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Life from another Time
The well-muscled blacksmith lifted the leg of the massive workhorse.
He was "shoeing" the horse the old fashioned way: brute
strength. I am not so sure there is
another way, it's just that I am not accustomed to seeing the procedure.
This wasn't the only uncommon sight.
I saw a team of oxen yoked for a day's labor in the field.
I watched a young lamb nursing at its mother's side.
I was in the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.
It was a step back in time, to a simple time, when work was central to
life. Craftsmanship was a top
priority. Quality took precedence
over quantity. Utility was the mark
of good design. Dedication to work
and a job well-done were seen as part of one's dedication to God.
"Shakers" is the name for the United Society of Believers in
Christ's Second Appearing. The group
seceded from the Society of Friends (better known as Quakers).
They were first referred to as the "Shaking Quakers," in
reference to their unusual trembling in worship services.
The first Shakers to arrive in America came from England in 1774, when
Mother Ann Lee arrived with eight disciples.
The Shakers held to the belief that celibacy was more honorable than
marriage. (Which probably played a
significant part in the group's demise.) They
held property in common. The Shakers
believed in equality of race and gender long before such enlightened thinking
dawned upon the general population (if it ever has).
The Shakers were dedicated to a life of "perfection" and
The first Shaker community was established in New Lebanon, NY in 1787.
Communities then spread north to Maine and west to Ohio, Indiana, and
Kentucky. In 1826 there were 18
Shaker communities spread through eight states.
Resulting from their dedication to work, cooperation with one another,
and ingenuity, Shaker communities thrived economically.
The Shakers are credited with many inventions, among them are the
clothespin, screw propeller, water-repellent fabric, the flat broom, and the
circular saw. They maintained
orderly, prosperous farms. They
became known for their simple, well-made furniture.
Theirs was a distinctive style in handicrafts, furniture, and
The Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill was established in 1805.
The original community encompassed 4,000 acres and at its height (in the
1840's) had around 500 members. Declining
numbers and changing conditions left only a few members, and the Village was
closed in 1910. Pleasant Hill then
became a small farm community. In
1961 a non profit group was formed to preserve the heritage of Pleasant Hill.
Today the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is a National Historic
Landmark--and the largest historic community of its kind, covering 2,800 acres,
featuring 34 original 19th century buildings.
All visitor services are conducted in those restored original buildings.
The blacksmith I described at the beginning is one of the many local
residents in complete Shaker garb which act as tour guides and interpreters.
These folks use Shaker tools to demonstrate Shaker skills and crafts.
One may choose to go on a self-guided tour or a guided group tour.
The Village looks as if it were lifted from the 1840's (except for the
visitors roaming around). Crops and livestock are grown. Oxen are yoked
for work. Horses are hitched to
carriages. The wash house is open
for viewing. (A Shaker version of
the modern Laundromat?) One may
meander along the miles of rock fence that took thousands of work-hours to
build. Visit the Center House and
see a display of Shaker furniture.
One may choose to stay in the available Village accommodations.
There are 81 guest rooms available. These
are furnished with Shaker reproductions and really bring a sense of authenticity
to the experience of staying in a Shaker village (with the exception of being
outfitted with such modern conveniences as the television, private baths, and
air conditioning). One may sample
food made from Shaker recipes in the Trustee's Office (other menu items are
available). The Shaker Village of
Pleasant Hill transports one to a bygone era.
It is worth a visit by anyone interested in history, craftsmanship, or
the religious aspect.
If You Go:
Text and Photos Copyright Thomas R. Fletcher / PROSE AND PHOTOS