December / 2000
On the Road

by: Brook and Barbara Elliott

Weekend Wanderings
Shaker Christmas

December! Christmas carols blare from every storefront. One party follows another-the office get-together, and visiting family, and over to friends' for eggnog. The shops get more crowded every day: people jostling, and pushing, and grabbing what's on the shelves.

Come December, we try to get away from the frantic pace of the holidays, if only for a couple of days. We like to find a quieter, gentler place, where we can reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, and rediscover ourselves. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill provides just such an island of serenity.

The Shakers were a 19th-century group of religious zealots who developed a society based on the tenets of celibate purity, confession of sins, separation from the world, and community of goods. They developed more than a score of colonies in the United States, two of them right here in Kentucky, one at Pleasant Hill, near Harrodsburg, the other in South Union.

Pleasant Hill was founded in 1805 as a result of the Great Revival held in Kentucky. By 1830 it had grown to nearly 500 inhabitants, and was a prosperous, self-sustaining community. After the War Between the States, the village declined. By 1910 only 12 Shakers remained. The last of them died in 1923.

The buildings and grounds changed hands several times after that, until 1961, when a group was organized to preserve the remaining Shaker structures and farmland. This effort returned the village to its 19th-century appearance. Continuing restoration and education work has turned the village into a living-history museum, with costumed interpreters, craftspeople, and farm workers showing visitors what Shaker life was all about.

The Shaker society was divided into five communal families, each numbering from 50 to 100 members. Semi-autonomous units, each family had its own dwelling, shops, barns, fields, and orchards. Restored structures from the West Family, Centre Family, and East Family-including their dwellings and some outbuildings-line the main street of the village, in addition to Society buildings, such as the Meeting House and Trustees' Office. Separated by some distance is the North Lot Dwelling, where converts were placed. They lived here for a trial period and could withdraw at any time if they found the lifestyle too difficult.

Many of the buildings are set up the way they would have been when the village thrived. Take the West Family dwelling, for instance. This unit was an "aged family," set apart so that they might engage in tasks requiring less physical energy, such as preserve making. In fact, the preserve shop still survives. Built in 1859, the West Family sisters, that year, put up 4,442 jars of sweetmeats. Also nearby is the dry house, where the sisters dried barrels of apples and other fruits from the orchards.

Preserves were a major item of trade for the Shakers. Spiritually, they believed in separation from the world. But on a practical level, trade was an important part of their lives. During their flourishing years the sale of flat brooms, preserves, garden seed, and herbs made the Shaker name a hallmark of excellence.

The Shakers brought many innovations to day-to-day tasks. Clothes washing, for instance, was done communally using horse power, and ironing was done with an arrangement of weights and rollers that pressed clothing without the application of heat. At the East Family Wash House, built around 1825, the original cauldrons are still in place, as well as part of the washing apparatus.

You'll find many of the craftspeople are on hand as well. The broommaker's shop is of special importance because one of the many contributions made by the Shakers is the flat broom. Until this innovation, brooms were round, and not nearly as efficient. You can see them being made, using the same tools and materials used in the 19th century. Or you might see pails, buckets, churns, or the world-famous Shaker boxes being made in the Cooper's shop. These, too, were trade items, with as many as 2,000 articles of cooper's ware made each year.

Pleasant Hill is an exceptional living- history museum on many levels. Not the least of these is that lodging and meals are available in museum buildings. Each of the guest rooms (which, by the way, are scattered throughout the complex) is furnished in Shaker-inspired reproduction furniture, and hand-woven rugs and curtains. But they are as modern as tomorrow, with air conditioning, telephones, private baths, and television.

The Trustees' Office dining room offers both Shaker entrées and Kentucky country fare. Dining hours are set as two- or three-seatings, and you must have reservations for a particular seating. It's a good idea to pick your dining time the same time you make room reservations.

During the month of December, a variety of Shaker Village holiday activities is scheduled as follows:

Saturday, December 2: Pleasant Hill Craft Store Open House-large craft store decorated for the holidays, special activities, and visiting craftspeople demonstrating oval box making and hand-turned wooden writing instruments.

Saturday, December 2 & 9: Shaker Order of Christmas-Christmas music concerts at 1, 2, and 3 p.m.; Pleasant Hill Singers at 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30 p.m. invite visitors to sing and decorate the tree in the Center Family Dwelling.

Saturday, December 9: Community Christmas Caroling in the Village-Caroling along the lantern-lit village road at 7:00 p.m. Refreshments will be served. In the Shaker spirit, canned goods for the less fortunate are the price of admission.

Monday-Saturday, December 1-30: Holiday Tea, 2-4 p.m., reservations advised.

