trusses are reminders of the ancient forests of central Kentucky and the long years that the oak trees graced the Bluegrass before they were hewed by the Shakers to build such a lasting testament to their architectural skills and their faith.
At Pleasant Hill, we remain as committed as ever to inspiring our local communities and state by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers, and the Meeting House will continue to be an integral part of that mission for our organization.
Join us at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill on Saturday, October 31, 2020, for the 200th Anniversary celebration of the Meeting House. Special tours of the Meeting House focusing on Shaker song, dance and the building’s architecture will be available with purchase of admission.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill | 3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg KY 40330 | shakervillageky.org | 800.734.5611