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Ahead of their time

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South Union Shaker Village offers a look at the simple, quiet way of life embraced by a group known as the Shakers during the 19th and 20th centuries. Originating in England when a small sect branched off from the Quakers, the Shakers came to America through the spiritual leadership of Mother Ann Lee.

“The Shakers were a communal religious organization; they considered themselves a Protestant denomination,” explains Tommy Hines, executive director of South Union Shaker Village in Auburn. “They lived communally, which means they shared everything alike. They were also celibate.”

Hines, who lives in Woodbury in Butler County and is a Warren RECC member, says Shakers believed a relationship with God should be a priority and that spouses and children would detract from that. The Shakers knew that this lifestyle was not for everyone, but just for those who were willing to commit to a sacrificial life.

The movement grew and soon there were 19 Shaker communities in America.

[pullquote cite=”Tommy Hines” type=”left”]”South Union was started in 1807 and grew very quickly with lots of converts, and they built buildings and industries and established quite an influential community in our part of the state.”[/pullquote]

Shakers believed work was worship and dedicated themselves to excelling at whatever they did, whether it was planting crops and designing buildings, or making furniture and clothes. They’re known for their craftsmanship and were technologically progressive, inventing many items still used today, like the flat broom and the circular saw. They were also ahead of their time regarding equality of the sexes and the races.

“The Shakers believed that black and white members should live side by side in their communal dormitories,” notes Hines, adding that both men and women played important roles in the Shaker community. “An African-American woman at South Union was in charge of the finances in the community…in the 19th century.”

The history of the Shakers at South Union is showcased in a new book by David Toczko, South Union Shaker Village. The Kentucky photojournalist says he’s fascinated by their way of life.

“It’s my passion, the history, the architecture, the whole story about the Shakers. They were very intelligent, just their way of life, their way of approaching problems,” Toczko says.

His book is the first to focus solely on South Union Shaker Village, and features more than 250 color images showcasing its historic structures, lifestyle, architecture, culture, and scenic beauty.

“I wanted to try and tell the story of the Shakers through the photographs,” he says, “but I also wanted to document what South Union looked like, and hopefully entice people to visit.”

South Union closed its doors in 1922. Today there is only one active Shaker community left in the United States, with just a few remaining members. Brother Arnold Hadd from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine, wrote the forward for Toczko’s book. South Union Shaker Village is $39.95 and available at area bookstores, online, at the gift shop at South Union Shaker Village, and directly from the author’s Web site at

South Union Shaker Village
850 Shaker Museum Road, Auburn, (270) 542-4167 or (800) 811-8379,
South Union is 10 miles west of Bowling Green, just off U.S. Highway 68/80.

Tours year-round, except on Mondays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Winter tours (December 1 through February 28) are Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Central Time. Regular season tours are Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $8 adults, $4 for children ages 6-12.

Group tours are available on request, and special events are held throughout the year highlighting the Shakers’ history and way of life. Those events include seminars and lectures, rotating exhibits, demonstrations, specially prepared historical meals, and more. The historic site also features a gift shop.

Shaker Tavern
You can stay at the Shaker Tavern Bed and Breakfast, 396 South Union Road, Auburn. Built in 1869 as a business venture, the Shaker Tavern was designed as a hotel for “people of the world.” It differs from the Shakers’ more simple way of life, with unique architectural features, grand columned façade, and ornate staircase. It catered to Victorian-era railroad travelers who stopped at South Union.

For reservations and information, call (270) 542-6801 or (800) 929-8701 or go to and click on Shaker Tavern.

Photos: David Toczko

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