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Question about weird zigzag fence foundation found in the woods  RSS feed

 
Deb Stephens
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Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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I'm not sure this is the best place to ask this, but there does not seem to be a forum for fences...

When we first moved to our little homestead about 22 years ago, we found an odd rock foundation in the woods on a slope above our creek. We puzzled over it awhile but then sort of forgot about it until we cut a couple of big trees down there a week or so ago and found it again. The stones were unmistakeably deliberately placed to create a foundation of some sort about a foot high, but what was weird is that they zigzagged from top to bottom of the slope exactly like a split-rail zigzag fence. (About 25 feet or so remaining.) I am assuming that there must have been a fence over this stone foundation, since it is uniform and never more than 12 inches tall, but what I don't understand is why the foundation is a solid line of stone instead of just the usual single large stone where each set of rails would cross at angles. The stones are so low that anything they may have been placed there to keep out could easily just crawl over, because assuming the bottom rail lay directly atop the stones, the first gap would still be quite low to the ground. It really makes no sense -- especially since having that bottom rail lying directly on the stone would make it rot faster in wet weather that if it had air space beneath it. I have racked my brain trying to imagine what possible reason anyone could have for building a stone wall in that shape, and there really isn't one that I can see. Anybody ever hear of a solid zigzag foundation for a rail fence like this -- OR any other possible explanation for a stone zigzag in the middle of the woods? We have actually found old split rail zigzag fences moldering away on other parts of the property as well, but they were supported conventionally with one stone to a corner. This is the only area like this.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Anybody ever hear of a solid zigzag foundation for a rail fence like this -- OR any other possible explanation for a stone zigzag in the middle of the woods?


Hi Deb, et al,

Anytime you have such a structural artifact...we are only certain to a percentage and that can never really be 100% without direct pictorial or literal explanations someplace in the historic records of a region. What I can share from years of helping restore them and studying them in places like "Lincoln Log Cabin State Park" in Illinois (et al) is that "Shadow Stones" are common to a wide belt from the Ozarks all the way to Pennsylvania. Not all "Split Rail" just had big stone. Many became the repository for collected stone in near by fields that followed the pattern of the Split Rail Fence above. After the wood had past with time and/or moved...the "Shadow Stones" remain as a testament to its existence...

especially since having that bottom rail lying directly on the stone would make it rot faster in wet weather that if it had air space beneath it.


Each region has it's subtle differences in style. Some are just a zig-zag of pile small stones and some are more elaborate, with either a true Ashlar or Herring bone lay to the stone. Even an elevation gain of only 200 mm (~8 inch) will extend the lifespan of most "split rail" species of wood a full century before needing replacement...Perhaps even longer. Wood on stone is actually much less likely to facilitate rot than ground contact, as the wood indeed gets wet, yet can rapidly dry out after the wet weather had passed...Much more so than if just resting on or near soil where "splash up" can take place. There is even the habit in some regions of burying the bottom rail in the stones himself there by "stiffening" the fence above. This "ballast stoning" acts like a foundation and anchor to the fence above. This fencing style to...with proper maintenance...can last well over 100 years...Split rails are know to be "generational fences."

Regards,

j
 
Deb Stephens
Posts: 398
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:
Anytime you have such a structural artifact...we are only certain to a percentage and that can never really be 100% without direct pictorial or literal explanations someplace in the historic records of a region. What I can share from years of helping restore them and studying them in places like "Lincoln Log Cabin State Park" in Illinois (et al) is that "Shadow Stones" are common to a wide belt from the Ozarks all the way to Pennsylvania. Not all "Split Rail" just had big stone. Many became the repository for collected stone in near by fields that followed the pattern of the Split Rail Fence above. After the wood had past with time and/or moved...the "Shadow Stones" remain as a testament to its existence...


