The 66 guest rooms are scattered through the various village buildings. Prices for single-occupancy rooms, $15 to $19; double rooms, $23 to $31. No charge for children under 12. Reservations should be made in advance.
Lunch prices: $3.60 to $6.
Dinner prices: $6.75 to $9.
There is a no-tipping policy in the dining rooms and throughout the village.
Admission rates: $2.50 for adults, $1 for students through college age, 50 cents for children 6-11.
Special Winter Weekends -- In January and February
This includes two nights lodging, five meals, special programs, Saturday night fireside musicales, wagon or sleigh rides. The price is $70 per adult, $30 for ages 12-18, $15 for under 12. The pace is leisurely, the food the usual good and abundant country cooking, the lodging in the unique Shaker rooms.
WHEN YOU come to this place straight out of the hurly-burly of the highway, out of the world of oil tankers and exhaust fumes, the contrast is stunning. Because the restored village of the Shakers in Kentucky's bluegrass country 25 miles southwest of Lexington -- Shakertown at Pleasant Hill -- is as distant from the 20th century as a church is from Las Vegas. It is all grace and serenity.
The 27 buildings scattered over the rolling lawns -- each eticulously revived -- have the clean, spare lines of a Shaker chair. They are solidly constructed of brick or stone or wood, and during the summer the grounds on which they stand are very green, with not a flower or a car or even a discarded beer can to mar the chaste surroundings. Right now the mantle of snow accentuates the purity.
It is exactly as it was during the Shakers' long heyday in the 19th century: as exact as historical research and archeological tools, plus a $2-million loan from the federal government, can make it. Power lines were buried and a highway diverted to carry out the authentic atmosphere.
Despite the lack of flowers, which the Shakers believed to be frivolous, there are many huge trees and a ruralness (an old stage road lazes through the settlement, grain fields encircle it) that create a total effect of great beauty.
The best part is that arrangements have been made to provide "outsiders" with both lodging and meals -- and the Shakers themselves would marvel at, and approve of, the facilities.
Our room, in the East Family dwelling house, wa spacious and immaculate. The walls are the same cream-white, the pegboard banding the room at eye level and the handsome wood doors and the frames of the manypaned windows are the same brown, of Shaker time. Under each high twin bed nestles a child's trundle bed -- not as out-of-place in that celibate community as it may seem because orphans, as well as families with children, were welcomed. They were, after all, the means of renewal.
Shakertown bedrooms have no closets. For the purpose of neatness the peg board with its multiple pegs does it all. There the clothes, and even the mirrors and the candles (electric, here) on their small circular trays, are hung. Thus just the beds, the handmade rag rugs, the handwoven bedspreads and curtains, and the classic Shaker chairs and tables constitute the furnishings.
The bathroom, equipped with all the latest 20th-century gadgetry, is the anachronism. Or is it? The ingenious Shakers of Pleasant Hill, who invented the flat broom and the buzz saw, were the first to package garden seeds to sell, and the first to dry sweet corn for food, would probably commend its efficiency.
For 105 years, from 1805 to 1910, the Shakers lived here in their communal but sexually divided dwelling houses. They worked and worshipped together in this "kingdom of Christ on earth" in "joint union and love." But it was a love that was not carnal: They believed this kind to be the most acceptable to God. Living in groups of from 30 to 100 members, each of the five Shakertown "families" had its own house, farm, barn, industries and carafts.
They farmed 1,500 acres, constructed and ran a saw mill, grist mill and paper mill. They spun and wove, madetheir own implements and wagons, and sold great quantities of their products -- straw baskets and bonnets, cornhusk mattresses, pickles and condiments -- to the "outside" world. A guest of the restored village can still see the landing on the nearby Kentucky river where flat boats came in to pick up the goods destined for the plantations and river towns to the south.
What mainly set the Shakers apart, and gave them their name, was the strange shaking dance which accompanied their worship "to indicate" (in the words of a contemporary) "the lively, sweet and beautiful motions of the heavenly spirits -- untainted with the flesh."
