We’ve been to many historical villages and living history museums over the years, but I think that the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill has been our favorite. Calling their village “pleasant” was accurate, but perhaps also showed the Shakers’ tendency toward humility. A feeling of serenity permeates the village.
The Shakers first came to America in 1774 and settled in New England. In fact, there is still an active Shaker community living in Sabbathday Lake, Maine. The Shakers practice communal living, celibacy, and worship that involves dancing and shaking, which is how they got their nickname. The Shakers established new communities in New England, New York, Ohio, and Kentucky in the early 1800s. They became known for their strong work ethic and high quality products, as well as the many worship songs they composed. The Shaker community at Pleasant Hill was established in 1805 and thrived for several decades. In the latter half of the 19th century, fewer converts joined the community, and the village officially closed in 1910. The buildings were privately owned until 1961 when a nonprofit organization was established to preserve and restore the village.
A good place to start your tour of the Shaker Village is the Centre Family Dwelling which has been turned into a museum. The Centre Family Dwelling was once the dormitory where the most senior and most devout Shakers lived. Most of the rooms now contain exhibits and many of them also have costumed interpreters performing various demonstrations. One room had a demonstration of spinning and weaving like the Shaker sisters would have done.
The Shakers used looms to weave blankets, pillows, and table runners. The products that the demonstrators make are sold in the Craft Store.
The looms in this room did not belong to the Shakers (those were sold off), but are 200 years old and very similar to what the Shakers used.
We learned that it took three women three days to set up the loom to make this pattern.
One tip: when you visit, don’t rush. Stick around and watch the craftspeople. Ask questions. Because we stayed a while, the ladies in the weaving room rewarded my daughters by inviting them to try weaving. A second loom was set up to make rag rugs.
The Shaker brothers made brooms and did woodworking in their shops. We watched a broom being made.
The machine used to make the broom was made in Boston in 1880 and cost $140 new. It has been used to make many, many brooms since then and still works. I was impressed with the attention to detail by the broom craftsman. He said that since brooms are sold for $25 in the Craft Shop, he wants to make sure they are well made. One thing that struck me during our visit was that it seemed that everyone who worked there genuinely loved their job. The Shakers also made everything to the highest quality, but their motivation was that they were trying to create a Heaven on Earth and wanted to glorify God through their work.
The Shakers used all the technology available to them and made many advancements. One of them was this broom-flattening machine that flattened the broom and held it while it was being stitched.
My kids really wanted to buy a broom, so I bought one. If it motivates them to sweep the floor, why not?! My husband and I had visited the Shaker Village 19 years ago and still have a broom we bought then. It isn’t in tip-top shape anymore and has become our garage broom, but we still use it. We couldn’t wait to do a side-by-side comparison of our old broom with our new broom.
We also enjoyed visiting the kitchen. Although there wasn’t a demonstration, a sign prompted us to find the 19th century versions of items we use today, like a food processor, crock pot, cheese grater, and toaster. Another room housed a collection of Shaker chairs. You and your kids have probably seen Shaker chairs, but perhaps didn’t realize their design came from the Shakers. We have Shaker chairs in our kitchen, so my kids were impressed. Another brilliant idea the Shakers came up with was putting peg boards on the walls, perfect for hanging all sorts of things, including chairs. Why hang chairs on the wall? To make it easier to sweep the floor.
The Shakers grew herbs and used them for cooking and medicinal purposes. A display in one room showed bundles of different herbs drying. Each bundle was labelled with the herb name and uses. We have a small herb garden at home and found this interesting. I have a bunch of lemon balm growing and although I love the smell, I didn’t really know what to use it for. Now I know it can be used for sleeplessness, hysteria, and insect bites.
In addition to their brooms, another major export from the Shaker village was garden seeds.
One room was set up specifically for kids. Even my 12-year-old daughter enjoyed playing dress-up.
Kids can practice combing wool, weaving, or sit at a school desk and write with chalk on slates.
Some of the activities at the Shaker Village are held at specific times. You can pick up a daily schedule in the Trustee’s Office or just look for the chalkboard signs around the village. One activity that shouldn’t be missed is the Music Performance in the Meeting House. The acoustics in the Meeting House are incredible; in fact, that led to the building being one of the most difficult for the nonprofit foundation to purchase back from private ownership. A church had purchased the building and was enjoying the wonderful acoustics for their own worship services.
