Since moving back to Indiana in April, I’ve done a lot of cycling. It turns out, even though Hoosier drivers aren’t the most amenable folks to having bikes on their roads, there is so much space in-between everything that riding is pretty good. It doesn’t take long to get out to gravel county roads, and away from most cars. Riding through a lot of areas that time seems to have forgotten has really engaged a standing interest in Indiana history.
One of the things in particular that has interested me as I’ve been putting on the gravel road miles are all the old farm fence posts still left intact. They are an interesting artifact of a time when (I assume) roads, as such, didn’t exist, and the fences held up by these posts were the divider between farmers fields. This dovetails with some longstanding field-based Indiana location names – Westfield, Greenfield, Bloomfield, Chesterfield, Plainfield, Wheatfield, Winfield.. And probably several more defunct ones.
I’ve snapped pictures of a few of these posts haphazardly. Most are concrete, but there are a swath of weathered lumber, with various forms of bracing, both wood and steel.
In the above photos, you can see one marked “1917”. This one was a lot more interesting to me than the others. For starters, it’s dated. (I thought it might be an address, but I checked and found it to be 5200-something) It also has some interesting appendages – the loop on top might be for hitching horses? the roundbar on the side might be what the rest of the fence connected to?
This really got me wondering.. Who made these? ..was it the farmers? ..did they hire out? So many had similar shapes.. perhaps they were prefabricated? When did these start being used? How old are the wooden posts? Why the switch to wood? (assuming they are newer than the concrete)
I’d kind of like to catalog some of these posts and try to organize the information. It would be a major undertaking to do even one County though. Perhaps one day I’ll apply for a grant to get it together. (this might go along with my other idea to map out and document small Indiana cemetaries) For now, I’ll stick to secondary research.
First – I’ve found that someone else has already embarked on this journey! An Architecture student at Ball State did a thesis on this very topic back in 2001. I’m going to have to do an interlibrary loan to get a copy of the full thesis [I’ve got a rant building about the difficulties of accessing scholarly research when no longer affiliated with a university…] but for now, check the abstract; it sounds promising.
Historic concrete fence posts were created in the early twentieth century. This study examined how they were constructed and who constructed them. A survey of Randolph county, Indiana was conducted in order to determine the possible construction methods. Literature sources indicate that farmers were encouraged to construct concrete posts on their own. The survey also points to the idea that historic concrete fence posts were created by the farmers who used them. While commercially manufactured posts exist in Randolph county, they are from a later date, and thus not the focus of this study. Interviews with members off the farming community also indicate that most farmers built their own concrete fence posts, from molds they also made. While many businesses and colleges promoted the use and construction of concrete fence posts, they were individually made to serve farmers’ immediate and long term fencing needs.
Hopefully I will circle back and post more info in the comments here as I find it.