Yes, I have read about these so-called "shadow stones", but in this particular example, I don't think that is the case. These stones, in addition to being very carefully and regularly placed are also very sparse in number. They appear to be there purely as a foundation, rather than an accumulation of cleared stones. For one thing, there are so many stones all over this slope that it is obvious no attempt has been made to clear them in the past -- including not only large boulders, but rock ledges and outcroppings as well. It would also be a dubious choice for a field or pasture of any sort (except perhaps for goats) since it runs up and down a fairly steep slope to a creek at the bottom and has very little soil above a limestone/dolomite base. The soil supports trees and shrubs but I doubt it has ever been anything else except woodland -- particularly since core samples show most of the larger trees in the area to be over 300 years old. Unfortunately, I cannot trace the ownership/use history of the land back further than the mid 1800s because the courthouse was burned down (3 times!!!) during the Civil War and the records were almost all lost. The oldest documented ownership I have for this land was for the Yokum family (yes, those of Yokum silver dollar fame -- we are right in the area in which the silver"mine" was supposed to have been hidden). I know from hearsay that this property had a lime kiln on it somewhere -- in fact, the mountain (or rather, hill) is called Lime Kiln Mountain -- but since the land is fragmented from the original 160 acre plot, I think that may be on another section. I also know that this entire area (Taney/Stone counties) was famous for its pearl button industry along the White river, and also made money for its occupants through the manufacture of white oak railroad ties, Ashe juniper pencils, and canned tomatoes (much later on -- there are indications in the national forest next door to us, that tomatoes were once grown here as a crop by ringing the trees to produce areas of sunlight without having to cut everything down) and cedar planks for closet linings. So... there was a fair amount of activity here from early times and I am sure there were small homesteads scattered around even back in the 1700s. I have also found a lot of paleolithic artifacts -- including hammer-stones and even a nice Dalton point. The lake (which used to be a valley along the White River) is only about a mile away, so this was probably a pretty busy place even before European settlement.


Jay C. White Cloud wrote:
Each region has it's subtle differences in style. Some are just a zig-zag of pile small stones and some are more elaborate, with either a true Ashlar or Herring bone lay to the stone. Even an elevation gain of only 200 mm (~8 inch) will extend the lifespan of most "split rail" species of wood a full century before needing replacement...Perhaps even longer. Wood on stone is actually much less likely to facilitate rot than ground contact, as the wood indeed gets wet, yet can rapidly dry out after the wet weather had passed...Much more so than if just resting on or near soil where "splash up" can take place. There is even the habit in some regions of burying the bottom rail in the stones himself there by "stiffening" the fence above. This "ballast stoning" acts like a foundation and anchor to the fence above.


I think you may have misunderstood my point on this. I was comparing the rot-resistance of a rail laid on stone as opposed to one suspended in air above the ground -- not directly in contact with the soil. I would expect a rail -- even of cedar -- to rot much more quickly on soil than stone. The ballast effect you mentioned has possibilities though. I hadn't considered that. I was actually wondering if the creek may once have been a more significant waterway that periodically flooded. If so, those stones may have served to preserve a boundary line between adjoining properties if rails were sometimes washed away by flood. If the bottom rail were weighted as well, it might have helped to preserve the entire fence if the flooding was not too severe. What do you think?
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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If so, those stones may have served to preserve a boundary line between adjoining properties if rails were sometimes washed away by flood. If the bottom rail were weighted as well, it might have helped to preserve the entire fence if the flooding was not too severe. What do you think?


Hi Deb,

This entire area is my "old stomp'n grounds" as my family was scattered throughout the Ozarks and southern Missouri.

These could have been "ballast stone" or just as you have suggest...being "hill land"...most likely the remnants of a boundary split rail fence between parcels. I would further speculate, if only a single row of stones, that these may have well been laid out by a "surveyor" (which could be governmental or just local landowners of the time) to indicate to the "fencer" where to place the rails.

What size are they?

Do you note any kind of a color differential or pattern?

Regards,

j
 
allen lumley
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Deb Stevens : There are any number of reasons for a Zig Zag split rail fence to have a stone base, this can be very elaborate where stone is common and wood
is scarce, or very minimal where all that is needed is a few stones for the rail ends to set on to reduce wood loss due to rot.

There are historical civil war battlefield aftermath pictures For these type of fences, a very common story of that era was that a Company of soldiers settling into a
nighttime "Bivouac'', to cook an evening meal and sleep, and they would be told that yes- they would be allowed to take the top rail of the zig zag fence line for
firewood,for their evening fire -But only the top rail ! The next company ''moving into bivouac '' beside the 1st, would take all the remaining top rails, and this
might be repeated by all the companies, battalions, brigades, and regiments, of a whole division !

Or as J.C. White Cloud suggested they could be witness stones !

I found this single picture of an abandoned Split rail fence with a stone base ! link below :

http://www.treefrogtreasures.com/images/Product/medium/HA-2012.jpg

See if this is close ! Big AL





 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Great points...Allen...I agree.....
 
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