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'Troops At Our Door Step: The Civil War Marches Through Shaker Village'

Sep. 25, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HARRODSBURG, Ky. -- There are two kinds of people in this kinetic world -- movers and Shakers.

While it's mission impossible to track down the first group since they're always, well, moving, the Shakers -- we know where they live or at least used to. A couple hours west of Huntington and right in the heart of central Kentucky's horse country is Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

While there are only three known Shakers left in the U.S. living up at Sabbathday Lake in Maine, you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about one of America's larger intentional communities in a weekend exploring the gorgeous and sprawling Shaker Village. Its mission is to preserve 34 original buildings and 3,000 acres of countryside once overrun with these remarkable believers.

Although I had, since my bluegrass gospel singing days in college, sworn off worshipping with church folks one shake, rattle and holy roll away from an EMS call, the Dave Trippin' mobile found itself in the heart of all things Shaker a few weeks back.

Our oldest boy is in Huntington Middle School's Western Virginia Military Academy (one of the only school-age Civil War re-enacting units in the nation) and they and the lovely hooped-dress-wearing gals of the Lizzie Cabell Finishing School For Young Ladies (also at HMS), were all invited to take part in the Village's Civil War Weekend called "Troops At Our Door Step: The Civil War Marches Through Shaker Village."

While you, dear reader, don't have to sleep on the ground in itchy wool and eat hard tack to soak in the ambiance of the Village, I do recommend visiting soon.

Although Shaker Village is open year-round and is packed with events (including a month-long historic holiday event in December), I must say that patch of horse country is truly almost heaven as the leaves change along the windy, stone-fence lined roads leading to the Village that sits high on a hill above the Kentucky River.

For the ramblers and gamblers in your bunch, October is also the Fall Meet at Keeneland. The horse track is so close to Shaker Village you could almost throw a rock and hit it, which the Shakers would probably be doing were they still around.

Packed with a super-sized heirloom garden filled with such Shaker oddities as salsify (an odd root vegetable that doesn't taste like chicken but that folks swear tastes like oysters), the Village again is bustling with fall events showcasing the bounty of the harvest of life as it was - and is recreated - down on the Farm.

Set for Friday through Sunday, Sept. 28-30, is the Shaker Village "Harvest Fest," that features a kids village Farm Olympics, sheep shearing and herding, u-pick apples and pumpkins, hay rides, a hay climb, a best dessert competition, live music and much more. Admission is $15, $5 for ages 5 to 12 and free for 5 and under and that includes the historic tour of the Village.

As part of Harvest Fest, there's also The Heirloom Supper from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday as well as the Harvest 5-Mile Trail Run on Saturday.

There's also a Spirit Stroll to the Graveyard at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. every Friday and Saturday through Nov. 3, as well as special Fall on the Farm weekends that take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday in October.

Thanks to a dedicated legion of costumed re-enactors (such as Susan Hughes who invited long-time re-enacting friend and history teacher, Mike Sheets and his HMS students down for the weekend) the Shaker Village comes to life for visitors. Once inside the sprawling compound, visitors are free to roam down the tree-lined graveled path (that was once Route 68) where history shakes alive with songs, dance, detailed talk of Shaker architecture and of the sect's progressive social stances on equality.

For folks like me who won't be selecting "19th Century Religious Sects" as a topic on Jeopardy, the United Society of Believers in Christ or Shakers were a branch of the Quakers who came to America from England in the 1770s following Mother Ann Lee, who believed Christ was coming back as a woman and that the road to salvation was more easily traveled thanks to constant confession and celibacy - a welcome respite for some pioneer women who could easily be saddled with a farm full of chores and eight or nine children by the time they were in their 20s.

Amazingly, in this country that still doesn't have a law for equal pay for women, the Shakers in the 18th and 19th centuries believed and practiced equality for women and all races (including African-Americans who were neighbors to slaves who worked on practically every other surrounding Kentucky farm).

Thinking they were living in Heaven on Earth (which many central Kentuckians and thoroughbreds living in million dollar barns nearby would Amen), the Shakers grew to 500 residents living and working side by side in some 260 structures at the 4,500-acre Pleasant Hill by the mid 1800s.

Kentucky's Shaker Village was the third largest of 19 societies in the U.S. However, since "celibate good times" although snappy, isn't the most sustainable slogan for any group,the Shakers found themselves dwindling as social attitudes changed.

By 1910 Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill was closed and in 1920, the last Shaker who had lived at Pleasant Hill (one of two Kentucky Shaker settlements) passed away.

Historic restoration began in 1961 to help preserve part of the sprawling village and the Shakers' unique quest for the simple and true gifts of life.

While it indeed is just a shadow of its former self, what an unforgettable shadow it is.

