The first white cemetary, across the street from the original fort.
View from the front of the new fort.
My motivational riding partner 🙂
Unofficially the largest orange-osage tree in the country (a split makes it unofficial)
George Rogers Clark Memorial
I guess he did quite a bit in this area too, not just southern Indiana.
The enshrinement of the cabin where Abraham Lincoln’s parents were married.
View of the reconstructed fort from the front
For the weekend of my birthday and Memorial Day I decided I wanted to celebrate with a staycation (after getting my awesome bike!). There are a lot of smaller towns in the area famous for one thing or another. Most kids growing up here had school field trips or early family vacations to these locales, but not being a native, I haven’t been to any of them. I still struggle to remember which direction they are and why they’re known. The first city for a visit of this kind was a quick afternoon in Bardstown a few months ago. I had a blast for the day and it was such a laid back easy trip. The destination this time was Harrodsburg and nearby Shaker Village.
Harrodsburg itself is famous for being the first white settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains (part of the larger Appalachian chain). Times being what they were the settlement was a fort, Fort Harrod, and the city now boasts a replica to roughly 2/3 scale across the street from the original site. The current site also has the enshrined cabin where President Lincoln’s parents were married. The fort was never taken but there is a reenactment of a raid in early June. Although the raid is conducted by Indians, none lived in the area at the time. A large swath of Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio were sacred hunting grounds meaning hunting parties traversed the areas for a few weeks at a time, but no permanent settlements existed. Also non existent were sheep!
The fort did not have sheep simply because sheep cannot swim. They are admittedly hard to tend as they are utterly defenseless, but the settlers made their way to the area by boat. Boat may be a generous term, they were mostly canoes carved out at their point of entry. There are stories that some loaded pack horses couldn’t fit through the mountain pass. Needless to say the settlers arrived with few supplies but they found plenty of resources in the surrounding area.
The surrounding area is now the town of Harrodsburg. There are lots of historic buildings noted for their architecture, especially the Beaumont Inn. The park-like property consists of several buildings with rooms and also a tavern and fine dining restaurant. Our timing didn’t work out to eat there but I’ll keep it on the list. Throughout its history and evolution the property grew and served as a spa for the nearby spring, a school, an orphanage, and several reincarnations of a women’s college. It’s a gorgeous property if you’re looking for somewhere to stay and explore the area it would be high on my list.
The rest of the town didn’t have much to offer. The downtown area had a few antique shops and a small local art council with displays. To optimize the mood of my company I bypassed the antique shops and therefore cannot vouch for their quality but the arts council had a few cool pieces. What I can vouch for is the deliciousness of the Olde Bus Station restaurant. We had a pork tenderloin sandwich and fried catfish with sides of coleslaw for lunch and it was hands down some of the best I’ve ever had. They have ice cream and shakes too! Eating out on the deck/patio was the perfect lunch for the day.
Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill
The next day we spent at Shaker Village, just east of Harrodsburg. The Shakers were a religious movement with roots in pre-Revolutionary New York but other settlements between here and there. Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg was the farthest east. They got their name for the enthusiastic way in which they worshiped, with loud singing, dancing, and sometimes convulsions. The site at Harrodsburg was closed as a religious community in 1910, but the site lived on through incarnations as inns, restaurants, and gas stations. It was reopened as its current state in 1961. In fact the main highway between Lexington and Harrodsburg ran smack through the site until something like 1965!
The community focused on a simple life, and believed in taking care of the land as much as their own health. As a result they grew their original settlement from 140 acres up to 5,000 acres of property and over 200 buildings. Pleasant Hill was naturally more agriculturally focused than the communities in the north who are more famously known for their furniture. The Shakers of Pleasant Hill were locally known to provide the highest quality seeds in the area as well as jams and preserves.
