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September 8, 2010

Shakertown Village of Pleasant Hill

I've photographed here off and on for over half my life now, I think these past 3 frames were my personal favorites though. At first, I thought I'd tell you a bit about how this building was built as it's quite different from the others, being interesting to me because of the immensely thick limestone walls that came from the Kentucky River as well as the gigantic footprint for a structure in Kentucky at that time. During this trip, we were told of the makeup of the village, where it was communal living with segregation of the men and women but still with further divisions of 'families' based on their perceived degree of commitment. The term 'family' was used to define a group or segment of the village, not a traditional husband/wife/children family as marriage was dissolved when the family joined the society. The family-group that lived in this magnificent house was considered the most religiously devout and the newer converts were kept a considerable distance down the road.

When looking up the history of the building, though, I ran across a passage that said the monk Thomas Merton had written about his visits to the run-down village during the 1950s and 1960s, prior to the renovation and long after the last Shaker had died. If you've followed this journal for very long, you might remember that I quote Merton occasionally and have some shots from the Abbey of Gesthami that is not far away. (here and here). Merton was a celibate monk and quite famous for his writings and also well known as a photographer, even coming to Shakertown to photograph and write about the beauty in the plain architecture and clapboard walls. I have one volume of his journals, so I thought I'd let Merton explain what he saw when he tried to look into this building and others on December 26th, 1959.

Some brief excepts from The Intimate Merton (page 148, 149): 'Only the guest house was open, and at first I found no one there. The marvelous double winding stair going up to the mysterious clarity of the dome on the roof. The empty third floor rooms with names scribbled all over the walls- the usual desecration- quiet sunlight filtering in.....' He went on to say 'All the other houses are locked up. There is Shaker furniture only in the center family house. I tried to get in it, and a gloomy old man living in the back told me curtly 'it was locked up.' He was putting water in a bucket from a pump in the yard.'

'The empty fields, the big trees- how I would love to explore those houses and listen to that silence. In spite of the general decay and despair, there is joy and simplicity there still.'