Skip to content

Dry Limestone Wall History in the Bluegrass EarthCache

Hidden : 04/22/2015
2 out of 5
1.5 out of 5

Size: Size:   other (other)

Join now to view geocache location details. It's free!


How Geocaching Works

Please note Use of services is subject to the terms and conditions in our disclaimer.

Geocache Description:

Stone is the oldest construction material known to mankind. Dry stone walls, which may also be called rock walls or rock fences, are referred to as “dry” since they are built entirely without mortar, using the forces of friction and gravity to hold them together. Dry stone masonry is an ancient building tradition and occurs wherever rock is available and the craft tradition is known. The Kentucky Bluegrass Region is home to the largest concentration of rock fences in Central Kentucky.

Limestone Formation
Limestone is a sedimentary composed primarily of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the form of the mineral calcite. It most commonly forms in clear, warm, shallow marine waters. It is usually an organic sedimentary rock that forms from the accumulation of shell, coral, algal and fecal debris. It can also be a chemical sedimentary rock formed by the precipitation of calcium carbonate from lake or ocean water.

Limestone for constructing dry stone walls is plentiful in Kentucky due to the geological composition of the region. Limestone and dolostone (a close relative of limestone) make up 25% of the surface of the state and are not far below the surface in most other areas. The deposits of limestone in Kentucky were laid down millions of years ago when most of North America was a shallow, warm ocean. Limey deposits were cemented together over millions of years by the mineral calcite forming layers of limestone.

The Bluegrass Region contains the oldest rocks exposed in Kentucky, which were raised to their present position by uplift along the Cincinnati Arch. They are dominantly thick-bedded limestones of Middle Ordovician age. The terrain in this famous horse farm country in Kentucky is characterized by gently rolling terrain and a thick, fertile residual soil. Some of the limestone strata are phosphatic, and weathering of these rocks has enhanced the fertility of the soil. The gently rolling surface is modified by some karst development such as sinkholes, sinking streams and springs. Interbedded shales and limestones in this region are softer and less resistant to erosion. Gentle inclination of the strata caused by regional dip carries the older rocks beneath the surface and younger ones appear.

Geological Rock Composition of Kentucky

While plowing and clearing their fields, pioneer farmers would have to remove thousands of limestone rocks to facilitate easy planting and plowing. Limestone found in the area would then be used to create rock fences to mark field borders and contain livestock. Since no mortar is used, the careful selection of interlocking stones is crucial to maintaining the strength of the wall.

Early settlers of Scots-Irish origin built the first rock fences in Kentucky. These immigrants brought their dry stone masonry skills and knowledge with them. Later, in the mid-1800s, crews of Irish masons built many of the rock fences that bordered the newly created turnpikes of the Commonwealth. Some of these craftsmen owned farms and built structures themselves, others were employed to build fences, houses and outbuildings or industrial structures (dams, warehouses, factories and distilleries). Still others came over as indentured servants and worked off their debt as dry stone masons. Some of the larger, more prosperous farms that could afford slaves would have them assist the mason and as a result they, too, learned the craft and thus had a valuable trade when they were later emancipated following the Civil War. The Bluegrass is one of the few regions in our nation where these dry stone walls existed in such quantities.

The development of cement in the early 1900s nearly abolished the use of stone blocks for building structures. Cement quickly became preferred over stones because it could be molded and formed much easier. Cement was also lighter and easier to haul than the limestone blocks. Unfortunately, most of our early structures are gone. Once there was no need for an icehouse or a stone hemp barn the structures fell to neglect. Fences that last many hundreds of years get toppled by trees, cars and ever widening roads and their ditch lines. Ironically, many stone fences were fed into crushers about the time wire fence became popular and affordable and ended up as valuable lime applied to the fields they once protected.

Benefits of Dry Stone Wall Construction
Dry stone wall construction has been a successful building technique throughout the ages because of its unique range of benefits. It provides good employment for craftsmen without working capital for heavy equipment. Masons need a minimum of tools to erect structures that are remarkably durable; yet, if damaged, are easily repaired. They resist fire, water, and insects. If correctly designed, they are earthquake resistant. The work does not deplete natural resources, and aesthetically compliments and enhances the landscape. Dry stone structures have many advantages over mortared walls. Walls without mortar rely on the skill of the craftsmen and the forces of gravity and frictional resistance. They have a slight flexibility that allows them to conform to foundation settlement without damage. Because the sides slope slightly inward, ground movement locks the structure more tightly together. Importantly, a stiff concrete footing is not needed, saving labor and material expense.

Mortared walls have a shorter life span than dry stone walls because frozen rain and snow get trapped in mortared seams and push the joints apart, whereas a correctly-built dry stone wall drains naturally without damage. Accidents to mortared walls tend to break out large sections, making damage-repairs costly. Mortared walls also cost more to repair because mortared rock is not easily recyclable, requiring additional new material. Your visit to Kentucky River Park will show you examples of dry stone masonry in Kentucky.

This earthcache is located at River View Park in Frankfort. This park provides a scenic riverside picnic area located off Wilkinson Blvd. on the banks of the Kentucky River. It is across the street from the Holiday Inn Capital Plaza Hotel. Along with a Welcome Pavilion/Shelter, there are picnic tables. There are 16 historic sites including prehistoric and early Indian cultures along the one mile walking trail. A monument representing the three original Kentucky counties can be found on the trail, as well as a refurbished 1800s bridge. Parking coordinates are given.

The starting coordinate will lead you on a short stroll along the Kentucky River at River View Park where you will learn about the history and different construction types of stone walls. All of the existing structures were constructed beginning in 1997 by the Dry Stone Conservancy, a non-profit organization with the mission to preserve existing dry stone structures and to revive and promote the ancient craft of dry laid stone masonry. The City of Frankfort Parks and Recreation Department funded the construction of the structures.

To log a Found It log for this Earthcache, please send answers to the following questions:

1. Describe how the geological composition of Kentucky’s landscape aided the early settlers in the construction of dry stone rock fences.

2. List five different types of rock fences depicted on the signs along the walkway and briefly describe each type of rock fence construction.

3. Which Bluegrass counties in Kentucky have the highest concentration of rock fences?

Please do not post the answers in your logs. Found It logs without answers sent will be deleted.

Additional Hints (No hints available.)