Their lifestyle was one focused on optimization, routine, and their strict religious beliefs. Perhaps their most controversial belief was that they were living in the millennium, meaning the last 1000 year reign of humanity because Christ had already come and gone. Following this train of thought, they saw no reason to procreate because there would be no inheritance for families. To encourage this sentiment men and women were rigidly separated, and yet treated as equals, and families ties were dissolved when entering the community. Instead there were dormitories of a sort on site that housed “families” akin to houses of Hogwarts. The dorms were massive houses that contained both sexes, but they were restricted to their respective sides of the house. Buildings that both sexes used even have 2 doors so that men and women are always separated. Women ate on one side of the dining room, men on the other. An elder/eldress and deacon/deaconess resided on each floor to encourage propriety. Men and women could talk to each other, but it was an organized planned event discussing business of the settlement, monitored by elders, and partners were frequently rotated to prevent undue connection. Occasionally connections couldn’t be denied and diaries reveal one person leaving the settlement and a member of the opposite sex soon following. At least they left before they were caught, right?
Both sexes lived in each family house, but each house was a miniature village in its own right with independent orchards, kitchens, chicken coops, wash houses, etc. To maintain the families, lives were run like clockwork with efficiency always at the forefront. Meals were eaten in silence to discourage lingering so that everyone could rotate through the dining rooms in time. Cabinets were often built into the walls or shaped to exactly fit behind an open door, covered cauldrons were reminiscent of crockpots, and kitchens had running water- the first west of the Allegheny mountains and before the White House. Air conditioning was long in coming but the houses were built with central staircases that went straight up to a dormer in the roof. The dormer window could be opened to allow the riding hot air to escape. Ceilings of rooms used for worship or discussions were vaulted to maximize acoustics. Windows were placed directly across from other windows and doors to provide cross circulation of breezes and wind. Walls were built several feet thick to not only support the massive structure but to also regulate the temperatures. Nearly everything was hung on a peg so that floors could regularly be swept. Chairs were hung upside down so that road dust from the open doors (remember the main highway traveled straight down the middle of the town) would settle on the bottom, leaving a clean seat for your bottom!
Generally the Shakers are famous for their Spartan plain lifestyle. When building the Center Family House the “mother colony” denied the request for a front porch, an essential piece of southern architecture, because “there is no time for sitting.” Pillars inspired by the old capital building in Frankfort had been bought in advance and were repurposed in the dining room. Additional flair and inspiration is evidenced in the several interior windows that are fan shaped instead of the traditional square. When the house was built it was the second largest building in the state. It’s freaking huge.
Not only were their homes big, but the doctors also oversaw medicinal gardens the size of several football fields. To prevent rapid spread of illness in what were cozy living conditions (6-8 people per room), those suspected of illness were immediately moved to rooms in the back of the house to provide the maximum distance from the general population. The doctors also had more formal offices and quarters in their own buildings and eventually even had a dentist.
All the careful consideration given to the design of every aspect of life and the dedicated preservation of the land made my little hippie engineering heart so happy. I could have literally skipped around all day. I can imagine that a lot of “backwards” scientists and tinkerers would have found the Shaker lifestyle a welcome refuge and place to safely express revolutionary ideas. Visitors from “The World” stayed separate from the Shakers in a building built for business interactions called “The World” so that the religious community could remain pure of outside influences. If one wished to join to community you were introduced to the lifestyle in a family house of other interested people and given a trial period of several weeks to make a decision. We passed the house on our way to a trai lhead and it was quite a bit farther than the other family houses… I suspect the community still wanted distance until members were fully committed.
Much is known about the Shakers from their vigilant business like journaling about their daily activities. Being able to walk through the restored grounds and know how truly it was restored was awesome. Even the floors and paints are original! The floors would have been covered in rag rugs, but left naturally bare and unstained you’d never realize how old they were. Even awesomer is the site’s dedication to community education and involvement. There are all kinds of activities going on throughout the day, month, and year. Trails are free, river access is cheap, and it’s a stunning area. Side note: we took the palisades river boat tour, and I don’t think it was worth the $20 a piece. A quick hour ride up the river, general commentary on wildlife and average views of the rocks due to tree coverage. Nothing spectacular. I’d easily get an annual pass if I lived just a little closer. Heck, I might next summer anyway. This summer I’m still bopping around too much on weekends, so until the next weekend adventure I will leave you here!