A Project of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art
History of Early American Landscape Design

Difference between revisions of "Fence"

[http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/research/casva/research-projects.html A Project of the National Gallery of Art, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts ]
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Image:0180.jpg|Anonymous, "Fairhill, The Seat of Isaac Norris Esq.," 18th century.
Image:0180.jpg|Anonymous, "Fairhill, The Seat of Isaac Norris Esq.," 18th century.
File:0883.jpg|Edward Crisp (surveyor), James Akins (engraver), ''A Plan of Charles-Town'', 1704 [1969].
Image:0463.jpg|Anonymous, Overmantle painting from Morattico Hall, 1715.  
Image:0463.jpg|Anonymous, Overmantle painting from Morattico Hall, 1715.  

Revision as of 20:19, March 6, 2017

See also: Espalier, Gate, Ha-Ha, Hedge, Wall


Fig. 1, John Lewis Krimmel, Tree and rocks near a split-rail fence, c.1813.
Fig. 2, Lewis Miller, “Jesse Hines. Black Smith, menden his pale fence,” 1813, in Lewis Miller, Sketches and Chronicles: The Reflections of a Nineteenth-Century Pennsylvania German Folk Artist (1966), p. 86.”
Fig. 3, Thomas Whelpley, Cleveland, Ohio. From the Corner of Bank and St. Clair Str. Looking East [detail], 1834.

Humphry Repton wrote in 1803 in reference to England that “every county has its peculiar mode of fencing, both in the construction of hedges and ditches, which belong rather to the farmer than the landscape gardener.”[1] In America, where the tasks of partitioning, cultivating, and embellishing the landscape were considered inseparable, the distinction between farmer and gardener was less easily made. Frequent references to the fence in both the written and visual record place it among the most fundamental elements of the designed landscape in America. A fence, as dictionary definitions agree, enclosed areas such as gardens, cornfields, parks, woods, or groups of trees. As G. Gregory (1816) noted, the feature could be formed by a hedge, wall, ditch, or bank (view citation). Terms for different fence types abound in American landscape design vocabulary: blind, board, close, cradle, cross, double, foss, hurdle, invisible, live, open board, pale/paling, palisade, picket, post-and-plank, post-and-rail, snake, sunk, trellis, Virginia, wattle, wire, worm, and zigzag.[2]

The choice of fence type was dictated by the materials available, local custom, and the need at hand. For instance, worm fences (also called zigzag, snake, split rail, or Virginia fences) did not require posts or post holes and therefore were easily moved to accommodate changing field use and avoided the problem of posts rotting in soil. They were also useful in areas where rocky soil made it difficult to dig post holes or in wooded areas where trees made straight fence lines impractical, as seen in the watercolor sketch by John Lewis Krimmel [Fig. 1]. Paled fences offered a more solid line of defense against deer and rabbits, but had less flexibility and required more labor and finished lumber [Fig. 2]. Such high fences were effective barriers for animals as well as humans, as attested by Robert Waln, Jr.’s 1825 description of the board fence at the Friends Asylum for the Insane in Pennsylvania (view citation).

Fig. 4, Francis Guy, Rose Hill, 1798. The home of William Gibson in Baltimore, Md., which is depicted in this detail from a John and Hugh Finley armchair, illustrates the use of a fence to frame the view of the façade.

Paling fences created visual barriers and were sometimes erected to screen unpleasant views or to provide privacy, particularly in urban settings [Fig. 3]. For instance, in 1857 John Fanning Watson complained that “in the usual selfish style of Philadelphia improved grounds” at William Bingham’s Philadelphia residence, “the whole was surrounded and hid from the public gaze by a high fence” (view citation). Fences were also used to direct the gaze, whether toward a house, as in Francis Guy’s chairback painting of Rose Hill in Baltimore [Fig. 4], or other focal point. In other cases, fences such as sunken types (later replaced by wire fences) were desired for their inconspicuous presence in the landscape. Numerous descriptions and horticultural advice columns praised the effect of unobstructed views created by enclosures that kept animals or human traffic at bay with minimal visibility (see Ha-ha).

