In my Shaker books, I use the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky as the setting for my fictional Harmony Hill Shaker village. That Shaker village located not far from where I live, has been restored as a living history museum showing how the Shakers lived. Pleasant Hill was established in 1806. The community declined after the Civil War and was dissolved in 1910. For years, the buildings were deserted or used for worldly purposes–the meeting house was a car repair garage and then a Baptist church–before concerned people came together to preserve the history of the Shakers in this place.
Many people assume the Shakers are similar to the Amish, but actually there are major differences. While the Shakers did believe in simple living and sang songs that it was a gift to be simple, they also were innovative and eager to use new machines to make their work more efficient. They believed their work was worship, and one of their best known sayings is “Hands to work. Hearts to God.”
Other major differences between the Shakers and the Amish are the Shakers’ belief that all should live celibate lives as brothers and sisters without the individual family unit and that property and possessions be held in common. Every member was expected to work for the good of the community as a whole.
The Shakers are known for their beautiful craftsmanship and amazing architectural feats. At Pleasant Hill, you can see some of this firsthand. The Centre Family House was built in the 1834 from stone the Shakers quarried from the nearby river cliffs.
At the Trustee House (1841), the winding stairways seem to defy gravity as they float up into the air.
Today, with thirty-four original 19th century buildings and 2,800 acres of land, the village is open to tourists for tours and overnight stays. The Trustees’ Office Dining Room, serves traditional favorites, including the famous Shaker lemon pie, as well as seasonal Kentucky dishes. You can see re-enactors demonstrating many Shaker skills such as broom making, spinning and weaving, and wood crafts.
A highlight of the tour is a demonstration of the Shaker worship in the Meeting House built in 1820.
The Shakers have been gone from Kentucky for many years, but you can still walk the paths they walked and hear the echo of their worship songs and the shuffle of their feet as they “labored” their worship songs.
Ann H. Gabhart is the author of over twenty-five books. Scent of Lilacs, her first inspirational novel, was chosen as a Top Ten Christian Fiction Book by Booklist magazine. Her first Shaker book, The Outsider, was a finalist for ECPA Christian Fiction Book of the Year and was a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine. Her most recent Shaker book is Christmas at Harmony Hill. Ann grew up dreaming of becoming a writer and now keeps her keyboard warm on her farm in Kentucky. She and her husband have three children and nine grandchildren.
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