Despite having lived in Kentucky for 30 years, I’ve never visited the South Union Shaker Village in Logan County, Kentucky. I’ve driven past it more than 100 times – easy. But when Megan and I were headed to Nashville last week, I resolved to tap the brakes, turn off I-65 and visit the colony.
Like the other Shaker sites in Kentucky and Ohio, the South Union Shaker Village doesn’t receive the attention of the East Coast colonies. And that’s too bad. These western colonies are filled with gorgeous architecture and beautiful furniture.
All that remains of the South Union Village are a handful of buildings, but the site’s founders and conservators have managed to collect an impressive number of furniture pieces (especially firewood boxes) and display them in a restored environment.
If you are ever in Western Kentucky, you should definitely stop for a few hours to visit the village.
The trip reminded me that Megan had been working on a book about the Western Shakers (I’ve been helping with the photography) that came to a stop when the pandemic closed up all the museums and access to private collections. I hope this visit will help rekindle our efforts to shine a light on all the amazing Shaker furniture and buildings that have been mostly ignored by people in the wider world.
The short video shows some of the highlights from our visit.
— Christopher Schwarz
38 thoughts on “The Forgotten Western Shakers”
I finally visited the Skaker Village in Enfield New Hampshire this weekend. It’s on the Vermont border, and really isn’t on the way to anything, so I was happy to finally see it. I used the excuse of a basket making class — I had never woven a basket, either.
I plan to make the trip to the western Shaker communities some day. Sooner, perhaps, if there were a good book to heighten my interest . . . Of course, I’d want to make my Dutch tool chest first.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I haven’t been able to leave comments while logged in to WordPress for a few days now. If I log out of WordPress and manually input my name and email I can post a comment. Is this just me, a browser issue, or something else that’s known?
That’s not good. We haven’t changed any settings on the blog for months.
It’s working fine for me. If anyone else is experiencing problems, please let us know – here or through firstname.lastname@example.org
I just tried a different browser, and got the same result : Error: Please fill the required fields.
I tried posting a response on Miss Fitz’s blog, and it worked just fine. I’m posting this while logged out of WordPress, and manually entering my name and email.
If it matters, I’m on Android, using Chrom and Firefox. Everything is updated.
I’ll monkey with the settings this afternoon
Ignore me if I’m a pest. I just had the same issue, and then logged out of WordPress, right below the comment, then logged back in, and it posted.
Then this comment didn’t post, as before. Apparently I need to log out and back in for each comment.
It sounds like you’re having a problem with your cookies. If you delete all your WordPress cookies the problem might resolve itself. Just a guess
I grew up just down the road from Hancock Village and never stopped. If I ever get back there, it’s on my must see list.
Is Megan also finishing her book on Dutch Tool Chests? I’m building one this winter and would love to have the book first!
Chris and Megan, thank you for taking time to visit S. Union and for this post! The furniture collection at S. Union is some of the finest examples of Western Shaker furniture anywhere that I’m aware of. The Western Shakers are largely ignored, and this is very sad and a shame. Chris, thank you again for this post. Tommy Hein is a personal friend of mine, and the director of S. Union and he has spent his life working tirelessly to raise money, restore and draw attention to this site. If you did not get an opportunity to meet and talk with him, it would be worthwhile for you and Megan to do so. My friend Joe Grittani and I volunteered and worked for many years at another western site, White Water Shaker Village. This site is N. and W of Cincinnati in Hamilton County. It’s another fascinating Shaker site on the way to nowhere. The Village is owned by Hamilton County Park District and – The Friends of White Water Shaker Village – have led and volunteered to complete the monumental task of restoring the remaining buildings. Work stopped many years ago due to a lack of funding. Also, this volunteer got too old to complete the work required to open the site. Recently there has been some renewed interest and activity in resuming work on the only remaining brick Meeting House and the other buildings at this site. The only other brick Meeting House was at S. Union. It was torn down many years ago. Nothing would bring more satisfaction to myself and Joe than being able to see the Meeting House and the other buildings at the White Water N. Family site completed! The years of inactivity at White Water are very disappointing for me personally. Chris and Megan, I would be very remiss if I did not give a heartfelt thank you for all you did while employed at Pop Wood Magazine to help with this project!
Sorry to hear the Harrison project stalled. The museum in Lebanon, OH has a nice Shaker collection, too. Chris, does this work on fulfilling your 20% quota of Shaker furniture? When I first got into woodworking (mid ’80s), Shaker was a very popular style and I made a few things, including a few hundred shaker oval boxes.
