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Restoring Shakertown

Restoring Shakertown: The Struggle to Save the Historic Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 214
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  • Book Info
    Restoring Shakertown
    Book Description:

    Mother Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers, articulated a vision of a community that embraced sacrifice over the needs of the individual; the result was one of the most successful utopian experiments of nineteenth-century America. The Shakers, an idealistic offshoot of the ascetic Quaker religion, grew to as many as six thousand members in nineteen communities reaching from New England to the Midwest. Lee's experiment, focused mainly on simplicity, celibate communal living, and sexual equality, provided a model of prosperity for more than one hundred years. Founded in 1806, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, was a thriving community located in the center of the bluegrass region. After the Civil War, a steadily shrinking membership resulted in the gradual decline of this remarkable community, and the last remaining Shaker to reside at Pleasant Hill died in 1923. In the years immediately following, it appeared as though the village would fall prey to neglect and a lack of historic preservation. In 1961, however, local citizens formed a private not-for-profit organization to preserve and restore the village and to interpret the rich heritage of the Pleasant Hill Shakers for future generations. Over several years, and against incredible odds, this group succeeded in raising the funds necessary for the restoration projects. By 1968, eight buildings at Shakertown, carefully adapted for modern use while retaining their historical and architectural significance, had been opened to the public. Thomas Parrish's Restoring Shakertown masterfully explains how the Shaker settlement was saved from the ravages of time and transformed into a nationally renowned landmark of historic preservation. In chronicling how the hopes of the early fund-raisers quickly were challenged by the harsh reality of economic hardships, the book serves as a valuable study in modern philanthropy. Parrish also details the village's negotiation of legal challenges and how its final plans for creating awareness of the Shakers' legacy set the standard for later museum developments around the country. In addition to recounting the remarkable history of the formation and eventual demise of the "Shaking Quakers," Parrish presents a dramatic chronicle of the village's evolving fortunes. From describing the challenges of financing the restoration to finding preservation experts to achieve the highest standards of authenticity, Restoring Shakertown reveals the complexities and rewards of the preservation of one of Kentucky's most significant historical and architectural sites.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2683-8
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword: Rebirth of a Historic Community
    (pp. vii-xii)

    Tucked away safely atop a shoulder of the Kentucky River palisades, Shakertown at Pleasant Hill in Mercer County, Kentucky, near Lexington, is one of the best preserved and managed of the communal sites in North America. It is a national treasure—twenty-nine hundred acres of beautiful land and restored buildings that was once a thriving village created in the nineteenth century by believers of a curious religious sect committed to the practice of communal, but celibate, living. This book tells how the village was saved from the ravages of time and neglect and became an impressive landmark in the historic...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER I “That Wonderful Village”
    (pp. 1-4)

    Back in the 1950s, Jimmie Campbell, an engineering student at the University of Kentucky, used to drive regularly from Lexington down U.S. Highway 68 to visit his sister in Danville. He became thoroughly acquainted on these trips with every curve on that narrow road, including the series of tight turns dropping down to the Kentucky River at the Jessamine-Mercer county line and its counterpart series across the river, climbing up again and onto the rolling Mercer County plateau. A few miles farther on from the river, Campbell would come to a special landmark on his forty-mile drive—a low stone...

  6. CHAPTER II The Vision of Mother Ann
    (pp. 5-10)

    One afternoon in 1957, as a young minister named Don Graham sat gazing out of the window of a Greyhound bus bound from Lexington to Harrodsburg, he became aware that the driver was beginning to address the passengers. Using a microphone as if he were a tour guide enlightening his flock, the driver declared: “Ladies and gentlemen, we will be going through a little village where the men and women really knew how to get along. You will notice that there will be two doors on these buildings. The men lived on one side and the women lived on the...

  7. CHAPTER III On God’s Time
    (pp. 11-23)

    Within a few years of coming to Shawnee Run, the Shakers had bought or received as donations some three thousand acres of meadowlands in the area, and by 1812 they had moved their village up the slope, about a mile and a half away, to the spot that gave the colony its permanent name—Pleasant Hill. The Shawnee Run location, with its water supply, remained the Shakers’ industrial area, with a sawmill, a gristmill, and a linseed oil mill. The Bluegrass farmland, as Thomas D. Clark noted in his account of the Pleasant Hill Shakers, “was of top quality and...

  8. CHAPTER IV The Past—Preserved, Restored, Remade?
    (pp. 24-33)

    On April 11, 1799, one day before his twenty-second birthday, a promising young Kentucky lawyer named Henry Clay was married to Lucretia Hart, the daughter of Colonel Thomas Hart, a well-to-do pioneer Lexington merchant. The wedding took place at the home of the bride’s family, a substantial two-story brick house of some twelve rooms, which sat at the southwest corner of Second and Mill streets in the young city.

    After Colonel Hart’s death several years later, his son, Thomas Jr., sold the house to John Bradford, who in 1787, with his brother, Fielding, had established theKentucky Gazette,the first...

  9. CHAPTER V Nickels, Dimes, and Options
    (pp. 34-49)

    The Lexington citizen probably most disturbed by the destruction of the Bradford house and the threatened loss of Hopemont lived not in the downtown Gratz Park neighborhood but several miles away, on the northern fringe of the city. That made no difference—Joseph C. Graves, vice president and operating head of the old-line family clothing firm Graves, Cox and Company, seemed to look on all of Lexington as his neighborhood, and the well-being of your neighborhood was something you worried about. A short, slender man of forty-nine, Joe Graves, though remarkably public-spirited, lacked the glum seriousness with which many doers...