The Music program lasted about 30 minutes and consisted of a costumed interpreter talking about the Shakers, singing several of the hymns, and teaching a Shaker dance to volunteers from the audience. My son didn’t want to have anything to do with dancing, but my daughters and I enjoyed learning the dance. (Well, except for the part at the end where you had to spin round and round and round. I get dizzy too easily to ever consider becoming a Shaker!) The audience is not permitted to videotape the performance, but I wish I could have. This woman had an amazing voice.
Most of the scheduled activities are included with your admission, but there is an additional charge for wagon rides and a riverboat cruise aboard the Dixie Belle.
The daily schedule includes farm activities. One morning we helped gather eggs at the Historic Farm. The kids were encouraged to go in the chicken coop and reach in under the chickens for the eggs.
Somewhat surprisingly to me, the chickens didn’t seem to mind very much. Here’s what we collected.
We also got to meet the resident turkey.
Another activity was a demonstration of yoking and harnessing. Despite the fact that two of my kids and I are allergic to horses, we attended anyway. We tagged along when it was time to go get the horses.
We couldn’t resist petting the pretty horses.
Before the horses could be harnessed, they had to be brushed. My daughters asked if they could help.
While the horses were being harnessed, we noticed some baby goats in the barn. One of the animal caretakers asked if we wanted to hold the goats. Uh, YES! First, he demonstrated the proper technique to hold a goat.
Then the kids and I got to take turns holding her. Her name was Emily and she has a brother named Dickinson.
I knew my daughters would want to hold the goat. My son isn’t much of an animal person, but this goat kid was just too irresistible. My kids now want a pet goat. (They aren’t getting one.)
We enjoyed seeing all the animals at the Shaker Farm. Tip: if you are spending the night at the Inn at Shaker Village, spend a leisurely evening visiting the animals after the other buildings and exhibits have closed for the day.
You never know when you might spot some ducks walking down the street.
The evening is also a great time to explore the gardens and grounds. The Shaker Village has a Nature Preserve with miles of trails. We didn’t make it past the village, but the area was so beautiful that I bet there are some fantastic hiking possibilities. We loved the pastoral views. Here are a few of the many pictures I took, starting with the gardens.
We also walked around the village and enjoyed seeing the many buildings, trees, and rolling hills in the distance.
Can you feel the restfulness of Pleasant Hill from the pictures? Here are just a few more photos from our evening stroll. We found several trees with sweet, juicy, ripe mulberries.
Dry stone fences surrounded the village. One area displayed some fancy techniques, like this circular window.
We found a wooden swing hanging from one of the trees.
The former Trustees’ Office has been turned into a dining room where you can eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We were able to try both breakfast and dinner. It isn’t an inexpensive meal, but is one of those meals that is worth a splurge.
Breakfast is served buffet style. Choices include eggs, bacon, sausage, grits, potatoes, baked apples, biscuits and gravy, cereal, yogurt, fruit, and muffins. The dinner menu is not large, but includes Shaker recipes and organic produce directly from the gardens.
The side dishes are served family style. I couldn’t get enough of the squash casserole or the freshly picked sugar snap peas.
Tip: make sure you save room for dessert. I had the Shaker Lemon Pie and it was divine. My kids had the Chess Pie and Chocolate Brownie and said they were delicious. In fact, they looked so good that I forgot to take a picture before we ate them. You’ll just have to trust me. 🙂
While you’re in the Trustees’ Office, be sure to note the pair of spiral staircases. The Shakers are known for these architectural beauties.
Another benefit of staying overnight at the village is being able to participate in evening activities. During our stay they had a few evening walks scheduled, along with a bonfire and marshmallow roast. Sitting in an Adirondack chair by the fire was a very relaxing way to end the day.
Ready to Visit?
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
3501 Lexington Road
Harrodsburg, KY 40330
April 1 – November 3: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
November 4 – March 31: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
April 1 – October 31
$15 – Ages 13 and above
$5 – Ages 6-12
November 1 – March 31
$7 – Ages 13 and above
$3 – Ages 6-12
Many thanks to the Harrodsburg/Mercer County Tourist Commission and Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill for hosting my visit. They paid for my lodging, admission, and some of our meals so that I could write about our visit. While I’ve given them a glowing review, it really was my honest opinion. I would highly recommend a visit. Stay tuned, because I’ll be writing about more of the places we visited in Harrodsburg.