You might say Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg is a little piece of heaven.
“Shaker Village encompasses 3,000 acres of beautiful rolling farmland,” says Aimee Darnell, publicist for Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, which is located 25 miles southwest of Lexington. “It's the site where a remarkable community once flourished, and our mission is to preserve that sacred ground.”
The Shakers were America's largest and best-known communal society in the 1800s and were known for their simple and peaceful way of life. They came to America from England in 1774 to escape religious persecution, and by the 1840's, nearly 3,500 Shakers lived in various communities from Maine to Kentucky.
Changing social attitudes and Industrial Revolution caused the Shakers to die out after the 1860s, but visitors can experience their culture today at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, America's largest restored Shaker community.
“One of the best ways to experience Shaker culture is to stay at our inn, which has 81 guest rooms, as well as suites and private cottages in 15 restored 19th-century buildings,” Darnell says. “The inn features hardwood flooring, private baths and reproductions of Shaker furniture. You get a glimpse of how the Shakers used to live.”
Visitors to Shaker Village can also dine by candlelight at the Trustees' Office Dining Room, shop for handmade crafts and Shaker furniture at the Carpenter's Shop Craft Store, cruise down the scenic Kentucky River on the Dixie Belle Riverboat and pet farm animals at the Historic Farm.
“Visiting the Trustee's Office Dining Room is a wonderful way to get a taste of Shaker life,” Darnell says. “Servers are in period-style dress, and coleslaw and corn sticks are served with every meal. There's everything from catfish and herb chicken to fresh seasonal vegetables. We're known for our desserts, like Shaker lemon pie, caramel tarts and carrot cake.”
Outdoor adventures are also on tap at Shaker Village.
“There's so much to do – hiking and biking on our 20 trails that cover over 40 miles of field and forest terrain, an equestrian trail where you can bring your own horse and bird watching,” Darnell says. “You can even bring your own canoe or kayak and launch it into the Kentucky River for our Shaker Landing.”
One of Shaker Village's most awe-inspiring assets is its music department, which features six soloists and the Pleasant Hill Singers ensemble, which perform from April through October.
“We know singing was central to their worship, and the Shakers even had singing meetings during the week, where they practiced songs and dances for Sunday worship,” says Donna Phillips, music programs coordinator at Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.
The singers wear costumes representing Shaker dress of the 1860s and perform traditional Shaker hymns. Most of the songs are sung a cappella and are about attributes the Shakers believes a person should aspire to during their lives.
“The Shakers wrote between 20,000 and 24,000 hymns. It's one of the largest collections of American folk music by a single group of people,” Phillips says. “Organized dance also played a large role in their worship.”
Phillips says she loves introducing Shaker music to people who have never heard it before.
“It's wonderful to work in an absolutely gorgeous environment with such a beautiful landscape,” she says, “and to share this part of American history with people from all over the world.”