This Shaker village is worth a detour

[Kelly Kazek] Do you know much about Shakers? Although they lived simply, they aren’t the same as the Quakers, Amish and Mennonites. On our trip to Kentucky earlier this year, Sweetums and I passed a sign near Auburn, Ky., about 15 miles north of Tennessee saying “South Union Shaker Village” and, of course, we had to detour.

We soon came to a grouping of quaint brick buildings and barns in a beautiful and peaceful setting away from the trappings of contemporary life.

Shakers were members of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, who created a Utopian society to live separately from others. According to Atlas Obscura, “They came to be known as Shakers from their seemingly chaotic worship services, full of dancing, spinning, twitching, and boisterous singing.”

At one time, numerous Shaker villages dotted Kentucky, and South Union at its height had 349 members and 200 buildings on 6,000 acres.


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I learned the village was self-sustaining – members grew vegetable and fruit crops, raised livestock and built furniture. It’s surprising this group lived there from only 1807-1922 because its members were far advanced of other pioneer settlers. They were the first to have a steam engine, gasoline pump, sewing machines, lightning rods, running water in kitchens and corn shellers. By the early 1900s, they had indoor bathrooms, a village telephone and a motor car.

Visitors can tour several restored buildings at the site, including an 1875 grain barn, an 1836 Smoke and Milk House and several workshops. The 40-room 1824 Centre House, where group members lived, is now a museum with one of the largest collections of Shaker furniture in the country. A gift shop sells Shaker-type goods. I brought home the cherry preserves. Yum.

A short way from the village is the Shaker Hotel and Tavern. It was built in 1869 after the Louisville and Nashville Railroad obtained permission from Shakers to build the line on their land.

South Union Shakertown Historic District is located on US Highway 68 in South Union, Ky. Open for tours March 1-November 30, except Thanksgiving. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays. For more information call 1-800-811-8379 or visit the website.





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