Fences were constructed from a variety of materials. In the Tidewater’s sedimentary soils where stone was scarce, wood was the most common material and was used mainly in paled, post-and-rail or board, and worm fences. Although types of wood that could be used were varied, a typical paling fence utilized different types of wood. For example, hard wood, such as locust, cedar, or oak, was often used for posts; wood with tensile strength, such as oak, poplar, or pine, was used for rails; and lightweight wood, such as pine, could be employed for the pales.[3] Although worm fences [] have been documented in Delaware, New York, and as far north as Canada, they were so common in the Tidewater area that they were often identified as Virginia fences. Thomas Anburey even reported that New Englanders described a drunken man’s impaired movements as “making Virginia fences” (view citation). In southern New England’s glacier-formed topography, abundant fieldstone was used for stone walls, which sometimes were referred to as stone fences.[4] Fences could also be created from live plants, predominantly thorn (hawthorn and buckthorn), although writers including Edward James Hooper (1842) and Charles Wyllys Elliott (1848) recommended osage orange, cedar, Chinese arbor vitae, privet, holly, honey and black locust, beech, willow, and hemlock. The advantages of live fences were a matter of great debate, particularly in early nineteenth-century publications that advocated the “new agriculture.” These writings included those by the New York and Massachusetts Agricultural Societies, and later, in periodical form, the Horticulturist. In addition to their durability and long-term cost savings, it was argued that live fences harmonized better with the surrounding landscape (see Hedge). A similar effect could also be achieved with other fences, as suggested by Edward Sayers (1838), by training “vines and creepers” to conceal old and unsightly fences (view citation).

Iron gates were used in the eighteenth century at such sites as Westover, on the James River, Va., and the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, and iron fences were employed for the fronts of elite dwellings and notable institutions.[5] It was not, however, until the second quarter of the nineteenth century when the expansion of America’s domestic iron industry and advances in cast iron made iron fences affordable for those of more modest means. This availability is reflected in the more than one hundred fence patents that were registered between 1801 and 1857.[6] Treatises, such as those by A. J. Downing (1849) and William H. Ranlett (1851), provided examples of fashionable designs to be installed in front of suburban yards. Elaborate iron-work fences were particularly popular as enclosures for urban parks [], educational institutions [], and family burial plots []. These plots, with their elaborate fences, were favorite subjects in illustrated books of the new rural cemeteries [].

Fig. 5, J. C. Loudon, Diagram of worm fence, in An Encyclopaedia of Gardening (1834), p. 412, fig. 276. Back up to discussion

Despite the variety of materials and designs, fences shared many common functions. Garden fences, like walls, created micro-climates for plants: southern façades were ideal for promoting early harvests of fruit trees trained on espaliers or protecting tender nursery plants, while northern sides provided sheltered, shady spots in long dry summers. William Cobbett (1819) emphasized the value of fences as shelters in America, given its extremes of heat and cold in contrast to the more temperate English climate (view citation).

Fences were the primary boundary markers that defined property lines and distinguished “improved” from “unimproved” land, and early legislation frequently required the fencing of landholdings. Fences also marked divisions within a property owner’s estate, such as those between field, meadow, pasture, orchard, and yard; and, within the garden itself, fences separated areas such as the flower garden, kitchen garden, and nursery []. The form of the fence often reflected its position or function. For example, post-and-rail fences would mark the boundaries and the divisions of the fields, while a palisaded brick wall served as a retaining wall along a slope, and a picket fence delineated the geometrically regular garden adjacent to the house []. Not surprisingly, the public view of the property was often framed by more ornamented fence types, and aspiring owners could draw from pattern books, such as that by William and John Halfpenny (1755), for inspiration []. Numerous images, including Caroline Betts’s painting of Lorenzo on Lake Cazenovia [], show a more elaborate treatment given to the fences in front of houses in contrast to the pale or post-and-rail fences that lined roads and enclosed meadows. William Cobbett (1819), in this vein, described a hierarchy of fences from the “rudest barriers” to the “grandest” and “noblest,” along with “every degree of gradation” in between (view citation), and Asher Benjamin (1830) recommended that the size of front fences be suited to the scale of the house (view citation).

