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.