Kentucky: a road trip through the state = Part 48 - Orlando / Florida Guide
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The History of Pleasant Hill
On New Year’s Day in 1805 three Shaker missionaries, John Meacham, Issachar Bates and Benjamin Seth Youngs, left the Mount Lebanon community in New York and started to walk towards Kentucky. It was in August of the same year that they came across three local inhabitants who were willing to listen to their message. They were Elisha Thomas, Samuel Banta and Henry Banta. These three people became the first Kentucky Shaker converts. It did not take long before they all began moving to Elisha Thomas’ 140-acre Mercer County farm. By the end of December the next year they had become a group of 44 people and they all signed the first family covenant. Two years later they moved to a nearby hilltop which they called Pleasant Hill.
The Pleasant Hill Shakers were really just hardworking farmers. Most were either first or second generation descendants of the pioneers who had settled along Kentucky River frontier in the early 1800s. They knew how to overcoming hardships by using hard work, ingenuity and determination. The community went from strength to strength and within 20 years there were 491 Shakers at Pleasant Hill. They had also increased the amount of land they owned to approximately 4, 500 acres. Over the next 100 years the community built more than 260 structures of all kinds on their land. This included a municipal water system which was one of the earliest such systems in Kentucky.
By the early 1800’s they were regularly producing more than the community needed. These surpluses of brooms, preserves, packaged seeds and other products were used to make regular trading trips to New Orleans via the Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Their belief in conservation, excellence and productivity led them to improve the quality of their own livestock by importing bloodstock. They purchased a bull from England in conjunction with Henry Clay and owned one of America’s largest herds of registered Durham Shorthorn cattle. At this point Pleasant Hill became a leading agricultural experimental station.
Had the Civil War not began who knows how things may have turned out. The community was in the wrong place as part of a border state where locals were divided over the issues of secession and slavery. The Shakers believed in emancipation of the slaves, but as pacifists, they refused to bear arms. In fact it finished up with both sides having hostile views of them The Federal states did not understand their pacifist views and the Secessionists wondered why they offered African-Americans full brotherhood in their community.
After the Civil War had finished and the economy improved the community was stable but had no real leadership. In 1886 the community was $14, 000 in debt and comprised of the very young and very old with new converts often being widowed women with small children. This situation meant that Pleasant Hill had to close its doors as an active religious society in 1910. The 12 members left deeded their last 1, 800 acres to a local merchant with an agreement that he would care for them until their death. The last Shaker of the group, Sister Mary Settles, died in 1923 and everything passed into private hands. Pleasant Hill became a small country town called “Shakertown” until in 1961, a non-profit organization, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, was founded to restore the property.
The next section continues in part 49.
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