Fig. 6, James Smillie (artist), Sarony & Major (printers), "View of Union Park, New York, from the Head of Broadway," 1848. The ironwork fence, at 14th Street, encircles what was known as Union Square Park. Back up to discussion

Distinctions in the fence in the landscape were also made by painting sections or the sides of fences. In several New England examples, including the Dennie overmantle [], utilitarian fences were painted red, while more formal fence sections near the house were painted white. In still other instances, such as the painting View Along the East Battery [], parts of the fence furthest from the house were left unpainted in contrast to the painted fence in front of the house. Views, such as Marie L. Pilsbury’s Louisiana plantation scene [], are especially striking since the white gate of the drive stands out in sharp contrast to the unpainted brown post-and-rail fence. While the selective use of white served to highlight portions of the fence, it also conserved white paint, which was more costly.[7]

Fences were critical for keeping livestock in and garden pests contained. During the early years of settlement when livestock (such as pigs) were not restrained, colonists fenced their garden plots, while animals wreaked havoc on the open fields of Native Americans.[8] In large estates, above-ground fences or sunken fences around the house were used to separate animals grazing in the open land of larger, more naturalistic landscape parks from more densely planted areas immediately surrounding the house, as depicted in Francis Guy’s 1805 painting of Perry Hall in Baltimore []. Urban gardens faced their share of potential intruders as well, both animal and human, and fences were an important element in defining urban public spaces such as commons, squares, roads, and parks [].

Fig. 7, Alexander Jackson Davis, Ithiel Town, and James Dakin, New York University, Washington Square, c.1833. Back up to discussion

Fences were symbolic, as well as practical, boundaries.[9] Churchyards were often fenced, in part to protect them from wandering animals, and in part to demarcate the sacred space within. The similarity of yard-like enclosures created around family burials suggests an expression of the eternal domestic unit represented within. In both images and actual landscapes, fences around residences signified the division between personal property and the world beyond. This boundary made the presence and treatment of openings, such as gates, particularly important as they marked the passage between these realms of the public and the private (see Gate). Residential fences were also a visual statement of their owners’ resources and abilities. For example, in William Dering’s portrait of George Booth, the fence in the background divides the near and middle grounds []. Dering extended the view into the distant, irregular landscape, but signaled the proprietor’s control over the space within the confines of his fence with the regular plantings and trimmed path. Countless representations of houses offer a similar demarcation, usually from the reverse perspective, showing the area surrounding the dwelling separated from the larger landscape by a fence. This division of domestic space is seen in modest gardens from Eunice Pinney’s Mother and Child in Mountain Landscape [] to more elaborate estates such as Janika de Fériet’s The Hermitage [].

Descriptions by travelers, such as Timothy Dwight, also demonstrate the significance of fences as an indication of the prosperity or decline of an area. Timothy Bigelow (1805) described the Shaker Village of Hancock, N.Y., as “much better fenced than any other in [the] vicinity” (view citation). With some pride, a writer in the Horticultural Register in 1836 found Maine wanting in comparison to Massachusetts since there was “not that attention paid to the appearance of fences about the dwellings, door yards, &c. as with us” (view citation). In something of an horticultural parable the Horticultural Register (1837) described the proprietor who spent all his money on his house leaving it to stand “dreary and alone . . . an unsightly broken fence to enclose it” while, with more foresight, “a more finished appearance is presented; the house is neatly painted . . . and a picket fence encircles it” (view citation).

