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Rock Fences of the Bluegrass

Rock Fences of the Bluegrass

Carolyn Murray-Wooley
Karl Raitz
Color Photographs by Ron Garrison
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Rock Fences of the Bluegrass
    Book Description:

    Gray rock fences built of ancient limestone are hallmarks of Kentucky's Bluegrass landscape. Why did Kentucky farmers turn to rock as fence-building material when most had earlier used hardwood rails? Who were the masons responsible for Kentucky's lovely rock fences and what are the different rock forms used in this region?

    In this generously illustrated book, Carolyn Murray-Wooley and Karl Raitz address those questions and explore the background of Kentucky's rock fences, the talent and skill of the fence masons, and the Irish and Scottish models they followed in their work. They also correct inaccurate popular perceptions about the fences and use census data and archival documents to identify the fence masons and where they worked.

    As the book reveals, the earliest settlers in Kentucky built dry-laid fences around eighteenth-century farmsteads, cemeteries, and mills. Fence building increased dramatically during the nineteenth century so that by the 1880s rock fences lined most roads, bounded pastures and farmyards throughout the Bluegrass. Farmers also built or commissioned rock fences in New England, the Nashville Basin, and the Texas hill country, but the Bluegrass may have had the most extensive collection of quarried rock fences in North America.

    This is the first book-length study on any American fence type. Filled with detailed fence descriptions, an extensive list of masons' names, drawings, photographs, and a helpful glossary, it will appeal to folklorists, historians, geographers, architects, landscape architects, and masons, as well as general readers intrigued by Kentucky's rock fences.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4779-6
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Sponsor’s Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    David L. Morgan

    Kentucky’s thousands of cultural resources form a tangible record of twelve thousand years of history and prehistory. They include archaeological sites such as native American villages and burial mounds, the historic remains of fortifications of our first European settlers, and Civil War earthworks and battlefields. Above ground are structures ranging from individual houses to entire streetscapes of Victorian commercial buildings. These resources combine to form a past and present environment—a cultural landscape—worthy of preservation.

    Preservationists have always made decisions about which cultural resources should remain for future generations, but these decisions are becoming even more difficult. No longer...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    While observers of the American countryside may view rocks as obstacles, hindrances, or enemies, as the quote above implies, in the Kentucky Bluegrass, rocks are a blessing. Ancient limestones yielded the region’s fertile soils that provided the basis for the luxuriant vegetation so admired by both native American Indians and European explorers. These same limestones were, with effort and expense, quarried to provide fence material.

    Two themes guide this study of central Kentucky’s rock fences. First, these fences are a significant part of the state’s distinctive Bluegrass landscape created by the interplay of the physical environment, culture, and technology over...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Landforms, Rock, and Quarrying
    (pp. 7-21)

    Kentucky’s central limestone plain, known for two centuries as the Bluegrass,¹ is not uniform in topography or opportunity but is comprised of three distinctly different subregions, each having a different landscape—the Inner Bluegrass, the Eden Shale hills, and the Outer Bluegrass. The varying characteristics of each subregion had a significant effect upon the way settlers used the land and the structures they built (cf. Mead 1966). Differences in the predominantly limestone bedrock demarcate these subregions. Similarly, the varied bedrocks became material for different fences in each subregion.

    The gently rolling land, deep fertile soil, and lush vegetation of the...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Rock Fence Construction
    (pp. 22-71)

    Like many things people place on the landscape, rock fences seem to be simple structures: rocks piled at the edge of a field to form a barrier that confines stock. Close examination, however, reveals that the fences are complex and employ in subtle ways the physics of friction, angle, and gravity to maintain cohesion and stance.

    Rock fences in Kentucky have few common characteristics with those in New England, another region of America where they are prolific. Although fences in both places are built without mortar (dry-laid) of locally obtained rock, the similarities end there. Even within Kentucky, details of...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Bluegrass Fencing Traditions
    (pp. 72-83)

    The process of building fences to enclose land, demarcate farmyard lots, or line turnpikes was not the straightforward endeavor it may seem. It derived from the farmers’ cultural traditions, the type of agricultural economy they developed, the legal code they adopted, even the values they held. Furthermore, the physical qualities of the farmland—hill slope, soil thickness, and fertility—affected choices of crops and livestock and the availability of fence-building materials. To understand why farmers built rock fences, choosing this fencing material over another, requires that we place these people within the historical and geographical context that affected their decisions...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Origins of Fence Masons
    (pp. 84-107)

    The idea that Kentucky’s rock fences are “slave fences” has arisen relatively recently and is often repeated to tourists and newcomers. Historian Thomas D. Clark, author Samuel B. Cassidy, and restorationist Stanley Kelly, among many others, however, contend that African-American slaves did not build the fences. Older masons who know the origin of their skills and elderly residents knowledgeable about local history maintain that most of the existing nineteenth-century fences were built by Irishmen (Cassidy 1989; Hockensmith 1989; Kelly 1989a; Letton 1989; McClanahan 1989; Niles 1984; Standiford 1989; W.W. Smith 1989; Waugh 1988). U.S. census records and the testimony of...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Brutus Clay’s Auvergne
    (pp. 108-127)

    Few nineteenth-century family farm records survive that provide detailed information on farm establishment and management. One of the most complete collections of personal correspondence and business records for a central Kentucky farm is the Clay Family Papers.¹ The papers document the day-to-day affairs of Green Clay and his son, Brutus J. Clay, of Bourbon County and illustrate the rock fence building process on a large Inner Bluegrass farm. The Irish stonemasons and quarrymen who built many of the region’s antebellum fences are central figures in the records, which also illustrate the process whereby slaves and freedmen “apprenticed” in stonemasonry with...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Change and Legacy
    (pp. 128-150)

    The end of the Civil War brought less change in Kentucky than in the Deep South. After emancipation, some freedmen left their owners’ farms and moved into towns and cities seeking work. Others became day laborers or tenants and lived in hamlets created to house former slaves or in tenant houses on the farms of their new employers (Channing 1977,136-39).

    The farm economy began to change in the Inner Bluegrass, but new building forms and methods of subdividing farms appeared slowly. Large farms were not divided into sharecropper units as in the Cotton Belt (Prunty 1955). Livestock for draft, for...

  12. Color photographs
    (pp. None)
  13. APPENDIX 1: Historic and Contemporary Fence Masons of Central Kentucky
    (pp. 151-185)
  14. APPENDlX 2: Preservation Groups in the United Kingdom
    (pp. 186-187)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 188-198)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 199-202)
  17. Reference List
    (pp. 203-214)
  18. Index
    (pp. 215-220)