The Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky: A Complete Guide

A bedroom at Shaker Village, Pleasant Hill, Kentucky
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Shaker Village is a restored, historic religious community about 45 minutes away from Lexington, Kentucky. On this 3,000-acre site, you can learn about the history and religion of the previous residents, known as the Shakers, and also take part in recreated Shaker experiences, such as dining, lodging, and more. Here's everything to know about planning a trip to Shaker Village.

History

During periods of prayer and meditation, a special sect of Quakers would begin to tremble and shake.

The nickname Shakers eventually stuck and even was adopted by the members themselves.

Frequently persecuted for their beliefs, the Shakers tended to keep to themselves. In 1805, a small group migrated on foot from New York state to central Kentucky, where they persuaded several local settlers to join their religious society. These converts owned farm operations near what is present-day Harrodsburg. The Shaker settlement slowly grew and began expanding to a nearby plot of land called Pleasant Hill. At the time, central Kentucky largely was considered a western frontier.

The settlement flourished on this site for just more than a century. Pleasant Hill eventually became the third-largest Shaker settlement in the United States. At its peak, there were nearly 500 people living and working here—all of them recruited. Shakers maintain celibacy among their primary beliefs. 

Many of their other beliefs could be considered advanced for the times.

In the early 1800s, they held that men and women should interact as equals, and that people of all races should have equal rights. The Shakers established sustainable farming methods such as crop rotation and conserved soil and water resources. They rejected the use of chemicals in the growing process.

As their farms prospered, they built 260 buildings on the Pleasant Hill site.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Shakers experienced hostility from both sides of the conflict. Southerners rejected the Shakers' opposition to slavery, while Northerners were frustrated that these pacifists would not join the fight on the Union side. Nonetheless, Shakers nationally rendered humanitarian aid to both Union and Confederate soldiers.

After the war, Shaker settlements across the United States began to shrink or close. The celibacy requirement limited a generational progression of ownership and leadership. Many who joined the settlements in later years lacked the physical strength or financial resources to keep the settlements viable.  

According to the Shaker Village website, Pleasant Hill closed its doors as an active religious society by 1910. At that time, only 12 members of the commune remained. Property owners outside the Shaker community assumed the deeds. But these new owners also agreed to care for the remaining Shakers until death. The last Shaker on this site is identified as Sister Mary Settles. She died in 1923.

Attractions

Nearly 40 years later, local interest in the Shakers and their settlement rekindled.

A private non-profit called Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill emerged to restore the former communal site.

For example, a building where the trustees once met was converted to the Trustees' Table Restaurant. All three meals are served daily, with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The restaurant specializes in "seed-to-table freshness," and menus feature locally grown products. Some of the lunch and dinner entrees are imported from other regions, but many of the garden-grown items are local.

Overnight visitors reserve stays in rooms furnished with authentic Shaker furniture and amenities. There are 72 rooms available in 13 restored historic buildings. Nightly rates start at $115.

Overnight guests do not have to pay the $10 adult admission to the The Historic Center of Shaker Village.

Tour the buildings with a guide or on your own, making note of the distinctive architecture and the simple, functional designs.

Beyond this area, it's possible to explore about 3,000 acres in The Preserve, where nature hikes show off wetlands and meadows along a 40-mile trail system.

Visitors who arrive with horses pay $10 for access to The Stable, from which they access more than 30 miles of trails. Shaker Village bills itself as "one of the premier riding destinations in Kentucky."

Further afield is access to the Kentucky River. The Shakers built a roadbed that leads to a river landing, where they could engage in trade with merchants as far away as New Orleans. The River attraction includes a paddlewheel boat known as the Dixie Belle. When temperatures are higher than 50 degrees, the boat operates from the landing ($10 per adult).

If you'd rather pilot your own vessel, it's possible to canoe or kayak from Shaker Landing (pool 7 on the Kentucky River) to Herrington Lake Dam, or to a stream stocked with trout. The launch fee is $5, and only non-motorized boats are permitted.

Tips for Your Visit

Be certain to get reservations for dining, lodging, and the boat trip. This is a popular place for weddings and other family gatherings, and it's often difficult to judge just how busy they'll be on a given weekend. (You can call them at 1-800-734-5611 to ask about availability and busy times.) 

Some visitors come for a meal and a quick tour of the buildings. But the entire experience is enhanced with outdoor attractions such as the trail system and the farm sites. Check before your visit to see what will be open, as some attractions are closed periodically for refurbishing.

Guides will make presentations here, but don't expect a large group of re-enactors as is common at other historic communal sites. Take careful notice of the events available during your visit, as they vary from month to month.

Some visitors are disappointed with recent menu changes at the restaurant, which now feature new items such as a Cuban sandwich—clearly not a staple in the Shaker diets of the 1850s. The menus have traded in some authenticity in exchange for greater public appeal, but the claim is that ingredients are fresh and taken from local farms whenever practical. 

Allow for travel time during your visit, as Shaker Village is not located close to interstate highways. Harrodsburg is about 35 miles southwest of Lexington, a trip that takes more than 45 minutes.

If you'll be spending the weekend, be sure to check out $5 after 5:00, a recurring series of evening events on Friday and Saturday nights. 

Special demonstrations related to Shaker life are offered, but require a separate entry fee. For example, you can learn to make Shaker brooms or beekeeping, but the cost often is in the $45 to $55 range.