Day Tripper: Shaker Village preserves a utopian community

The Pleasant Hill Singers marched from one of the family houses to the meeting house at Shaker Village.
The Pleasant Hill Singers marched from one of the family houses to the meeting house at Shaker Village. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

SHAKERTOWN — As I sat in Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill's Meadow View Barn late last month listening to the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center soothe the audience with Mozart and Schumann and rouse them with Bartók, it occurred to me just how lucky Central Kentuckians are to have such a treasure as Shakertown in our back yard.

The 2,900 acres of undulating Mercer County farmland ending at the stark palisades of the Kentucky River would be a place worth getting to know for its beauty alone. The rolling hills, frequently softened by early morning river mist, are broken by stream-laced woodlands and bordered by immaculate white plank fences.

Its history also gives it a certain cachet: Shakertown is the largest restored Shaker community in the United States and a National Historic Landmark.

Then there is the ghostly presence of a once-thriving community that espoused the virtues of pacifism, environmentalism and non-materialism, and equality of the races and sexes.

The Shakers were, indeed, worthy of admiration, and their community is deserving of our attention — never more so than this year, when it celebrates the 50th anniversary of its restoration with a yearlong calendar of events.

A series of concerts is scheduled for the next few months. If you missed the Chamber Music Festival, which has become an annual event during Memorial Day weekend, you can be in the audience for the Brass Band Serenade (Friday night); the Firefly Jazz Series (June 18, July 16 and Aug. 20); and Shaker Music Day (July 16), featuring special performances by the Pleasant Hill Singers and Appalachian Association of Sacred Harp Singers.

If the Shakers loved their music, they also loved good food. They were known for their green thumbs in the garden and skill in the kitchen, and they were the forebears of the current seed-to-table movement. This summer, visitors may experience their gardening and cooking expertise in a series of four Garden-Side Suppers (July 9 and 23, Aug. 13 and 27). In addition to a four-course al fresco dinner under the trees, you will have the opportunity to tour the gardens and meet the gardeners.

The Shakers also were positively inspired in the making of hand-crafted furniture, and they would no doubt have admired the work of other talented craftsmen.

If, like the Shakers, you appreciate good furniture, plan a visit to the Antiques Show and Sale (June 18 and 19), when 40 of the country's top dealers will exhibit and sell a wide variety of antiques, or save the dates (Aug. 6 and 7) for the Craft Fair, where you can shop for unusual crafts at one of Kentucky's premier juried craft fairs.

As the sultry days of summer give way to fall's chill, Shaker Village will be ablaze with color and celebrations. In addition to the annual Blessing of the Hounds (Nov. 26), when the hunt season kicks off with the ceremonial blessing of riders and dogs, there are two new events scheduled for the anniversary year.

HarvestFest, the official celebration, will be Sept. 23 to 25 and will feature an entire slate of activities, including a pig roast and 5K trail run. On Nov. 12, Kentucky's Finest: A Spirited Event will celebrate the heritage of Shakertown and Kentucky bourbon with a tasting, followed by a four-course dinner.

The year will culminate with a monthlong series of holiday teas, Dec. 1 to 31, and a special Shaker-style Christmas celebration on Dec. 3.

Many Lexingtonians have visited Shakertown to tour the dwellings and craft exhibitions, take a wildflower walk, or cruise the Kentucky River aboard the authentic sternwheeler Dixie Belle.

But to really experience all the village has to offer, plan to spend a night or a weekend in one of the 70 accommodations in 13 of the restored 19th- century buildings. Dine by candlelight in the Trustees' Office, then take a late-night stroll along a lane, where lanterns cast the only glow. The soft sigh of the trees or the occasional bray of a farm animal is the only sound breaking the utter silence.

It's easy to see why more than two centuries ago, the Shakers conceived their village as an earthly utopia.

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