Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

The restored Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, has been on my list of places to visit for a long time. It is only a two-hour drive south of Cincinnati, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven through the area and thought: “next time, we’ll stop.” This past weekend we made a special trip, and stayed overnight.


Pleasant Hill was one of the largest of the western Shaker communities, and the only one remaining that is open to the public in this part of the country. I had been to the Shaker Museum in Chatham, New York, and the Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts. Several of the pieces from Pleasant Hill have been featured in Popular Woodworking; most recently a firewood box was our “I Can Do That” project in our February 2008 issue. I saw three or four variations in different locations.


One of the unique aspects of Pleasant Hill is that a good portion of the property is an inn, with a wonderful restaurant and rooms available in the original buildings. I’ve been to a lot of museums and restorations, but I’ve never spent the night in one. It added immensely to the experience, giving us a much better feel for what life would have been like for the community members. (It also gave us some much needed peace and quiet.)


Our room was next to one of the most famous features of the village, the twin spiral staircase in the Trustee’s Office. As a museum visitor, I would have gone up once or twice and taken a good look, but as a guest I enjoyed the stairs every time I left our room. It truly is an amazing piece of woodworking; there are actually two stairways on either side of a central hallway. Each side is two flights, twisting up to the third floor where a skylight provides both light and the feeling that these stairs lead to heaven.


Most monumental stairways are full of intricate details such as carved newel posts and turned balusters. The details in the stair are incredibly simple, yet the combination of shapes, and the subtle changes as the stairs turn and rise, make this an elegant statement of design and craftsmanship.

So if you’re ever driving through Kentucky, make it a point to stop and enjoy as much time as you can spare. And don’t leave without trying the lemon pie.

- Bob Lang

5 thoughts on “Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

  1. Lee Bow

    Our family used to go there and last year my wife and I went back just for old times and spent the night. Her parents were docents there years ago and lived on a farm just a few miles from it. Her father’s picture of his time as caretaker of the sheep is there. Her mother was a weaver. The woodwork is absolutely fantastic, both furniture and buildings. The Shakers were a very industrious and hard working people. It’s truly a step back in time just to visit it. There is another Shaker village in Kentucky also, called South Union. Not as much left of it as Pleasant Hill, but very interesting nonetheless. I am presently building an entertainment center patterned after a linen press that is there. I highly recommend both places to anyone interested in history and woodworking, in general. It is, as you said, a wonderful place to get away from it all. I really enjoy your magazine and the on-line web site! Keep it up!

    Lee Bow, Texas

  2. Dennis Hayslip

    My wife, mother-in-law, and I all drove from Fort Worth, Texas to Nags Head, North Carolina on a "Photographic Adventure" in late summer 2007. My mother-in-law had always wanted to see the horse ranches of Kentucky so we loaded up the truck (actually, it was an SUV) and drove to Kentucky. Pleasant Hill that is… Shaker’s Village… Kentucky Downs… No movie stars though!
    I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Pleasant Hill – from all the simple yet wonderful woodworking and antique implements to the delicious food and history of the site. We didn’t miss a thing! I highly recommend the horse-drawn carriage ride. Our guide was very knowledgeable, pleasant, and made our visit ever more enjoyable.
    Thanks for sharing this – it brought back some very pleasant memories.
    Regards,
    Dennis Hayslip

  3. Riley T. Jenkins

    I used to live in Lexington Ky.& worked around most of that whole region. My wife & I often talked of going to see the Shaker Village,but we never did but now we will since you’ve reminded us. By the way, you guys are doing a great job on the magazine. I really enjoy every issue.Keep up the goodwork. sincerely Tyrone Jenkins

  4. Bob Lang

    I’m no expert, but I think the bird watching should be good. Pleasant Hill is in the midst of a very scenic area along the Kentucky River, and there are many hiking trails on the property. I’d check the website http://www.shakervillageky.org

    My wife had a wonderful time in spite of my geekiness, and Berea, Kentucky is also nearby, and also a great place to visit.

    Hope this helps,

    Bob

  5. Ethan

    Robert,

    Ha! When you said you ate like a "lumberjack" I had to stare at it for a minute to realize you really didn’t mean "lumberjock".

    (A sure sign I’m on-line too much these days…)

    What’s the bird watching like in Pleasant Hills? That might be the only way I could convince my wife to make the trip with me.

    Ethan

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