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Auburn, Kentucky

South Union Shaker Village

The remains of this visionary community can still be found much as it was a century ago. 

A Shaker colony settled it roots in southwestern Kentucky for over 100 years, until dwindling resources and deserting Believers led to its sale in 1922. Of the over 200 buildings raised, only nine remain to tell their story.

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, the “Shakers,” founded the South Union Colony in 1807. Their core beliefs centered on hard work, gender and racial equality, pacifism, and—perhaps the Shakers’ undoing— celibacy.

They came to be known as Shakers from their seemingly chaotic worship services, full of dancing, spinning, twitching, and boisterous singing. Through hard work they kept a prosperous village, supported by an economy of agricultural and furniture sales. Along with their much sought-after tables, chairs, boxes and textiles, the Shakers developed many technological innovations—the circular saw, the flat broom, and even the clothespin – all to make their work more efficient. Rarities for the time, they even had indoor plumbing and central heating in many buildings.

The Shakers at Auburn found themselves at odds with both sides during the Civil War, with Union supporters distrusting them for being among the first conscientious objectors, and Confederates for their views of racial equality. And being in the hotly contested state of Kentucky, the Colony was at the mercy of both sides. To keep the village from being taken over or ransacked, they were forced to feed and house regiments from both the Blue and the Gray.

After the Civil War, the Colony never fully recovered, and in 1922 most of the village and its lands were sold to farmers and speculators. Nine of the original buildings remain, with the large four-story Centre House showcasing many exhibits of Shaker life, and 200 years of its history.

Know Before You Go

Auburn is in southern Kentucky, about 12 miles southwest of Bowling Green and 15 miles north of the Tennessee border. Shaker Museum Road is just about a mile off of Rt 68, east of downtown.

The Shaker Village is open for tours all year (closed Mondays and holidays). Hours are 9am to 5pm, and in winter (December 1 to Feb. 28) 10am to 4pm. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for students and kids 6 to 12, and under 6 are free.

There are special events throughout the year (baking, baskets, markets, Farm Day...), so check the website for full details.