Fig. 8, James Smillie (artist), O.J. Hanks (engraver), "The Tour -- Oaken Bluff," in Nehemiah Cleaveland, Green-Wood Illustrated (1847), pl. opp. p. 40. Back up to discussion

--Elizabeth Kryder-Reid



  • Rex, Charles, August 1641, instructions to Sir William Berkeley (quoted in Billings 1975: 56) [10]
“25. That they apply themselves to the Impaling of orchards and gardens for Roots and fruits, which that Country is so proper for and that every Planter be compelled for every 200 Acres Granted unto him to inclose and sufficiently Fence, either with Pales or Quick sett, and ditch, and so from time to time to preserve inclosed and Fenced a Quarter of an Acre of Ground in the most Convenient place near his dwelling house for Orchards and Gardens.”

Fig. 9, George W. Stilwell, Patterns of railings at Greenwood Cemetery, in Nehemiah Cleaveland, Green-wood Illustrated (1847), pl. after p. 94. This book includes a description of a “neat iron paling surrounds the hill, marking it as the appropriate final home of a large family.” Back up to discussion
  • Fitzhugh, William, April 1686, in a letter to Dr. Ralph Smith, describing Greensprings, Va. (quoted in Lockwood 1934: 2:46) [11]
“the Plantation where I now live contains a thousand acres, grounds and fencing . . . a large orchard of about 2500 Apple trees most grafted, well fenced with a locust fence, which is as durable as most brick walls, a Garden, a hundred foot square, well pailed in, a Yeard wherein is most of the aforesaid necessary houses, pallizad’d in with locust Punchens which is as good as if it were walled in and more lasting than any of our bricks.”

“I should be glad to see a draugh of Pennsberry wch an Artist would quickly take, wth ye land scip of ye hous, out houses, orchards, also wt grounds you have cleered wt improvemts made. an account how the peach & apple orchards grow; Bear. if any walks be made, & steps at ye water & how yt garden next ye water towards ye house, is layd out & thrives, how farr you advance . . . wt fence about ye yards gardens & orchards.”

  • Virginia General Assembly, 23 October 1705, describing a legislative ruling in Virginia (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; hereafter CWF)
“(I) Be it enacted . . . that if any horses, mares, cattle, hogs, sheep, or goats, shall break into any grounds, being inclosed with a strong and sound fence, four foot and half high, and so close that the beasts or kine breaking into the same, could not creep through; or with an hedge two foot high, upon a ditch of three foot deep, and three foot broad, or instead of such hedge, a rail fence of two foot and half high, the hedge or fence being so close that none of the creatures aforesaid can creep through, (which shall be accounted a lawful fence,) the owner . . . shall for the first trespass by any of them committed, make reparation to the party injured.”
Fig. 10, W. R. Hamilton, Landscape View of a House and Garden [detail], 1836. Back up to discussion

  • Anonymous, 4 August 1733, describing in the South Carolina Gazette a cemetery in Berkeley County, S.C. (CWF)
“The new Burying Ground Fence to be done in the same manner it formerly was, the posts of both to be of the best light wood, Chinquepin or Cedar.”

Fig. 11, Charles H. Wolf, Pennsylvania Farmstead with Many Fences, c.1847. Back up to discussion
  • Ball, Joseph, February 1734, describing a property in Virginia (Library of Congress, Joseph Ball Letterbook)
“The apple Nursery Fence must be kept upright good & strong, but set upon blocks, so that small hogs may go in, to keep down the weeds.”

