My wife and I bought an old house – built in 1940 and composed of drill-proof Portland cement, two-by-sixes that are actually 2” by 6”, and hand-mixed plaster applied by master craftsmen – but outside it’s noisy with a busy two-lane boulevard behind us leaking traffic noise through two rows of pine trees.
We’ve stuck around for nearly four decades because we’re located on a shady island in the middle of the city called The Tree Streets with walkable sidewalks and bicycle access to local shops and a twenty-mile-long Tweetsie Trail.
But when we need to escape, we head for a place of peace, and the Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky always delivers.
If you desire pure tranquility, twenty-five-miles of handmade stone fencing, three thousand acres of walkable Eden, amazing architecture, gourmet meals, romping farm animals, giant trees, fish-filled ponds, and easy access to Lexington with all its bourbon-infused amenities, this is the place.
Shake it, don’t break it.
The Shakers didn’t believe in sex. You heard that right: the past tense is appropriate for obvious reasons.
They believed Jesus was above and beyond all the rooting and grunting, and that He was coming back soon, so they forsook those worldly pleasures, trading them for dancing. Perhaps you’ve heard their famous tune: Lord of the Dance, a.k.a Simple Gifts.
Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free ’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’Twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed, To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come ’round right. — Simple Gifts, written and composed in 1848, generally attributed to Elder Joseph Brackett from Alfred Shaker Village.
I don’t remember Jesus shaking His leg that much in the Bible, but the Shakers made that jump and stuck to it. One of the main buildings in the middle of the village was constructed for dancing, and you can almost hear those sliding feet and orgasmic wails still ringing off the walls.
Jeremiah 31:13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
Architecture is another fascinating aspect of Shaker Village. Men lived on one side of a building; women were housed on the opposite side. There are two entrance doors on each end and each side of the brick housing units, and two sets of stairs to the second floor so the sexes would not come into contact inside the dwelling.
“That would really fire you up, don’t you think?” said my wife looking at those twin sets of stairs. And some Shakers did sneak off to the woods from time to time, and they adopted local children, but the majority died off by the 1920s.
At its peak in the mid-19th century, there were 2,000–4,000 Shaker believers living in eighteen major communities and numerous smaller, often short-lived communities. External and internal societal changes in the mid- and late-19th century resulted in the thinning of the Shaker community as members left or died with few converts to the faith to replace them. By 1920, there were only twelve Shaker communities remaining in the United States. As of 2019, there is only one active Shaker village: Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, in Maine. Consequently, many of the other Shaker settlements are now museums. – Wikipedia
My cousin Tom, a traveling motorcycle mechanic and financial entrepreneur, happened to be camping north of Lexington – Shaker Village is located an hour straight south – and he bought tickets to the James E. Pepper distillery tour down in the city’s industrial district that’s now being revived as a tourist attraction. He’d called several other distilleries, and they were all sold out, so one needs to plan ahead to secure a bourbon tour.
Colonel James E. Pepper (1850-1906), Master Distiller, was a larger-than-life Bourbon Industrialist and flamboyant promoter of his family brand. He was the third generation to produce 'Old Pepper' whiskey, "The Oldest and Best Brand of Whisky made in Kentucky," founded in 1780 during the American Revolution. His namesake distillery in Lexington, Kentucky was at one point the largest whiskey distillery in the United States. -- Distillery web site
Ironically, when the economy crashed in the late 1800s, Pepper lost his business. But his wife stepped in with her own money to save the day by investing in racehorses. My wife thought this was the best part of the tour, and I think it would be interesting to look at how many of these pre-income-tax industrialists would have fared without the brains and inherited cash their wives afforded.
In 1923, the James E. Pepper brand was being marketed to pharmacists and was endorsed by more than 40,000 physicians, commanding a price six times higher than before Prohibition began. In October 1929, as warehoused inventory dwindled, some distilling was allowed to resume at the Stitzel-Weller distillery and was used as a source for the brand's bottling operation. The approaching end of Prohibition brought about a period of heavy investment in large production facilities, and the distillery was purchased around 1934 by Schenley Industries, just as the large-scale operation was able to resume. -- Wikipedia
Waxing the cork by hand. George Pepper Bourbon Distillery, Lexington, Kentucky.
If peace and tranquility, amazing architecture, rich history, and smooth bourbon sound good, then Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky near Lexington is the place to be.
We’ll go back soon and stay as long as it takes until our ears stop ringing.
Very entertaining and historically interesting. Thanks Mike!