Snowy Range Pass

Snowy Range Pass

Monday, October 24, 2011

Shakers



















Our main reason for coming to the Harrodsburg area of Kentucky was to visit the Shaker village at Pleasant Hill. After first stumbling on the Amana Colony in Iowa, we have become interested in the new awakening of religious movements in the USA during the 19th century. These groups sought to find an alternative to the more standard forms of believe. The Shaker movement was one of these. They had established a number of communities in the northeast, with the head of the movement located in Lebanon, New York.

As settlers moved into the wilderness of Kentucky, it was decided to send missionaries along with the settlers. So it was that a small band of missionaries moved west to Kentucky and gaining some converts to their beliefs, they settled north of Harrodsburg in an area known as Pleasant Hill.

The Shakers believed that they were living in the “millennium”, which meant heaven on earth. They also believed that God was both father and mother to them all. As a result, they adhered to the concept of celibacy, since all men and women were brothers and sisters. They strived to be worthy in the eyes of God and celibacy was an important part of that process.

They started as poor farmers and over the over hundred years of existence at Pleasant hill, their wealth and views of life changed with the times to a limited extent. During the hundred years they lived at Pleasant Hill, no children were born to the members. However, married converts and their children were taken into the community along with orphans and indentured children. After the age of sixteen, all children were free to leave the community if they chose. All that remained must adhere to the Shakers’ beliefs.

The meeting hall is a unique structure that not only reflected the ingenuity of the builders of the inverted truss design, but the reason such a structure was necessary. Since it had no pillars, it allowed the members at weekly services to express themselves physically. They often danced, jumped up and down or rolled on the floor as the spirit of God moved them. At the peak of nearly 500 members, this required a lot of room to move around. There were also no fixed pews or other seating in the meeting hall, so that the floor space could remain open. This is where the term Shaker comes from.

As the Civil War approached, they were near their peak of prosperity and membership. They all lived in common housing buildings with men sleeping on one side of the building and women on the other side. Here were special areas for children that were raised by the community as a whole. At the peak, there were five community housing units. Converts with children had to agree to allow the community to raise the children and also that they remain celibate for the rest of their lives in the community.

The Civil War proved to be a watershed event for the community. The bloodiest battle of the war fought in Kentucky took place just a short distance to the south at Perrysville. Both armies passed thru the Shaker community. While they generally were not harmed by the armies, their charity efforts nearly completely depleted their resources. Perhaps more important, the horror of this conflict shook some of their beliefs of living in a “millennium” environment. Like other religious commune societies, they also suffered from groups of people taking advantage of their beliefs by living in the community but not being part of the productive process. In Pleasant Hill, they were often called “Winter Shakers”. They converted to the faith in early winter when there was little work to do and enjoy the abundance of the society and then leave in the spring when the work commenced in earnest.

While they continued for another forty years after the war, it was a steady decline with a drop off in converts and a deteriorating faith in their principles.

By 1910, there were only 12 members left. This group sold the land and buildings to a local business man with the provisions that they could live there until they died. The last member died in 1923, after the purchaser of the property died. His heirs honored the agreement and after the last member passed sold the land and buildings.

The community has been restored and with the docents providing lively interpretations of life in the community, it is a very worthwhile experience.

20 comments:

Paul and Marti Dahl said...

Amazing religion,makes you wonder sometimes how they survived as long as they did being celibate.

They must have really believed in their faith.

Sherry said...

This is a great post on a place we have been and the pictures are terrific. You've made me want to go back again and I'm sure others will visit after seeing and reading this. We stopped at nearby Mammoth Cave as well. Hope you get to see it.

Sherry
www.directionofourdreams.blogspot.com

Jim and Sandie said...

This was a very interesting post. I had heard of Shakers but knew very little about them. Thanks for sharing with us.

Rick and Paulette said...

Thanks for the great post and history lesson on the Shakers. I had heard of them before but not in this much detail. Great pics to go along with the story too.

Gypsy said...

I didn't visit the Shaker village when I was in that area during the 1970's, but I did spend some time at the Perryville battlefield. At that time you just walked up and wandered around as you liked. I passed through the area several years ago and the signs and lights almost made it seem "Disneyfied". I'm glad I saw it as it used to be, and I remember it being one of the most powerful Civil War battlefields I've ever been on. It affected me, as they all do, but in a strange way. It was so quiet I could "hear" the battle.

Gail and Rick (Gypsy Turtles) said...

Thanks for the history lesson on Shakers. I, too, had heard of them but knew nothing about them. It's amazing to me that they would embrace celibacy instead of increasing the flock.

John and Ellen said...

Thanks for the outstanding post and history lesson concerning the “Shakers”! While I was familiar with their simple life and building technique(s), I had very little idea of the extent of their faith. Very interesting!

John
connectedtothevinephotography.blogspot.com

FULL-TIMERS...OCT. 17, 2009 said...

Very good! I just finished a book about Shakers and they talk extensively about Mother Ann. Did they talk about her?

Janna and Mike said...

Very interesting! I always knew about Shaker furniture but not the folks behind the furniture.

Judy and Emma said...

If all members were celibate, I guess it isn't much of a surprise that the group went into decline. As others have said, very interesting.

Jerry and Suzy said...

As the others said, thank you for this very informative post. We have spent very little time in Kentucky but now have another reason to spend more time there! Looks like a beautiful state, but we are beginning to realize every state has a lot of beauty and history to explore.

Bob and Jo said...

Excellent info and photos, we will have to add this to our very long list of places to see. Thanks,

Barry and Linda said...

Great Post and pictures. I too have heard of 'Shakers' but knew nothing about them before. Thanks for the informative history lesson. Maybe we'll make it by one day.

Kevin and Ruth said...

I too had heard of "The Shakers" but thought that they were similar to the Amish and Menonites. I think it must have taken great willpower to remain celibate.

Thanks for the post.

Kevin and Ruth
www.travelwithkevinandruth.com

Joe & Nancy Conrad said...

Great post, thanks for the info. we will add this to our list next spring when we will be in that area. The pictures are great

Donna K said...

Thanks for the informative post. Like the others, I had heard of the Shakers and their furniture but not about the celibacy. Talk about "planned obsolescence!"

Love your header photo.

Carol K said...

Interesting post. I first read about the Shakers when I was in high school. Another communual group was the Aurora Colony in Oregon. Their story was presented by author Jane Kirkpatrick in her fictional "Emma Trilogy" books.

Ron Howes said...

I just realized my wife is a "Shaker".

Kathy said...

We visited here last year and found it super interesting. Great post. K

E Squared and Mui said...

Such an interesting post about an interesting culture. I really enjoy open air museums like this one where one gets to see how people with a different belief system lived. Surprising they managed to survive as long as they did with their vow of celibacy offering no organic growth opportunities for the population.