Shaker Museum
396 South Union Road

South Union, KY

April 28, 2002

As we travel we have encountered many different types of religions. By far, one of the strangest we have found has been the Shaker Religion. The Shakers were a communal religious organization that flourished in America during the 19th century. Their ideals of simplicity and perfection, not unlike those of the Amish, produced a legacy of unparalleled craftsmanship and created for them a reputation of honesty, humility and dedication to God. The religious beliefs of the Shakers set them apart from mainstream America. Their charismatic founder, Ann Lee, established a theology that eventually included principles of celibacy, communal ownership of property, public confession of sin and withdrawal from "worldly" society. They were originally founded as the Gasper Society of United Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. However, a dance-like ritual performed as part of their worship service gained them the derogatory title "Shakers" - - a name they later came to accept. South Union was one of 24 villages established by the Shakers. During the village's 115 year history, the Shakers acquired and worked 6,000 acres of farmland, constructed over 200 buildings and maintained industries for which they gained a national reputation. South Union garden seed, fruit preserves, brooms, hats, bonnets, baskets, rugs, linen and silk were marketed to customers in the south from Nashville to New Orleans. Their peak membership was 350, and their most prosperous period was from 1840-1860.The Shakers of South Union created a unique material culture, combining the simplicity in design mandated by Shaker leaders with the regional characteristics brought into the community by converts steeped in southern tradition. During the Civil War the Shakers were disdained by their neighbors for their pacifist attitude and the fact that they refused to side with either the North or South. Their community was badly depleted of goods needed to subside due to the looting of the soldiers that passed through. Although the Shakers were more than happy to help their fellow man, the soldiers put a terrible strain on their resources and more times than not, would repay the kindness of the Shakers by destroying their crops, buildings, or livestock.Today, there is still one active Shaker community located at Sabbathday Lake, Maine. Even though the Shakers left South Union over 80 years ago, their legacy lives on through the things they left behind. The Shaker Museum at South Union is dedicated to preserving that legacy. As well as their own living quarters the Shakers built the Shaker Tavern in 1869 as a business venture. This was intended as a hotel for the "people of the world." For more than 30 years the Shaker Tavern maintained a thriving business, catering to the Victorian railroad travelers who stopped at South Union. Today the Shaker Tavern is open once again to the public for overnight accommodations. A dedication to Shaker goodness combines with the "worldly" Victorian atmosphere to provide a unique bed and breakfast experience. The Shaker Museum, can be found in the 40-room 1824 Centre House and is filled with scores of original artifacts exemplifying the Shakers' fine craftsmanship. Oval boxes, baskets, Shaker silk and linen, early wooden tools as well as trestle tables, benches, chairs and other furnishings display the diversity of shaker genius. The architecture of the Centre House is pure Shaker; its double room doors and staircases illustrate the Shaker practice of separating the sexes. Multi-drawer built-in cabinets and peg strips along the walls emphasize the Shaker principles of order and cleanliness. Transoms over the retiring room doors allow for good air circulation, one of the essentials of good health. We learned that although the religion required celibacy, one of the ways in which the Shakers would acquire new members was by adopting orphans from the county homes. They would also take in families who were willing to agree to live in a celibate manner. Judging by the furniture and buildings that are still standing it was obvious that the Shakers took great pride in their workmanship, unlike many items made today which were created with the idea that when you were done you could simply "throw it away", Shaker items were designed and created to be used for a long period of time. The museum gave me an insight into a people and a way of life that has long since passed, but has left an imprint in the sands of time.

If you would like to find out more about the Shaker Museum check out their website at: .

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