Harrodsburg & Pleasant Hill Shaker Village
A day spent in the heart of Kentucky, the Bluegrass Region, is sure to please anyone who appreciates history and culture.
It is easy to visit both Harrodsburg and Shakertown in the course of a day. A few hours at each is sufficient, and they are only ten minutes apart.
The view of Old Fort Harrod is quite commanding as you approach the state park. The fort is a reproduction of the first permanent English settlement located west of the Allegheny mountains, founded by Captain James Herrod. Various attractions are located within the fort, worthy of a few hours time to see. They include the cabin in which Abraham Lincoln’s parents were married, a memorial to George Rogers Clark, the Pioneer Cemetery (the oldest burial ground west of the Alleghenies), and the Mansion Museum, which contains a variety of historical artifacts.
The History of the Shakers
The Shaker religion (also known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming) originated around 1750 in Manchester England as a branch of the Quakers. Members lived a communal, celibate life in large houses, and were very passionate and emotional in their worship, believing God could be found through meditation, during which they often visibly shook, hence their name. Due to their celibate lifestyle, they relied on converting new members to maintain their numbers.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
In 1805 a group of Shakers settled in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. In 1809 they built their first permanent stone structure, which housed the first center family (this is the oldest building in Kentucky other than the old capitol building; it is built of limestone and horsehair mortar). It took between six months and two years to become a Shaker. Converts first lived on the outskirts of the village before moving into the east family. Once they became more mature in their faith they were moved into the center family, and finally those of retirement age moved into the west family. Members lived communally with their family, and 5-8 people shared a bedroom.
There were four people dedicated to ministry who lived and ate separately from the other members, but could advise them as needed. Anyone coming into the Shaker community gave all they had to the group – everything was sacrificed for the good of the community, there were no true personal possessions. Peg boards line the walls, as everything had its place. Any personal items were hung on these pegs, such as an individual’s chair, to be retrieved during meal times. To the Shakers, work was worship. Their day was very regimented: up at 4:30, meal times at 6:00, 12:00, and 6:00. They ate at long tables in the dining hall, and food was passed around family style.
Shakertown – Past and Present
Shaker Village was a 6,000 acre agricultural community. The Shakers were ahead of their times technologically, having one of the first running water systems (which was powered by a horse on a treadmill). They believed that it was a sin to patent their inventions. Many of their plant seeds were packaged and sold nationwide. They used lots of herbal medicines, and on average lived 20-40 years longer than other people. The Shaker Village reached its peak in 1824 with 491 people. Between 75-80% of the children left the village when they turned 21. In 1910 the village was shut down, and the last Shaker at Shaker Village died in 1923. Today the buildings have been preserved, and individuals dressed in period costume give tours and provide demonstrations, such as broom-making and weaving. There are miles of trails on the property, including a blind from which to observe birds unnoticed, and the grounds are being converted to native grasses through controlled burns and replantings.
Attractions Near Fort Harrod and Shaker Village
A short drive will bring you to other noteworthy attractions in the heart of Kentucky, including Lincoln’s Birthplace and Boyhood Home, Maker’s Mark Distillery, My Old Kentucky Home, and Berea College.