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Pleasant Hill Shaker Village

Site ID: 15Me55-59

Village; Religious
Kentucky Archaeological Survey
Unless specified, we cannot provide site location information.


​​​​The Shakers were a communal millennial Christian society (members believed Christ will establish a 1000-year reign of saints on earth before the Last Judgement). They were known for their beliefs about equality, work as worship, and individual connections between members and God. These were often expressed in the vigorous dancing that earned them the name "Shakers."  

Based in New York, and with the formal name of the "United Society of True Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance," the Shakers established several villages in what they called “the West” in the early nineteenth century – to recruit new members.  Recruitment was key for the Shakers, since they believed in celibacy. The Shakers establishd two villages in Kentucky: Pleasant Hill near Lexington in 1805 and South Union near Bowling Green in 1807.  Both villages were successful in their agriculture and industrial arts and grew to over 6,000 acres.  

Archaeological fieldwork at Pleasant Hill consisted of surveys and excavation projects carried out in conjunction with field schools sponsored by the University of Kentucky and Centre College, and classes taught by the Governor’s Scholars Program.  ​
University of Kentucky students learn excavation techniques at the site of the 1810 Meeting House.


​Archaeological research at Pleasant Hill documented the location of many buildings that are no longer visible and provided construction details for several standing structures.  Buildings investigated included an early nineteenth-century post office, the first two Centre F​​amily dwellings, the 1810 Meeting House, an outdoor workshop area, a portion of a boys’ dormitory, a log office, a smoke or meat house, a wash house, three barns, several unidentified building foundations, a brick kiln, and a grist mill. Many landscaping features also were documented, such as post holes from wooden fences, the base of stone fences, and buried sidewalk stones.  

Most of the Pleasant Hill artifacts look very similar to those found on non-Shaker sites, but two plain smoking pipes retained fragments of lettering that said “Pleasant Hill, Ky.” The recovery of these pipes and a review of Shaker journal entries supports the suggestion that pipes made to sell also were used by Shakers themselves.

Many other artifacts, such as the large quantity of glass jar fragments from the site, are related to the Shakers’ production of patent medicines and preserves. Bone button blanks found at the site of the 1810 Meeting House - later turned into a workshop - represented one of the items residents made in the workshop.
Sections of two clay smoking pipes marked “Pleasant Hill, Ky” helped reveal the production of these pipes at Pleasant Hill.

What's Cool?

​Outdoor Worship Area Redisovered

All Shaker villages had an outdoor worship area where the entire village could congregate.  These areas were used largely in the 1840s and 1850s. 

The knowledge of Pleasant Hill's outdoor worship area location had been lost. Using clues from the Shaker journals, archaeologists found the Pleasant Hill outdoor site, called Holy Sinai’s Plain, by locating the stains in the soil where fence posts had been placed deep in the ground. 

The posts marked off an outer oval - 200 by 150 feet - with a smaller inner oval, and a signboard that welcomed the Shakers to the site.  The outer fence has been restored and visitors can see it by looking south from the East Family barn.  
The discovery of Holy Sinai’s Plain was celebrated with Shaker songs performed by the Pleasant Hill Singers.

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