December 26-31: The Simple Gifts of Christmas-guided tours focus on Shaker life and Christmas customs at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Shaker Christmas music performances at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m.; and showings of "The Shakers," narrated by Ben Kingsley, at 2:30 p.m., fee, (800) 734-5611.

For information, contact: Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, 3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg, KY 40330, (859) 734-5411 locally, or (800) 734-5611 outside the area.

Day Trips & Short Stops
Dinsmore Homestead

Kentucky is dotted with house museums, restored residences, and farmsteads showing the lifestyle of particular families. While interesting to visit, they were usually homes of well-to-do or famous Kentuckians and do not show us how "regular" folks lived.

The Dinsmore Homestead, near Burlington, is an exception. The Dinsmores were not particularly notable, nor were they well-to-do. They were just a farm family that, according to museum director Carol Chamberlain, "would have been middle class by today's standards." Everything in the main house and outbuildings belonged to the family. Indeed, Julia Dinsmore lived in the house from the time it was built, in 1842 until she died in 1926. Thus, a visit to the homestead provides a looking glass into the way we really were.

James and Martha Dinsmore moved from their sugar plantation in Louisiana to Boone County in 1839, purchasing about 700 acres. One ambition was to raise grapes for wine, and eventually about four acres of vineyard was established. A blight wiped these out, however, about the time of the Civil War, and James planted purple osier willows instead, and established a successful basket making industry that eventually employed 20 people.

When James died in 1872, daughter Julia inherited the farm, and ran it until her death. After that there were no full-time residents. Family members did, however, use it as a summer vacation home.

Several buildings remain of the original farmstead. In addition to the main house-and all the original furnishings-there are two carriage houses, with antique vehicles still in them. Next to the big house is a log cabin that predates the Dinsmore purchase. This was used as a kitchen until 1916, when a small wing was added to the main house. At that time, a kitchen was installed inside, and indoor plumbing was added for the first time. The cabin is still used, from time to time, for demonstrations of hearth cooking.

Nearby is the Roseberry House, which serves as museum headquarters. Originally part of a row of special purpose buildings, it was converted to lodging for Harry and Suzie Roseberry, a couple who had come up from Louisiana, and who worked for the Dinsmore family all their lives. The center portion of the building had been a slaughterhouse.

Although you can visit the property anytime, the main house can only be seen as part of a guided tour. You can photograph to your heart's content outside, but no cameras are permitted inside the main house. Tours are offered Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from 1-5 p.m., on the hour.

For information, contact: Dinsmore Homestead Foundation, P.O. Box 453, Burlington, KY 41005, (859) 586-6117.

Outdoor Log
Winter fishing

It always amazes us how many serious fishermen put their rods up once the temperatures drop. The fact is, winter can be one of the most productive fishing times of the year. Not only that, but some species are actually more available now than in the summer.

Take walleye and sauger, for instance. Most of the time they are found very deep, and most fishermen don't bother with them at all. Right now, however, you'll find them in the tailwaters near most dams, especially on the Ohio River, and on main tributaries such as the Kentucky, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers.

There's a misconception that boaters have the best opportunities for these tasty fish. But the fact is, shorebound anglers can do just as well, fishing from the rip-rap that lines the shores.

Leadhead jigs are the best approach, either tipped with a live minnow, or with a small twisty-tail grub. Cast the jig quartering upstream, and let it bounce along the bottom. Set the hook anytime the jig's movement seems different. Often it will have only hung up on a rock or debris. But just as often that slight pause or twitch is all that marks the take of a feeding walleye or sauger.

Winter is the time, too, for really big gamefish. Musky fishing, for instance, comes into its own this time of year. The big water wolves come out of the deep into shallow water during the winter months and tend to congregate around creek mouths.

Cave Run Lake remains our favorite musky water. And there is surprisingly little fishing pressure this time of year, so you won't have to fight the crowds that gather in the fall and spring.

Large crankbaits and jerkbaits are the way to go. And be sure to use a rod with lots of backbone. Wimpy tackle won't make it when a trophy musky swallows your bait.

Striped bass are another cold-water fish. And Lake Cumberland is the place to find them. Indeed, many authorities believe the next world record will come from Cumberland.

Used to be that stripers came up high during the winter. But since the forage base changed to alewives, they stay deeper, where the baitfish are. Best bet is to troll, using live shad, setting up a cross-section of rigs so you cover the water column from about 15 feet deep to as much as 90. Your depth finder will help determine where the fish are. Look for the schools of baitfish, and you'll find the stripers with them.

For information, contact: Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, #1 Game Farm Road, Frankfort, KY 40601, (800) 858-1549.

Brook and Barbara Elliott are freelance writers and public relations consultants. They write primarily about travel and outdoor recreation, and help publicize businesses in those industries.