Two iconic buildings at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill are about to get a major facelift. Shaker Village administrators call the project the most significant since restoration of the historic Mercer County site began in the 1960s.
The Centre Family Dwelling, where the religious sect known as the Shakers ate and slept, and the 1824 Meeting House, where they performed the dances that gave them their name, will receive improvements such as heating and air conditioning, more interior lighting and better protection from water infiltration.
The project, paid through a $5 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, will begin in June and take a year to complete. A public ceremony is planned June 3 to launch the work.
“It takes these two big buildings, the spiritual center of the village, and protects it in a way for many years to come,” said president and CEO Maynard Crossland.
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With 34 original Shaker structures, the village is the country’s largest private collection of original 19th-century buildings, and is the largest National Historic Landmark in Kentucky. Its 3,000 acres include 1,200 acres of restored native prairie.
The Shakers lived in Mercer County from 1805 to 1910. They were known for their frugality, industriousness, the simplicity of their lives, sexual abstinence, and the excellence of their furniture, garden seeds and architecture.
As Crossland and William Updike, vice president of facilities management, walk through the buildings, they point to the need for rehabilitation.
Paint peels from interior walls as weather swings from the high humidity of summer to the cold of winter. The previous fix was to scrape and repaint.
“So we want to stop that from occurring,” Updike said.
The two buildings have some 90 windows. Some sills slope downward, causing water to pool and rot the wood sashes. Window materials will be saved where possible but many will have to replaced.
“What we’re doing is very typical with what other property owners have to do,” Updike said. “It’s just that the scale here is so much larger.”
There is deterioration from the freezing and thawing of ice in the exterior stone of the Centre Family Dwelling. Its construction began in 1824 and was completed in 1834.
Paint peels in the damp of the basement walls as well. That prevents those rooms from other uses, such as the display of artifacts.
Peeling is also evident in the 1824 Meeting House across the gravel street from the Centre Family Dwelling.
“Structurally, these buildings are very sound,” Updike said. “For being nearly 200 years old, it’s very impressive how sound they are. But the deterioration is what we need to stop because once you allow the water to infiltrate things, that’s when they start to break down.”
The doors, walls and configuration of the rooms will not change. Lighting fixtures in the Meeting House will be removed, and small LED lights will be recessed into the ceiling. Linear heating and air vents will also be nearly hidden in the ceiling.
“What we want when we get done with this project is for people to walk in here and say ‘Well, what did you do?’” Crossland said.
Shaker Village contracted with John Milner Architects of Pennsylvania last year to carry out the preservation work.
The $5 million Lilly Endowment grant for the rehab work was announced in 2015. The family of the Indianapolis pharmaceutical company were the largest patrons of the first effort to restore Shaker Village that began in the 1960s.
During the rehab project, the buildings will be closed to the public, although there are plans to do some “hard hat tours” as work progresses.
The work will not affect dining, which will still be in the Trustees’ Office. Parking won’t be affected, either. Visitors will still be able to walk along the gravel path through the middle of the village. But they will be directed to new exhibits on the eastern side.
About the time that the rehab work will start, Shaker Village hopes to open a new welcome center in the Carpenter’s Shop. Formerly a craft store, the welcome center will have an interactive introduction to the village’s mission, ticket sales, a calendar of the daily tours and activities, and sales of featured products such as the signature Shaker oval boxes. The welcome center was done with a $500,000 grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation of Louisville.
An estimated 150,000 visitors come to Shaker Village each year. Visitation “is on the upswing,” Crossland said, as the site has broadened its appeal by providing activities for birders, horseback riders and others who want to “do” and not just “see.”
“We’re really working hard to make the experience what we call ‘Shaker modern,’ because a lot of the lessons that were learned on this property, the things that the Shakers did, are still important to a 21st-century audience,” Crossland said. “The way they treated the land and each other. We want to make that modern connection between what happened here then and what happens in our guests’ everyday lives. That’s really our goal.”
Linda Rupp of Louisville applauds the restoration Shaker Village has done. She visited the site Thursday to get away from the constant bombardment of news out of Washington D.C.
“I’ll tell you one thing: When I get out here, it’s just so quiet,” Rupp said. “We live in Crescent Hill (between Interstates 64 and 71) and there’s so much noise.”