  10. CHAPTER VI “The Beginning Year”
    (pp. 50-62)

    On Wednesday evening, August 9, 1961, in a meeting of the Blue Grass Trust at the Hunt-Morgan House, Bob Jewell announced the formation of a nonprofit corporation to preserve, restore, and use the village of Pleasant Hill. The group would acquire the buildings and land and would “maintain the property in such a manner as to reveal the original beauty, utility, and strength of the structures, and the simplicity of the life lived by the Shakers.” The group would also, he said—faithfully reporting the McLain-influenced decisions of the Shakertown committee—“utilize the property and facilities in such a manner...

  11. CHAPTER VII Fund-Raisers—Professional and Otherwise
    (pp. 63-74)

    In November 1961, sounding Raymond McLain’s note, Ralph McCallister commented to Earl Wallace that, as it was, the Pleasant Hill fund-raising effort did not seem likely to succeed: “the methods used on the operation fund and those on the beginning of the capital fund are not adequate to the size of the undertaking.” McCallister proposed the creation of a committee to study the question, and he also suggested further talks with a professional fund-raiser the group had previously consulted. Moving ahead, Wallace, who himself had no experience in philanthropic fund-raising, brought in representatives of a Pittsburgh firm, Ketchum, Inc., to...

  12. CHAPTER VIII The Deal—I
    (pp. 75-93)

    In 1960 national advertising and marketing magazines buzzed with talk of the “soaring sixties,” an alliterative new decade of national abundance and consequent rising profits for businesses of all kinds. But not only could these forecasters have no inkling of the shape the coming years would actually assume (nor could anyone else), they would soon be discomfited by the decade’s failure not only to get off to the hoped-for soaring start but even to leave the ground. Indeed, when the Kennedy administration took office in January 1961, the U.S. economy had slid into recession. (In Mercer County, Kentucky, in May...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. CHAPTER IX “A Fantastic Accomplishment”
    (pp. 94-111)

    On May 31, 1964, two prominent friends of Pleasant Hill spoke at a ceremony marking the official beginning of the restoration. Bert Combs, who had now become a former governor, told the crowd of about two hundred that “the history of Shakertown can be used as a guide to help us build a progressive Kentucky.” People today had much to learn from the Shakers, Combs said, praising them for their industry, sobriety, fairness, cleanliness, and—in a limp attempt at a joke—for their belief that “women should stay silent unless they had something useful to say”; the remark came...

  15. CHAPTER X The Deal—II
    (pp. 112-129)

    A few days after the official opening of Shakertown, Earl Wallace received a memo from the maintenance department. Headed, portentously, PRIORITIES , this document contained a list of tasks to be performed, “broken down into categories and arranged in the order of their importance.”


    1. Distribute and lay sod when cut from garden plots.

    2. Clean up, grade and seed around north end of East Family House.


    1. Complete installation of blinds on Trustees’ Office.

    1. Prepare 1st floor of Farm Deacon’s Shop for snack bar.

    2. Trash Yard back of Trustees’ Office.

    2. Linen Room shelving.


  16. CHAPTER XI “The Instruction of the Public”
    (pp. 130-142)

    In 1965 Earl Wallace received an invitation to join some sixty other American leaders in politics, business, the professions, and the academic world at an American Assembly session titled “The Courts, the Public, and the Law Explosion.” Established at Columbia University in 1950 by Dwight Eisenhower, then the university’s president, the American Assembly was, and remains, a remarkable phenomenon, with its continuing nonpartisan conferences on public issues—usually two a year—at Arden House, the former family home of Averell Harriman on the edge of the Catskills fifty miles northwest of New York City.

    Though deliberations at Arden House, with...

  17. CHAPTER XII The Restoration Restored
    (pp. 143-151)

    Despite his advanced age, Earl Wallace had continued his uninterrupted close supervision of the Pleasant Hill operation until the weekend he died. Just a few days earlier—proving that he did not always insist on adding property to the Shakertown holdings—he had closed his last deal, which involved the sale of 1,431 acres of farmland (given in the 1970s by Pansy Poe) and added $1 million to the village endowment, doubling it. Without Wallace, said Wilson Wyatt, “Shakertown wouldn’t exist.” “He was Shakertown,” added Philip Davidson. “Everybody understood that.”

    But, in fact, everybody did not understand it. The dissenters...

  18. CHAPTER XIII Pleasant Hill Frescoes
    (pp. 152-155)

    We want you to take in everything,” says the interpreter in the full-skirted costume, urging us to attend the session of Shaker song and then the discussion of theology before returning to the Centre Family House for the tour. “The architecture and the furnishings are interesting, and the way they lived is interesting, too.”

    Although we appreciate her friendly suggestions, we decide to poke in elsewhere and see what goes on in the various demonstration areas before coming back in an hour. . . .

    We walk over to the East Family Wash House, where we see the original “arches”...

  19. AFTERWORD: A Note on Jim Thomas’s Service
    (pp. 156-158)
    Al Smith

    Soon after Earl Wallace’s death in 1990, his successor as chairman of the Shakertown board, W. T. Young, told friends that he liked Jim Thomas’s ideas about what needed to be done next. Young also said he trusted Thomas’s administrative skills, which he thought had been underutilized by Wallace. Then, leaving the hands-on management of Shakertown to Thomas, as chief executive officer, Bill Young enlisted additional trustees to back a new endowment campaign that brought in more than $5.5 million.

    Just as Wallace had attracted generous financial gifts from prominent women, Bill Young, who also had the social graces, began...

  20. Sources and Background
    (pp. 159-162)
  21. Index
    (pp. 163-172)