Tuesday, April 10, 2012

One Thing I’ve Never Seen

I’ve never seen a zigzag stone fence that was formed by the random and gradual haphazard tossing of stones up against a wooden “Worm Fence” or “Virginia Rail Fence” or any other name you might find to call a post-less “fence, zigzag in plan, made of rails resting across one another at an angle,” as Dictionary.com puts it, that has rotted away, leaving only stones that recall these at one time very common constructions. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a photograph of a single zigzag “stone wall” that met that description.

The only representations of these types of “stone walls” that I have ever seen are drawings, all of them much like Eric Sloane’s above.

Here’s an actual photo, from sometime before 1866 when a friend’s relative began a scrap book, of a local wooden zigzag fence that someone apparently forgot to pile (or throw) rocks up against:

The builder did stick a couple stones at one visible point of the zigzag, but somehow neglected to throw the mandatory stones from both field clearing and cart path or possibly road building up against the rails rather than place them under the fence. The builder had no idea that the great era of stone fence building, 1750 to 1850 had actually passed by, just before barbed wire was to become readily available too.

Of course there is that 1871 Department of Agriculture Survey that in all 39 of the United States, sixty percent of all fences were wooden zigzag rail fences

My opening statement might be questioned somewhat if you were to take a look at a 1934 aerial photograph of where I live (Aerial survey of Connecticut 1934 photograph 07599), at the time small tractors were beginning to be sold to the general public. You might notice, as you zoom in for a closer look, that the photo shows numerous zigzag rows bordering roads and dividing fields. – even more so if you walked below the canopy of trees that covers many streams and swamps and actually saw all those zigzag stone rows that form borders around those water features or that are partially buried below leaves or a cover of vegetation and hard to see. There are a lot more of them visible on the ground, sometimes partially buried by 350 years of field clearing and road widening.

You might even point out to me that there is more than one of these zigzag rows in my own yard. I’d have to point out to you that these are carefully constructed rows of stone, more often than not large boulders at the points where these ten foot long segments “zig” and then “zag.”

You might even notice that a little north and east of my house there is a perhaps 800 foot long zigzag row on the border of fields still used by farmers today, although the southern end of it turns into a straight line.
This area of land is mentioned in a local history as the only cleared fields or interval land – floodplain fields – not put into use the first year, 1672, that people of European descent, as crop planting land. It wasn’t used because Native American people were living there at the time, growing corn that supported bean plants with a ground cover of squash (and probably pumpkins) planted in those mounds.

The little white dot at the southern end of the row is an unusual boulder that for the first time caught my eye in early 2009.

By the end of 2010, I had heard about short segments of stone rows that people were suggesting might be effigies of a serpent found in Native American stories sometimes called a “Horned  Serpent,” as well as other snake-like creatures such as the “Foot Snake,” a sort of giant inch worm creature with a large head and feet. Inspired and intrigued by this, I did some clearing and cleaning around this boulder. I wondered if it might appear to resemble a snake head:

Oh: Wooden zigzag rail fences are also sometimes called Snakes Fences.
“How Fences Kept 'Good Neighbors' J. Edward Hood (1997): “In 1871, nearly half of all fencing in Massachusetts consisted of stone walls or stone walls with wooden rail tops (figure 1); 31 percent were post-and-rail figure 2); 6 percent were "worm" fence, also known as "zig-zag," "crooked," or "Virginia rail fence" (figure 3); 3 percent were post-and-board; and the remainder consisted of a variety of types, including picket and board fences typically found in front of houses. In other states these percentages were quite different: in New York, for example, worm fencing accounted for 45 percent of all fences, and in Arkansas, 98 percent of fences were of this type. In fact, zig-zag was labeled "the national fence" by the authors of the 1871 report, because it predominated in so many regions…”

Like: Good Fences: A Pictorial History of New England's Stone Walls

By William Hubbell Contents page” A rare example of a zigzag stone wall (see page 25):

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