  • Kalm, Pehr, 21 September 1748 and 22 January 1749, describing fences in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York (1937: 1:47, 238–39) [13]
“The fences and pales are generally made here of wooden planks and posts. But a few good economists, having already thought of sparing the woods for future times, have begun to plant quick hedges round their fields; and for this purpose they take the above-mentioned privet, which they plant in a little bank that is thrown up for it.”
Fences. The fences built in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but especially in New York, are those which on account of their serpentine form resembling worms are called ‘worm fences’* in English. The rails which compose this fence are taken from different trees, but they are not all of equal duration. . . . In order to make rails the people do not cut down the young trees . . . but they fell here and there large trees, cut them in several places, leaving the pieces as long as it is necessary, and split them into rails of the desired thickness; a single tree affords a multitude of rails. . . . Thus the worm fence is one of the most useful sorts of inclosures, especially as they cannot get any posts made of the wood of this county to last above six or eight years in the ground without rotting . . . the worm fences are easily put up again, when they are forced down. . . . Considering how much more wood the worm-fences require (since they zigzag) than other fences which go in straight lines, and that they are so soon useless, one may imagine how the forests will be consumed, and what sort of an appearance the country will have forty or fifty years hence.
“* The well-known zigzag fence of rails crossing at the ends. It is also called ‘snake fence’ or ‘Virginia rail fence.’
Fig. 12, William Halfpenny, "A Chinese Acute angular Paleing" and "A Chinese Obtuse & Diamond Paleing," in Rural Architecture in the Chinese Taste (1755), pl. 3. Back up to discussion

“Thence we rambled through his fields, where the rightangular fences, the heaps of pitched stones, the flourishing clover, announced the best husbandry, as well as the most assiduous attention.”

“The fences and enclosures in this province are different from others, for those to the northward are made either of stone or rails let into posts, about a foot asunder; here they are composed of what is termed fence rails, which are made out of trees cut or sawed into lengths of about twelve feet, that are mauld or split into rails from four to six inches diameter.
“When they form an inclosure, these rails are laid so, that they cross each other obliquely at each end, and are laid zig zag to the amount of ten or eleven rails in height, then stakes are put against each corner, double across, with the lower ends drove a little into the ground, and above these stakes is placed a rail of double the size of the others, which is termed the rider, which, in a manner, locks up the whole, and keeps the fence firm and steady.
“These enclosures are generally seven or eight feet high, they are not very strong but convenient, as they can be removed to any other place, where they may be more necessary; from a mode of constructing these enclosures in a zig zag form, the New-Englanders have a saying, when a man is in liquor, he is making Virginia fences.”

Fig. 13, Caroline Betts, “A view of Col. Lincoln’s seat, Caznovia,” c.1821. Back up to discussion
“The Mall is at present nearly surrounded with buildings, which stand near to the board fence that incloses it, and the parts now vacant will, in a short time, be filled up.”

Fig. 14, Jonathan Buddington or Dr. Francis Forgue, attr., View of Main Street in Fairfield, Connecticut, c.1800. This treatment is also known as a palisade fence. Back up to discussion
“But the uncleared lands are all located, and the proprietors have inclosed them with fences of different sorts. These several kinds of fences are composed of different materials, which announce the different degrees of culture in the country. Some are composed of the light branches of trees; others, of the trunks of trees laid one upon the other; a third sort is made of long pieces of wood, supporting each other by making angles at the end; a fourth kind is made of long pieces of hewn timber, supported at the ends by passing into holes made in an upright post; a fifth is like the garden fences in England; the last kind is made of stones thrown together to the height of three feet. This last is most durable, and is common in Massachusetts.”

“[231] 22. . . . The Principal Garden is in three parts divided by an open slat fence painted white, & the fence white washed. It includes 7/8 of an Acre. . . . The House is [lined?] with a superb fence, but is itself a mere country House, one story higher than common with a rich owner.”

“In America almost everything is sacrificed to the outside view. To accomplish this the fences of the houses are sometimes varied by these six combinations: 1. Planks are laid vertically and close together. 2. Planks are laid the same way, with a space between them. 3. Little narrow boards are laid across without joining. 4. Vertically placed laths are joined. 5. Vertically placed laths are not joined. 6. Laths are placed vertically, but passing alternately on the outside and the inside of cross members. Further elegance is obtained by using different shades of paint on lattices and partitions.”

Fig. 15, Samuel Barnard, View Along the East Battery, Charleston, 1831. Back up to discussion
“Yet the uninterrupted and high fences of dry wood greatly disfigure the landscape, and produce a tedious sameness. These might be easily replaced by trees which endure the frost, as thorns are supposed here (I think without any just ground) to be unsuitable to the climate. Some of the fields along the road are bordered with traga or cedar, but these experiments are rare; and, in general, the land is inclosed with double fences of wood.”

