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Old Meets New at Shaker Village

Events abound at Pleasant Hill during the fall and winter

By Katherine Tandy Brown

The Centre Family Dwelling building at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is one of 34 original structures at the Central Kentucky property, which is the state’s largest National Historic Landmark.
The Centre Family Dwelling building at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is one of 34 original structures at the Central Kentucky property, which is the state’s largest National Historic Landmark.

In 1805 a group of Shakers began a village in Central Kentucky called Pleasant Hill. During its heyday, curious outsiders came to marvel at the sect’s frenzied spirit-filled dancing, or shaking. The community’s population reached 500 and its land burgeoned to more than 4,000 acres of farmland. Though Kentucky Shakers no longer exist, their legacy is the stuff of legend – architectural wonders, lush landscapes, and guidance for the rest of us in community, ingenuity and sustainability.

Now spreading across 3,000 acres of original countryside, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark and the nation’s most extensive private collection of original 19th-century buildings, a total of 34 historic structures. Restored prairies, woodlands, fields, canebrakes, sheer cliffs and diverse plants and critters cover and roam 2,000 of its acres. Trails for hikers, horseback riders, carriage drivers and bicyclists meander through the property.

Here you’ll find fascinating Shaker-era dwellings and fine handcrafted furnishings; traditional craft demonstrations and classes; workshops on heritage animal breeds and farming practices such as beekeeping and organic gardening; costumed docents sharing a peek into Shaker culture; fun annual festivals, such as Well Crafted, a June day of toe-tappin’ live music and craft beer; and of course, scrumptious Southern victuals in its 1841 Trustees’ Office…Shaker lemon pie, anyone?

This marvelous destination just keeps winning prestigious awards, the most recent being named a top hidden travel destination by BBC News. All reason enough for the attraction to rest on its laurels.

But like the work-oriented religious order that settled and developed this land, the present village continues to expand, preserve and educate, thanks to its worker bees – farmers, chefs, naturalists, painters, archivists, craftsmen and storytellers. All contribute to the expanded experience here, linking the Shakers’ original ideas with contemporary technology to provide folks even more reasons to visit and keep coming back. Cases in point are its new mobile app, user-friendly website and a blog chocked with info. Plus, the 1815 Carpenters’ Shop has undergone a facelift to morph into a welcome center.

So if you think that since you’ve been to Shaker Village, you’ve seen it all, think again. Following is a sampling of diverse options for visitors during the winter months.

Culinarily speaking, the Fresh Food Adventures program is a tasty draw. You can broaden your belly and your mind on Nov. 11 at a family-style quail supper while learning about the village’s Northern Bobwhite preserve. On Jan. 13, executive chef Jonathan Searle of Lexington’s Lockbox at 21c rustles up locally sourced Bluegrass culinary treats, while on Feb. 24 chef Bruce Ucan of the Mayan Café in Louisville keeps with the old-meets-new theme to bring luscious Mayan delights to the Trustees’ Table.

You’ll want to reserve ahead for these delectable dinners.

For the rest of October, daily to-dos include riverboat rides, wagon rides and hayrides. Friday and Saturday evenings feature live music, food tastings, behind-the-scenes looks at rarely seen spaces, yard games and night hikes. Creep along through the cemetery on guided, ghostly Spirit Strolls and take a Halloween Boo! Cruise on the Kentucky River, followed by toddies and music. On Oct. 27-28, bring the kiddos in costume for spooky Halloween fun.

Round out your Thanksgiving weekend with Saturday’s annual Blessing of the Hounds, when sleek horses and their riders, all suited up in black and “pink” jackets, gather round as a priest blesses the foxhounds for the hunting season. The holidays shine with Illuminated Evenings –  candlelight tours, extended evening hours (think twinkle, twinkle everywhere) – and Tea Time with Mrs. Claus, while Santa and the elves finish their present prep. Three on-site shops are filled with crafty ideas for everyone on your holiday list. Maybe a signature oval wood box, apiary honey or a copper lantern. Amaze your friends by creating their Christmas morning surprise at a Shaker Maker workshop, perhaps a hand-tied broom, beeswax candles and soap, or delicate reed stars.

Ring in 2018 with a Shaker Village New Year’s Eve Package Dec. 29 through Jan. 2. Or tuck in your napkin for a February maple syrup breakfast.

In addition to loads of intriguing ways to keep guests busy, this treasure of ongoing historic preservation is a corporate retreat extraordinaire. A vanguard of hospitality for more than 200 years, the village features 72 guest rooms, suites and private cottages throughout 13 historic buildings. The rural surroundings and historic traditions guarantee a peace-filled atmosphere conducive to a specific matter-at-hand retreat focus.

Participants can bring their families, as opportunities abound to connect with nature for traversing trails, kayaking and exploring the river on a paddle wheeler, or simply inhaling the fresh country air from a porch rocker. Customized group events include marshmallow roasts and hayrides, bourbon tastings, picnics and private tours. Shaker-style teambuilding can include craft-making competition and seasonal outdoor activities.

Meeting planners – and family vacation planners – can rack up big points here from the food alone. In an average month, 80 of those lemon pies leave the village kitchen. One slice just might have your name on it!

Add a bit of Shaker to your life. Visit shakervillageky.org; follow VILLAGE@WORK projects at blog.shakervillageky.org; download the new mobile app; call (800) 734-5611; or just hop in the car, head toward Harrodsburg and embrace the adventure.

Katherine Tandy Brown is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected].