Monday, August 29, 2011

Pleasant Hill Shaker Community

Last weekend Jim and I made the hour and a half drive to Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg, KY.
This is an outing we've been promising ourselves since our move here last year.
I took quite a few photos so will break this into several posts rather than one lengthy photo-heavy session.
Most of the buildings have a wooden sign in front describing the original use of the structure.
I wish I had thought to include those. 
The Pleasant Hill website is not especially appealing, more tourist info than background on the Shakers.  I've collected a number of informative links and will include one at the end of each post.

Walking from the car park toward the first building--where we needed to purchase tickets--we encountered a large black and white cat making his way up the grassy slope.
A few moments later we noticed that he had slipped into the building, which serves as a gift shop as well as dispensing tickets. One of the sales clerks spoke coaxingly to the cat--I think suggesting that he might like to go back outside.
A couple with two very young children spied the cat--and the children swooped noisily while the mother trilled, "Be nice to the kitty."
Cat flattened himself to the floor, then, with a grim backward look scooted for the exit.

The Bluegrass Region of Kentucky is lined with beautifully kept stone walls.
We were told that these were contructed in the late 1700's through the mid 1800's by Scots/Irish
stone masons.
J. posed for me here at the gate.

This simple stone building houses examples of Shaker-crafted furniture.
Pleasant Hill, at the peak of its vitality, was known for its thriving farming industry, while the Shaker communities of New England and Western New York produced more of the beautifully crafted furniture for which the Shakers are famous.
I wonder if the longer winters of New England fostered more indoor work.

The interior of the stone building was dim and my camera flash didn't do much to compensate, yet I found the floor lamps rather intrusive.  Peg rails were a common feature of Shaker buildings and were used to keep chairs off the floor during the intervals between meals.
Tidiness and simplicity were hallmarks of Shaker life. Everything had a place and order was kept.

A vintage plow.

This imposing building was constructed of quarried limestone.
The herb garden was not as well-tended as I expcted, and suffering from drought as are gardens
in the entire state.

A sprawl of thyme, a familiar scent for a sunny noon.
The garden contained both medicinal and culinary herbs.

A dormitory room in one of the family houses.
The Shaker 'families' who occupied these dwellings were seldom related by blood.
Men and women were strictly segregated!

A rocker and side chair both have distinctive seats of woven twill tape--a Shaker trademark.

This room was fitted out as an office.
Each item in a room served a purpose and was sturdily and beautifully constructed.

Note the deep windowsills which accomodate the thick brick or stone walls.
Many of the rooms had small black cast iron stoves.
The desk and chairs shown in the last photo are at the right of stove.

Examples of a cooper's workmanship--buckets, firkins, churns, tubs.

The basements of the family dwellings were deep and vast.
The kitchen area seen here is large and laid out well for a number of women to work together
preparing meals or
putting up garden produce.

A stately clock in a dwelling hall. Beyond is the dining room with long narrow tables.
Below is the link to the best of the articles I found giving background on Shaker beliefs and way of life.
Good reading for those who enjoy history.


  1. I've never heard of hanging up chairs before! The neat stone walls are like that all over Northern England and Wales. Quite a talent and I don't think our walls are quite as neat as the one in your photo. I guess that could be something to do with the different kinds of stone available and how easy they were to work with.

  2. Thank you for showing me such an interesting and beautiful place. I find that since the advent of digital photography I snap a lot of signs so that I can remember the information, I sometimes snap the odd map or plan and use it to find my way around too! Visiting such places tells us all how we ought to live our lives but who takes the slightest notice?

  3. The photo of the stone wall is very familiar to me - this type of construction is called 'dry-stane dyking' {dry-stone walling} here and the fields all around are very often marked by these old walls made free standing without mortar to hold them together.

    I quite believe the story of them being made by Scots or other British folk back then.

    Lovely photo's.

    looking forward to seeing the rest of them......

  4. Didn't know Shakers were segregated, where do little Shakers come from?

  5. The dry stone wall has a look of Northern England about it. The emigrating farmers must have taken many good skills with them.

    The Shaker furniture is beautiful. Simple, elegant and well crafted. It reminds me of some of the British Arts and Craft Movement furniture of the late 19th/ early 20th century.
    Thank you for another interesting post.

  6. Hi, My hubby and I went there about 2 months ago. Isn't it a wonderful place? The food in the dining room was awesome also...The place it just grand I say...Can't wait to go back...Have a great day...

  7. What an interesting post ...I must have read about shakers sometime as the hanging chairs were no surprize ... actually a great idea even in a kitchen/breakfast room set up nowadays. I love the shape of the chairs and that desk was perfect you said things were made to be practical. I didn't know about the seperation of sexes though ...I'm off to follow your link ...and I look forward to the next episode. xx

  8. Chris; The gift shop had a book on stone walls with pictures of examples in Kentucky and in the UK. I would have liked to have it--but one of those things that was a bit pricey for what would likely be a one-time read.
    John; Mid-way through our tour I began snapping signs--glass glare on those inside the buildings. I found the tourist brochure in the clutter on my table and have scanned the map--will include it in my next post and attempt to better identify the buildings.
    Al; I've seen arial photos of places in Scotland and Ireland with long meanders of stone walls, but I wouldn't have made the connection to stone masons who came over from there. A sort of 'duh' moment as I did know that most of the Appalachian region was settled by Scots-Irish folks who brought their hereditary skills with them!
    Janet; One of the reasons for the dwindling of the Shaker sect was their founeder's insistence that celibacy was a way to perfection. They literally 'died out' as my Grampa Mac would have said!
    DW; I managed to skim a few pages of the book on stone walls while J. was browsing elsewhere in the shop. Yorkshire was mentioned as having many examples of the walls.
    Re the Shaker furniture--I've been urging J. for years to turn his woodworking talents to some reproductions--I especially like their cupboards.
    Vicki; We reached Pleasant Hill about mid-day--coming in from Central Time Zone to Eastern. By the time we thought of lunch the dining room was full and we were told no openings til 8 p.m. Apparently reservations are a good idea. We decided Pleasant Hill would be a good destination when we have out of town guests who would like to 'see' Kentucky.
    Angie; The lines of the furniture are so gracefully proportioned and the craftmanship is impecable both in the originals and in the reproductions which can be custom ordered--at goodly price, as you can imagine!
    Re the segregation of the sexes: I gather from some of my reading that inevitably there were at least a few 'accidents'--particularly if a whole secular family came into the enclave--the husband and wife were apt to find ways to get together!