Fences, and out-houses are also in the same style [neat and tidy]: and being almost universally painted white, make a delightful appearance to the eye; and appearance, not a little enhanced, by the great multitude of shade-trees: a species of ornament, in which this town is unrivalled.”

Fig. 16, Marie L. Pilsbury, Louisiana Plantation Scene, 1820. Back up to discussion
  • Anonymous, 18 April 1800, describing in the Federal Gazette Willow Brook, seat of John Donnell, Baltimore, Md. (quoted in Sarudy 1989: 137) [22]
“That beautiful, healthy and highly improved seat, within one mile of the city of Baltimore, called Willow Brook, containing about 26 acres of land, the whole of which is under a good post and rail fence, divided and laid off into grass lots, orchards, garden.”

“[The] lands (are) easily ascertained by the most transient observer; for they are more highly cultivated, laid out with more taste and regularity, and much better fenced than any other in their vicinity.”

Fig. 17, Francis Guy, Perry Hall from the northwest [detail], c.1805. Back up to discussion
"The Fences separating the Park-lawn from the Garden on one hand, & the office yard on the other, are 4 ft. 6 high. The former are made with posts & lathes—the latter with posts, rails & boards. They are concealed with evergreeens hedge—of juniper I think. A common post & rail fence, [not in sight from the house,] winds from the public road gate, & joins to the garden fence, which is a double sloped ditch, with a low fence of posts & 3 rails. They seemed insufficient—at least for turbulent horses or even Sheep. The park lawn is not in good order, for lack of being fed upon. Its fences where it is not visible from the house, is of common posts & rails."
Fig. 18, Charles Willson Peale, Sketches of Belfield, 1810.

File:0001 detail.jpg
Fig. 19, George Ropes, Salem Common on Training Day [detail], 1808. Back up to discussion
“Extended my walk alone to the President’s House:—a handsome edifice, tho’ like the capitol of free stone: the south yard principally made ground, bank’d up by a common stone wall: a plain picket fence on each side, the passage way to the house on the north: —some of the pickets lying on the ground.”

“This View is taken at a point [from] the Tennants house a small distance, by which you see the Roof of the Mantion over the Garden fence which are of boards on a Stone Wall.” [Fig. 18]

Fig. 20, William Dering, attr., Portrait of George Booth [detail], 1748-1750. Back up to discussion
  • Lambert, John, 1816, describing Skenesborough, N.Y., and the Northern and Mid-Atlantic states (2:28–29, 231–32) [27]
“The other parts of the farms were covered with the stumps of trees, and enclosed by worm fences, which gave to these settlements a very rough appearance.”
“A contrary practice is adopted in the northern and middle states, where a succession of farms, meadows, gardens, and habitations, continually meet the eye of the traveller; and if hedges were substituted for rail fences, those States would very much resemble some of the English counties.”

  • Hulme, Thomas, 28 June 1818, describing the settlement of Morris Birkbeck, New Harmony, Ind. (quoted in Cobbett 1819: 475) [28]
“910. I very much admire Mr. Birkbeck’s mode of fencing. He makes a ditch 4 feet wide at top, sloping to 1 foot wide at bottom, and 4 feet deep. With the earth that comes out of the ditch he makes a bank on one side, which is turfed towards the ditch. Then a long pole is put up from the bottom of the ditch to 2 feet above the bank; this is crossed by a short pole from the other side, and then a rail is laid along between the forks. The banks were growing beautifully, and looked altogether very neat as well as formidable; though a live hedge (which he intends to have) instead of dead poles and rails, upon top, would make the fence far more effectual as well as handsomer.”

