When you hear the word “Shaker” you likely think of 19th-century furniture. Fair enough.
That said, Shaker innovations went far beyond furniture and crafts. They invented:
- The flat broom
- The circular saw blade
- The spring clothespin
- Chair tilter buttons
- The paper seed envelope.
They also developed social reforms that provided equal status for people of all ethnicities, and leadership roles for women that were equal to those held by men.
Shaker history and accomplishments are fascinating, and Shaker Village celebrates them. Located just half an hour from Lexington, Kentucky in Harrodsburg, it’s a fascinating and serene place to visit. I’ll be there again in 2018 with tour guests.
To view larger versions of these photos, simply click them.
Shakers were “Shaking Quakers” and celibate
The Shakers were a religious group that advocated pacifism, gender equality, communal ownership and celibacy. Yes, celibacy. They believed the second coming of Christ was imminent, and thus they needed to focus on purifying their souls instead of family life.
Still, the community survived and thrived without procreation, attracting more than 5,000 followers to communities in 10 states just before the Civil War. Shaker communities often became places of refuge for widows and orphans of the war. Children would be raised by the entire community and given the choice of staying or leaving once they reached maturity.
The Civil War placed the Kentucky Shakers uncomfortably between the opposing sides:
The Shakers believed in emancipation of the slaves, but as pacifists, they refused to bear arms. Their Federal neighbors could not understand the Shakers’ pacifist views. Secessionists were equally intolerant of the Shakers, who offered African-Americans full brotherhood in their community as early as 1811. ~Shaker Village website
The society in Kentucky was the third-largest in the country between 1805 and 1910. When it disbanded, the property was sold as any other, not intentionally preserved for history. Fortunately in 1961, a private nonprofit organization, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, was founded to restore the historic property.
When I visited in 2016 I knew I wanted to bring a group there to experience its serenity, and I’m doing that in 2018 with my “Mountains and Music Motorcycle Tour series.
Experience the serenity of Shaker Village
Shaker Village has been spared the hustle-bustle of many historic properties. There are no historic re-enactors in costume. The staff explains that the Shakers would have been interesting neighbors in the present age, cleaving to their values while continuing their contributions to social, agricultural, mechanical—and no doubt digital—innovation.
During a 105-year span, the Kentucky Shakers constructed more than 260 structures on the property. Today, there are 34 surviving buildings, most located along the mile-long gravel turnpike, 13 of which have been turned into lodging. Named as a top hidden travel destination by BBC News, they are comfortably appointed with Shaker reproduction furniture, original hardwood floors and spectacular countryside views.
The serenity I experienced in 2016—out in the peaceful country under the stars—was exactly what my soul needed. I could have stayed for several days to decompress. If you watch the video at the top of this post you’ll get a sense for what I mean. You could explore its 3,000 acres, drink in the history, or snooze under a tree as your spirit moves you.
Shaker Village’s farm is a must-see
Since I’m a farm girl (and a 4-H’er) my favorite part of Shaker Village is the farm, where I learned about sustainable agricultural practices the Shakers used in the garden, orchard, livestock and apiary. Practices still in use today by artisanal and organic farmers.
I was fascinated to learn how co-locating a combination of specific breeds of animals effectively relieved the Shakers of certain farm chores, including composting and pest control. Who knew?
The farm provides fresh produce for The Trustees’ Table restaurant, and the meals are delicious.
Whether you visit with me on my tour or on your own, be sure to cruise on the Dixie Belle Riverboat through high limestone cliffs and untouched natural beauty on a one-hour narrated cruise. You’ll learn the historical importance of the river to the Shakers, and pass under High Bridge, an engineering marvel built in 1877.
Shaker Village supports a range of local musicians, featuring concerts on Friday and Saturday nights. Check out their YouTube channel here.
My tour guests will be treated to a private concert by Derek Spencer around a fire pit under the stars. Sigh.