Unlike some musty historic sites, Shaker Village teems with dozens of ways to experience the simple treasures of the Shaker life and the abundant beauty of Central Kentucky's rolling hills and farmlands from horse-drawn wagon rides by Blue and Ivy, the Percheron draft horses, to rides on the Dixie Belle Riverboat that slow paddles its way through the Kentucky River Palisades and under High Bridge, an engineering marvel built in 1877.

For folks who want a vacation from their devices, a stay in one of the cottages such as the Old Ministry Shop or The Inn at Shaker Village and its 70 rooms may suffice.

Although be forewarned that things there do go bump in the night. On our trip, the Looneys, who in spite of their name are not crazy but who seem to attract spirits since they created the iGhostHunter app, kept getting phone calls throughout the night. No big deal, except, no one was on the line and the lady at the front desk said yeah they are coming from a part of Shaker Village that no longer exists. She also nonchalantly cited the fact that Shaker spirits didn't care for any Civil War re-enactors since troops from both sides had swarmed the pacifist village in the 1860s gobbling its food.

Downstairs in the Inn, is the Trustees' Office Dining Room, a favorite regional restaurant that serves up piles of veggies from the nearby garden including salsify casserole, relish bowls, fried chicken, and other Kentucky favorites like chess pie.

While it is easy to overindulge in the garden bounty, it's also easy to walk off a great meal.

The 3,000-acre Nature Preserve at Shaker Village has three sets of trails (for walking and horse trail riding). Right out the steps of the restaurant puts you on the delightfully quaint gravel road - a ribbon through the heart of the village and to its many barns, shops, meeting places and museums, including the must-see 40-room Centre Family Dwelling that was the second largest structure in the Commonwealth (next to the Capitol) when it was built in 1824.

You can explore the four-floor building on your own, but costumed interpreters also give guided tours and are often milling about ready to answer questions on the Shaker's legacy in marketing and selling heirloom seeds and herbs as well as in traditional crafts from the world-famous furniture designs to the unique oval wooden boxes and broom making.

No visit to Shaker Village is complete without a visit to the Meeting House where interpreters such as the incredible Donna Philips (the music coordinator) share the sometimes whimsical and often wild dances of the sect, and a few (thankfully not too many) of the more than 20,000 in the Shaker songbook giving folks a brief, but divine taste of a church service both shaken and stirred.

It was hard for me to imagine with just one little lady snorting and singing and boot-pounding the floor but in its heyday 500 folks pounded these wood floors here roaring for the Lord - a rumbling heard dozens of miles away in the 1800s.

Not surprisingly, in a complex, war-spun world often only filled with white noise and ringing sounds, the rumbling of the Shaker's peaceful gift of a true and simple life can still be heard, and it's only a day trip away.

Dave Lavender writes about regional travel for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at lavender@herald-dispatcch.com.

Whole Lotta Shakers Goin' On

WHAT: Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, a non-profit national historic landmark preserving 34 original buildings and 3,000 acres of countryside inhabited by the Shakers from 1805 until about 1910.

WHERE: 3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg, Ky., (south of Lexington) and about three hours west of Huntington.

HERITAGE FEST: Friday through Sunday, Sept. 28-30, is the Shaker Village "Harvest Fest," that features a kids village Farm Olympics, sheep shearing and herding, u-pick apples and pumpkins, hay rides, a hay climb, a best dessert competition, live music and much more. Admission is $15, $5 for ages 5 to 12 and free for 5 and under and that includes the historic tour of the Village.

As part of Harvest Fest, there's also The Heirloom Supper from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday as well as the Harvest 5-Mile Trail Run on Saturday.

OTHER FALL EVENTS: Spirit Stroll to the Graveyard at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. every Friday and Saturday through Nov. 3.

Fall on the Farm weekends: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday in October with cider and apple butter making. Tour the fall garden, meet the animals, and pick your own apples and pumpkins.

Fall Foliage Hikes: At 1:30 p.m. every Saturday in October. Leaves from the West Lot, Trailhead #2.

STAYING WITH THE SHAKERS: Packages (four a family of four) start at $208 for an overnight stay, breakfast, Fall on the Farm activities, and guided fall foliage hike with sack lunch. Call 800-734-5611, ext. 1545.

The Inn at Shaker Village features more than 70 rooms, with Shaker reproduction furniture, and there are cottage as well.

DINING: The Trustees' Office Dining Room features traditional and seasonal Kentucky dishes inspired by ingredients (including rare plants such as Salsify) in the Shaker's garden.

CONTACT: Go online at www.shakervillageky.org or call 1-800-734-5611.

MORE DAVE TRIPPIN: You can read more than 300 pages of other day tripping stories in "Dave Trippin: A Daytripper's Guide to the Appalachian Galaxy of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia." A limited number of copies are for sale for $10 at The Herald-Dispatch front desk.

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