I love Shaker stuff! There are many Western Shaker pieces that need to be brought to light. I hope Megan’s book will help do this.
We spent considerable time photographing the collection in Lebanon already. Plus another collection at the Otterbein building — remnants of Union Village.
We were trying to get access to some private collections when the world shut down.
Is it true that LAP-VHS Inc. is doing a companion video for the Dutch Tool Chest Book ?
Megan offers one already through the Woodwhisper
awesome ! ..thx
Thank you for the tour, excellent photographs. I never get tired of looking at pictures of Shaker furniture, and hopefully in the not too far future, I will make the trip and visit some of their sites.
Am I correct in saying that that is a chair rail in the first photo
stay safe Ralph
Great video and music, thanks for posting it! Shaker pegs are one of my favorite commodities, and I’ve used them for years, including most recently as a convenient place to hang my antique padlock (which is never actually locked) and two drop-front locking sticks (doubling as winding sticks), while my Dutch tool chest is open and in use. Shaker pegs have a short tapered shouldered-tenon on the end, so it’s reversible to the inside of the DTC into the same hole when the chest is closed and semi-locked. Shaker pegs installed at regular intervals around the walls (like electrical outlets) should be required by code on all residential home constructions. How else are we going to get all of those stick chairs we will be building out of the way when they’re not in use and we’re sweeping our wood floors with our home-made straw brooms? I’m ashamed to admit though I’ve always bought my shaker pegs at the tool store, because I don’t own a lathe.
Hope you made it into the Trustees’ building to see the historically accurate chrome yellow floors. I’d attach a photo if only I knew how!
I’ve been trying to reproduce that chrome yellow, using milk paints. I haven’t had any luck yet.
I just went back to the video and viewed the first two pictures showing the chrome yellow floors. Duh.
My extended family is all in Logan County. Good to know when I visit again that there’s something else around there that’s not my cousin’s BBQ. (thought my cousin’s BBQ is worth the trip on its own)
And the lovely music is by?
Ola Belle Reed
Thanks for the video.
The arched trim over the clock, and over the kitchen oven area, are very distinct. I can’t recall any other photos of Shaker compounds that had that feature in the finish carpentry. (Or the inset in the wall for the clock, for that matter.) I’m not about to go digging through my books to double-check, but that’s striking work.
I may have to make a mini-inset at home for one of my old clocks…
Please do continue your project on the western Shakers. It’s been decades, but the memories of my visits there are vivid. More folks should make the journey.
Nice Bluegrass music with the Western Shaker video. Who is the artist/ band please. Thanks.
Ola Belle Reed. “I’ve Endured” — a classic.
South Union Shaker Village is a gem. Less touristed than their northern brethren in Pleasant Hill, South Union is a tranquil place to wander and ponder craftsmanship and the fate of civilizations. The Kentucky Museum at Western Kentucky University, is another worthy detour on your way to Nashville. It’s got several well-curated exhibits of KY folk culture. Check out the tribute to America’s original road Foodie, Mr. Duncan Hines. The Museum also has an eclectic furniture collection that includes several vernacular pieces. I buy nearly all my lumber from an Amish gentleman in neighboring Allen county. Sadly, I’ve yet to witness his saw powered by as many as eight horses! Many reasons to get off I-65 and explore “western” Kentucky. Let me know next time you and Megan are passing by!
Whitewater, another Shaker settlement somewhere in SW Ohio. Can you or Megan share anything about it?
What information are you looking for?
We have written tons about White Water. It is in our backyard. I think some of the information is on this blog. And there is a lot more on the blog at Popular Woodworking magazine
Research of my ancestor John Crouse who fled Germany to Philadelphia arrived in in Summer of 1751 with his wife and 7 year old daughter “Nancy” . They built a flour mill and distillery in western Maryland (at Miller Falls, MD) and later this grown daughter was said to have moved to Whitewater in the Ohio portion of the Northwest Territory. Thanks for the clews.
Warren, go to: friendswhitewatershakervillage.com
Thank you for the advice/.
Those firewood boxes are lovely – and maybe a small business for somebody, home heating prices being what they are. Dovetailed or nailed anyone? Both?
Reach out to Rich Spence – email@example.com – possibly he can help locate your relative. Hes the president of FWWSV and a friend.
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