Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill

Historical Marker #1481 in Mercer County recognizes the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.

The Society of Believers, more commonly known as the Shakers, immigrated to America from England in 1774 to avoid religious persecution. By the early nineteenth century, they had founded two thriving communities in Kentucky.

The settlement that was established at Pleasant Hill, near Harrodsburg, flourished thanks to its productive community members and the site's location in the fertile Bluegrass Region. The Shakers grew many crops and raised high quality livestock, both of which they used for their own consumption and sold along with surplus hand-crafted items.

The years immediately before the Civil War proved to be difficult for maintaining membership in the celibate Shaker community. It was challenging to recruit adult members, and young orphans brought into the community often left when they came of age. The Civil War only added to the difficulties. With the start of the war, their principal market of New Orleans was inaccessible. In addition, the Shakers were pacifists so they were sometimes viewed critically by their Unionist and secessionist neighbors. Furthermore, the Shakers did not believe in slavery, which was an established institution in Kentucky.

The Battle of Perryville, Kentucky's largest Civil War battle, was fought on October 8, 1862, just seventeen miles from Pleasant Hill. Both Union and Confederate armies took advantage of the Shakers' pacifist nature. Their belief in serving those who were in need wiped out the community's resources when thousands of troops arrived on their doorstep. While no structures were damaged, the presence of the soldiers took a toll on the community's supply of food, crops and livestock. Shaker sympathy for the injured showed in their efforts to care for the Perryville wounded left in Harrodsburg. Many of the sick were left behind in their community as the armies moved away, and one soldier from Georgia who died at Pleasant Hill was buried in the community cemetery. In the last two years of the war guerillas often raided Pleasant Hill and made life even more difficult for the Shaker members.

Combined with the losses incurred during the Civil War, the Shakers were reluctant to join the industrial movement that spread across the United States after the conflict. Their way of life - agriculture and useful crafts - were now produced large-scale and on a global market. By 1910, only a handful of Shakers still lived at Pleasant Hill. The last-surviving member died in 1923, thus ending the community.

Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill is open to the public as a museum complex.