It sounds innocent enough. The long lines of men on one side of the big room in the meeting house, the lines of women on the other; and to the sweet singing of the musicians, the swaying, the shaking, and finally the frenzied whirling as they "worship God in the dance."
Why, then, were there two small rooms high up on either side of the church room where monitors (a brother in one, a sister in the other) could observe the members of their own sex and note any unseemly behavior?
They were a generous, gentle people, and that contributed to their undoing. Because they never really recovered from the inroads of the Civil War, during which time, as pacifists, they fed and cared for vast numbers of troops from both sides. This contact and its temptations probably accelerated the disintegration, as a peep at their church records reveals:
Feb. 13, 1861 -- Tabitha Shuter went to the world from the East House. May 11, 1862 -- John Kulp, who was Second Elder at the West Lot, went into the world. July, 1866 -- Daniel Perrow and Luch McBride went to the world .
From a prosperous community of 600 (the largest of the 19 settlements outside of the original society in New Lebanon, N.Y.) Shakertown at Pleasant Hill gradually declined. But those who held on remanied strong, judging from the comments of a guest who dropped in, one day in 1886, from the "outside":
I happened to be one of a party of a dozen wheel men. After climbing the long hill we were in a receptive mood for a square meal, and the hour being high noon we decided to try our luck with the Shakers. Never shall I forget the meal we sat down to.Like Oliver Twist we "asked for more," but unlike him we were not denied... I still remember a demure little Shaker lass that waited at our table. She was a beauty and of course the boys tried to atart something, and not a chance. Have often wondered if some fortunate swain didn't come along and persuade her to renounce the celibate life. Who knows ?
As seen from the church records, many did renounce the celibate life, others grew old, converts became difficult to fins: The village languished. The Society was dissolved in 1910, and the acres were deeded to a citizen of nearby Harrodsburg on condition that the 11 remaining members be taken care of the rest of their lives. The last Shaker, Sister Mary Settles, died in 1923.
Then a group of history and beauty-loving Kentuckians came to the rescue. Thanks to them, a federal loan, and many private contributors, Shakertown at Pleasant Hill rose from dust and decay to become as pleasant a place to visit as it was in the 1800s. Not only the classic, uncluttered grounds and buildings but the people who demonstrate the Shaker way of life -- the men who make the brooms and the barrels, the women who quilt and churn and bake and weave -- result in a very real but almost eerie feeling of going back in time.
In the dining rooms, particularly, it is a treat to live for a spell in Shakerdom. There is only candlelight in the lovely old rooms in the Trustees' House, candlelight shed from a single candle on each table burning within a tall chimney of hand-blown glass, and from the frieze of candles on the peg boards. The waitresses, in their Shaker dress, are wholesome, welcoming country women, very much in the spirit of those hostesses of old. And the food -- vegetables and fruit fresh from the surrounding gardens, cream and butter so rich and good that resolutions fade -- make it hard for a tourist to go back to the "outside."
The simplicity that permeates the entire village is elegance of the highest kind. For instance, in the dining room with its candles, its plain wood tables, its shining, wide-planked floors, we had for dinner a hot cream of tomato soup, then fried chicken with underpinnings of baked country ham. Fresh buttered green beans, carrots, and glazed sweet potatoes were passed and re-passed, as were the golden domes of spoon bread. There was a simple green salad and a dessert that we had never encountered and will never forget: a delicate, two-crust lemon pie. It was both tart and sweet, and shot through with thin strips of lemon rind.
Later, in the quiet of the evening as we walked back under the old aples to our rooms in the East House (no cars are allowed on the grounds), it was as if the men and women) who built and loved this place were walking with us, back to the same house, dividing at the front steps -- the men filing through the door on the right, the women through the left-hand door, then along the great hall to the double set of stairs, right and left, leading to the rooms above.