Movers and Shakers

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The Shakers had it right, except maybe for one little detail that in retrospect they should’ve lightened up on.

An innovative, hard-working offshoot of the Quaker religious sect, the Shakers gave the world such things as the flat broom, straight-line furniture design and agricultural seed technology.

They were even known to brew a little beer.

Shakers established a handful of villages in New England and spread out as far west as Kentucky, where they founded an agricultural hub at Pleasant Hill, 40 km southwest of Lexington. The settlement grew to include hundreds of people farming more than 1,000 hectares. They thrived as innovators and, unlike the Amish with whom they are often confused, were early and eager adopters of technology. Some of their songs, such as Simple Gifts (later adapted as Lord of the Dance) are still popular in mainstream Christian churches today.

Men and women lived communally in separate massive stone buildings, even if they had joined the community as husband and wife. Once they were part of the community, new Shakers gave up all their possessions and took a vow of celibacy, so no new Shakers were born. Let’s assume this is why there are only three Shakers alive today.

Pleasant Hill lasted from 1805 to 1910, and was reborn as a historical village in 1961. Its decline started with the American Civil War, after which more "winter Shakers (people who couldn’t survive on their own though the harsh winters)" and orphans were taken in out of charity than the core community could support.

Some of the community’s sacred buildings were repurposed for things such as an auto repair shop or torn down until Kentucky decided it was a place worth saving. Pleasant Hill was restored and became a smaller scale Kentucky version of Virginia’s famous Colonial Willamsburg.

One of the first moves was to reroute a busy state highway that cut through the heart of Pleasant Hill around the village so that idyllic period calm could be established.

What worked well as a tourist attraction for the first 30 years or so started to fade as interest in static historical displays and costumed re-enactors waned, so Pleasant Hill embraced the motto "change or die" or — in this case — "change or die a second time."

Today, Pleasant Hill is home to one of the most unique hotels I’ve stayed in with spotless rooms kept as true to the 1800s Shaker style as possible, but with modern amenities like private flush toilets. In Shaker times, my room may have housed as many as eight women, so I enjoyed far more space than they would have.

One confession: I had crazy dreams about singing and saviours during my two-night stay, which had nothing to do with consumption of some delicious Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale.

The cleanliness of the village remains a hallmark — taken from the time a sect leader remarked: "There was no dirt in Heaven."

While Pleasant Hill never had a commercial brewery, the Shakers weren’t averse to an occasional beer or bourbon.

And, despite the fact Pleasant Hill is located in a dry county, an annual craft beer and music festival in August is among the many special events held on the grounds as Pleasant Hill updated its image. Other events include a chamber music festival, yoga weekends and an arts fair.

A trail network is shared by hikers, birders and horseback riders and the Kentucky River running through the farm provides the setting for paddle events, including a fall foliage canoe and kayak excursion.

Pleasant Hill’s centrepiece attraction is dining at the Trustees’ Table, featuring seed-to-table freshness, where dishes are prepared with straight-from-the-garden ingredients. Trustees’ Table is legendary for its soups, salads, sandwiches and fried green tomatoes served in an 1800s ambience. Its specialties include favourite Kentucky dishes — ham, fried chicken, brisket and catfish.


— Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is open year-round, admission is $10 (prices in U.S. dollars) for adults and $5 for children. Trustees’ Table is open for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and for dinner until 8:30 p.m. daily. Accommodation is from $110 per night. Horse-drawn wagon rides and riverboat rides are available at additional cost.

Music and spirituality programs take place Sundays in the same buildings Shakers once held services lasting for several hours. For more information, see

— The village is 40 km from Lexington in rural Kentucky. Take Hwy. 68 from the Lexington ring road.

— For travel information on Kentucky, see