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[photo] This Pleasant Hill dwelling reflects the influences on designer Micajah Burnett by both Shaker conventions and the popular Federal style
Courtesy of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

Having established several communities in the northeastern United States throughout the last quarter of the 18th century, the Shakers began moving south in the early 19th century. They arrived in Kentucky by 1805, and quickly began to convert local citizens. At its peak, Pleasant Hill was one of the largest Shaker communities and by the mid-1850s was home to approximately 600 Shakers occupying 250 building and almost 2800 acres of land. Unlike many Shaker communities, the architecture of Pleasant Hill was strongly influenced by one individual, Micajah Burnett, who came to the society with his parents in 1809 at age 17. Six years later, he began laying out the village and providing the community with a meetinghouse, dwellings, barns, and craft shops. Burnett utilized whatever materials were readily available to him, specifically rock, clay, and wood. While adhering to architecture and layout guidelines prescribed by the Mount Lebanon ministry, Burnett was also heavily influenced by the popular Federal style, as were many Shaker builders. Focusing on the maximization of area and a minimization of cutting and supports, Burnett effectively created buildings with vast open spaces. The multiple Family Dwellings at Pleasant Hill are perfect examples of his approach with their particularly deep cellars and broad attics, living arrangements designed to be conducive to efficient domestic economy.

[photo] Overview of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill and one of the spiral staircases of the Trustee House
Courtesy of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

While the Family Dwellings were impressive, the clapboard Meetinghouse built in 1820 was the one building that required the most ingenuity in its architectural design. With its simple, classic Shaker exterior, the focus of the Meetinghouse design was the interior, as it needed to be free of any central obstructions to provide the Believers plenty of room to conduct their services. Built to withstand a considerable amount of vibration, due to the expressive nature of Shaker worship, the Meetinghouse is a technical marvel, revealing no considerable wear in its woodwork after years of raucous religious ceremonies, harsh weather, and shifts in the foundation. The Trustee House contains another unusual Shaker architectural element--a twin spiral stairway. This atypical, romantic expression of design was relatively unknown in the realm of Shaker architecture. Devoid of advanced tools with which to craft and bend the wood, Burnett and his workers were able to seamlessly wind the cherry rails up three flights of stairs.

Despite the Shaker community's achievements, the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution took a heavy toll on the Shakers in Pleasant Hill. The community dissolved in 1910, although some Shakers continued to live there. In 1961, a group of concerned central Kentucky citizens incorporated as a non-profit educational entity to begin the restoration process of the remaining Pleasant Hill buildings. Now known as the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, it is the largest restored Shaker community with 2,800 acres of farmland and a magnificent collection of Kentucky Shaker architecture.

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Today known as Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Shakertown at Pleasant Hill Historic District is a National Historic Landmark located at 3501 Lexington Rd. (US 68) in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. The community is open daily from 10:00am to 5:00pm; from November through March some exhibition buildings are closed and tour hours and ticket prices are also reduced (closed December 24 & 25). For more information call 1-800-734-5611 or visit the website.

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