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South Union Center Family Residence

South Union Shaker Village

Site ID: 15Lo153

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.  

At South Union, archaeological surveys have been conducted in many parts of the village, some in conjunction with the reconstruction of US Highway 68-KY Highway ​80. Other archaeological investigations targeted specific research questions, such as determining the boundaries of the cemetery, or supported restoration work on specific Shaker buildings. ​

Archaeologists conduct geophysical survey of the cemetery.


​Archaeological survey and excavation documented the location of many no-longer-standing buildings or provided new insights into construction details for standing structures.  Main buildings investigated included an early nineteenth-century post office, the 1810 frame Meeting House, the 1841 Trustees House, the 1822 Little Brick House (and its cellar), an 1834 smoke and wash house, a possible blacksmith shop or machine shop, the 1828 Trustee’s Office and/or West Family Dwelling, a brick smokehouse and well, and the East Family Dwelling. Also investigated were outbuildings such as barns, an icehouse, a well house, a privy, and several stone quarries.  

Most of the artifacts recovered during these investigations looked very similar to those found on non-Shaker sites.  Similar molds used for making plain smoking pipes and bricks with a distinctive outer lip - often called a “frog” - to better hold the mortar between brick layers were found at the two Kentucky Shaker villages. These similarities indicated that some level of interaction occurred between these communities.

Geophysical survey of the South Union cemetery, which used ground-penetrating radar and a magnetometer​, helped identify unmarked grave shafts and better define the limits of this Shaker community's cemetery.

Cemetery marker.

What's Cool?

​Original Land Surface Preserved

Shakers occupied their South Union Village up to 1922. Afterwards, many non-Shaker activities impacted the village areas.  

Excavations conducted inside the Centre Family Dwelling's 1834 milk and smoke house revealed the intact original topsoil and land surface before the Shakers built the structure. This surface topsoil yielded a variety of typical transfer-printed and hand-painted ceramics.  Analysis of these ceramics provided researchers with an idea of the kinds of items Shaker members brought to the village and used in the communal dining rooms during the community's early decades.  

Buried original topsoil and land surface: dark layer near the base of the unit.

Related Materials

​South Union Sahker Village website

Historic Site of the South Union Shaker Village 1807-192​2​

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