The Struggle to Save the Historic Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Title Page, Copyright
Foreword: Rebirth of a Historic Community
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Tucked away safely atop a shoulder of the Kentucky River palisades, Shakertown at Pleasant Hill in Mercer County, Kentucky, near Lexington, is one of the best preserved and managed of the communal sites in North America. It is a national treasure—twenty-nine hundred acres of beautiful land and restored buildings that was once...
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One spring afternoon a companion and I visited the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, a National Historic Site in the Bluegrass country of Kentucky, some twenty-five miles southwest of Lexington. We lunched in one of the dining rooms in the building known as the Trustees’ Office—being sure to top off the meal with the famous...
I. “That Wonderful Village”
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Back in the 1950s, Jimmie Campbell, an engineering student at the University of Kentucky, used to drive regularly from Lexington down U.S. Highway 68 to visit his sister in Danville. He became thoroughly acquainted on these trips with every curve on that narrow road, including the series of tight turns dropping down to the Kentucky...
II. The Vision of Mother Ann
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One afternoon in 1957, as a young minister named Don Graham sat gazing out of the window of a Greyhound bus bound from Lexington to Harrodsburg, he became aware that the driver was beginning to address the passengers. Using a microphone as if he were a tour guide enlightening his flock, the driver declared: “Ladies and...
III. On God’s Time
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Within a few years of coming to Shawnee Run, the Shakers had bought or received as donations some three thousand acres of meadowlands in the area, and by 1812 they had moved their village up the slope, about a mile and a half away, to the spot that gave the colony its permanent name—Pleasant Hill. The Shawnee Run...
IV. The Past—Preserved, Restored, Remade?
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On April 11, 1799, one day before his twenty-second birthday, a promising young Kentucky lawyer named Henry Clay was married to Lucretia Hart, the daughter of Colonel Thomas Hart, a well-to-do pioneer Lexington merchant. The wedding took place at the home of the bride’s family, a substantial two-story brick house of...
V. Nickels, Dimes, and Options
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The Lexington citizen probably most disturbed by the destruction of the Bradford house and the threatened loss of Hopemont lived not in the downtown Gratz Park neighborhood but several miles away, on the northern fringe of the city. That made no difference—Joseph C. Graves, vice president and operating head of the old-line family...
VI. “The Beginning Year”
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On Wednesday evening, August 9, 1961, in a meeting of the Blue Grass Trust at the Hunt-Morgan House, Bob Jewell announced the formation of a nonprofit corporation to preserve, restore, and use the village of Pleasant Hill. The group would acquire the buildings and land and would “maintain the property in such a manner as to...
VII. Fund-Raisers—Professional and Otherwise
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In November 1961, sounding Raymond McLain’s note, Ralph McCallister commented to Earl Wallace that, as it was, the Pleasant Hill fund-raising effort did not seem likely to succeed: “the methods used on the operation fund and those on the beginning of the capital fund are not adequate to the size of the undertaking.” McCallister proposed...
VIII. The Deal—I [Contains Image Plates]
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In 1960 national advertising and marketing magazines buzzed with talk of the “soaring sixties,” an alliterative new decade of national abundance and consequent rising profits for businesses of all kinds. But not only could these forecasters have no inkling of the shape the coming years would actually assume (nor could anyone else), they would soon be...
IX. “A Fantastic Accomplishment”
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On May 31, 1964, two prominent friends of Pleasant Hill spoke at a ceremony marking the official beginning of the restoration. Bert Combs, who had now become a former governor, told the crowd of about two hundred that “the history of Shakertown can be used as a guide to help us build a progressive Kentucky.” People today had much...
X. The Deal—II
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A few days after the official opening of Shakertown, Earl Wallace received a memo from the maintenance department. Headed, portentously, PRIORITIES, this document contained a list of tasks to be performed, “broken down into categories and arranged in the order of their...
XI. “The Instruction of the Public”
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In 1965 Earl Wallace received an invitation to join some sixty other American leaders in politics, business, the professions, and the academic world at an American Assembly session titled “The Courts, the Public, and the Law Explosion.” Established at Columbia University in 1950 by Dwight Eisenhower, then the university’s president, the American...
XII. The Restoration Restored
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Despite his advanced age, Earl Wallace had continued his uninterrupted close supervision of the Pleasant Hill operation until the weekend he died. Just a few days earlier—proving that he did not always insist on adding property to the Shakertown holdings—he had closed his last deal, which involved the sale of 1,431 acres of farmland...
XIII. Pleasant Hill Frescoes
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We want you to take in everything,” says the interpreter in the full-skirted costume, urging us to attend the session of Shaker song and then the discussion of theology before returning to the Centre Family House for the tour. “The architecture and the furnishings are interesting, and the way they lived is...
Afterword: A Note on Jim Thomas’s Service
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Soon after Earl Wallace’s death in 1990, his successor as chairman of the Shakertown board, W. T. Young, told friends that he liked Jim Thomas’s ideas about what needed to be done next. Young also said he trusted Thomas’s administrative skills, which he thought had been underutilized by Wallace. Then, leaving the hands-on management of...
Sources and Background
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The essential sources for establishing the timing and sequence of events were contemporaneous documents—the minutes of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation and of its Shakertown Committee, the minutes of the Board of Trustees of Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, Inc., and the minutes of the Executive Committee of the Board of...
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Page Count: 214
Publication Year: 2005