The Shakers came to South Union in 1807 and were here until 1922. They kept journals of their activities and from these journals, we can catch a glimpse of the history of their daily lives, their belief in work and worship, their inventions and contributions, the birth of the seed industry, textile production and what it was like to live during that period of time. A visit to this wonderful historic site takes one back in time and perhaps gives a better understanding of the challenges facing the Shakers.
Perhaps the most interesting piece of history here at the Shaker Museum at South Union is the Civil War period, 1861-1864. The Shaker journals tell us how hard it was for the Shakers. Even though they did not fight, their losses were great. We offer excerpts from our journals for sale in our gift shop and these make wonderful gifts for anyone interested in history. Here is a sample of some of the entries in these journals:
- March 1861—Great excitement about these times throughout the Southern country, about the election of one Abraham Lincoln of Illinois to fill the chair of the United States at the expiration of the term of James Buchanan.
- November 1, 1861—The Western part of Kentucky is now under the control of the Rebels.
- January 22, 1862—Scots Cavalry regiment called and expect to camp in our lots near the Office for some days. We were ordered to furnish 600 pounds of bread. There being no chance to get off, the Sisters undertook to furnish it which was completed by 3 o’clock next A.M. Poor Sisters, no sleeping done that night.
- May 30, 1862—About 400 Federal Cavalry marched up in order this morning for breakfast.
- November 8, 1862—Some rebels passed through here today 7 in number. A squad of Federals took their track but failed to find them.
- March 7, 1863—Soldiers are here, a good many squads now scouring the country taking all the violent Rebels they can find.
- June 10, 1863—110 cavalry of the 22nd Indiana passed here today going West. They had with them 6 12-pound parrot cannons. They and their caissons required 96 horses to draw them.
- Letter written and signed by J. N. Rankin and H. L. Eades to the President—To The Honorable Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America Kind Friend. —asking the President to exempt the Shakers from fighting in the Civil War.
South Union today is more than just a memory. It is a place to visit and learn firsthand about the Shaker way of life. Several of the original buildings have been restored and now house a fine museum of Shaker folklife and material culture, a unique gift shop, and event venue. While visiting the Shaker Museum, you will have an opportunity to see beautiful artifacts such as homespun blankets, coverlets, kerosene lamps, ironstone, butter churns, oval boxes, and Shaker furniture. These artifacts tell so much about the day-to-day lives of the Shakers here at South Union, and the “world’s” people during that period of time. Each of our exhibits is filled with these lovely artifacts that take you back to the simplicity of the times. This Shaker community was established by the Shakers in 1807 and closed in 1922. We invite you to explore our web site and then plan your visit to this western-most of the Shaker communities. To find the best times to visit, take a look at the special events we have throughout the year. The South Union Shaker Village was established as an independent, non-profit, educational institution, its purpose being:
- To preserve and maintain the site of the Shaker Society which once existed at South Union.
- To protect its buildings, its landscape, and its folklife and material culture.
- To use the buildings and grounds to further the interest of the public in historic preservation and Shaker history.
- To sponsor continuing programs of an educational and cultural nature.