Fig. 21, Eunice Pinney, attr., Mother and Child in Mountain Landscape, 1805–1825. Back up to discussion
  • Green, Samuel, 13 May 1820, receipt for Hermitage, estate of Andrew Jackson, Nashville, Tenn. (Hermitage Collections, Andrew Jackson Papers: DLC 9967)
“To putting up one hundred & twenty one pannel of post and rail cedar fence at half a dollar pr pannel, $60.50”

  • Hening, William Waller, 1823, describing a legislative action by the Virginia General Assembly (quoted in Lounsbury 1994: 138) [29]
“every freeman shall fence in a quarter of an acre of ground before Whitsuntide next to make a garden.”

Fig. 22, Janika de Fériet, The Hermitage, c.1820. This sketch depicts a fence demarcating the boundary between the house’s yard and the landscape beyond. Back up to discussion
“In the rear of the wings are situated the yards or airing grounds, for the use of the male and female patients, separated by the space in the rear of the centre building, and each containing about five-ninths of an acre of ground, in grass, surrounded by walks. These are enclosed by board fences, ten feet in height, on the top of which is a simple, but effectual, apparatus for preventing escape of the patients. Boards about eight feet long and eight inches broad, and apparently forming part of the stationary fence, but detached from it, are placed around the whole circuit of the enclosure: these are connected to the fence beneath by hinges. Blocks of wood, about two feet long, are attached to these boards on the outside, at the lower part of which, are rings through which a strong wire is conducted: at the extremities of these wires alarum bells are attached. When the patient, in attempting to escape, seizes one of these moveable boards, it turns inwards on its hinges, the adventurer falls back into the yard, and the appendant blocks of wood, protruding, stretch the wire, and sound the alarm, which is distinctly heard through the building.”

  • Committee of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1830, describing Sweet Briar, seat of Samuel Breck, vicinity of Philadelphia, Pa. (quoted in Boyd 1929: 425) [31]
“Mr. Breck has taken considerable pains with a hedge of white hawthorn (Crataegus), which he planted in 1810, and caused to be plashed, stalked, and dressed last Spring by two Englishmen, who understood the business well. Yet he apprehends the whole of the plants will gradually decay, and oblige him to substitute a post and rail fence. Almost every attempt to cultivate a live fence in the neighborhood of Philadelphia seems to have failed. The foliage disappears in August, and the plant itself is short lived in our climate.”

  • Committee of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1830, describing Eaglesfield, country residence of John J. Borie, vicinity of Philadelphia, Pa. (quoted in Boyd 1929: 441) [31]
“The lawn is extensive, and divided from the house by a handsome chain fence, supported by posts painted green and very neatly turned. We notice this triple chained barrier, so light and beautiful, because we were informed that its price is as cheap as wood; to which, its graceful curve, and light appearance, render it every way superior.”

“The isthmus on the northern boundary is narrow and the whole estate was kept completely enclosed, by a fence on that side of about one mile in length running from the head of Holt’s to the margin of Pohick Creek. This fence was maintained with great care and in good repair in my father’s time, in order to secure his own stock the exclusive range within it, and made of uncommon height, to keep in the native deer which had been preserved there in abundance from the first settlement of the country, and indeed are yet there in considerable numbers.”

“An hour’s drive, after clearing the suburbs, past a succession of isolated villas, encircled by slender columns and airy galleries, and surrounded by richly foliaged gardens, whose fences were bursting with the luxuriance which they could scarcely confine, brought us in front of a charming residence.”

“Through the whole country, the substantials of life seem to be more attended to than ornament or the luxuries of horticulture.—There is not that attention paid to the appearance of fences about the dwellings, door yards, &c. as with us.”

“The iron fence and brick side-walk which surround the Common are noble monuments of public enterprise and of the energy of American mechanics. The burial-ground formerly reached to the southern line of the Common. It was resolved to continue the mall through the burial-ground, but it was foreseen that, in doing it, public accomodation would interfere with the private and sacred attachment of individuals to their ancestral tombs. . . . [After the burials were moved] The mall was continued through the burial-ground to make the entire circuit of the Common. A slight and graceful iron fence was thrown around the tombs, and a rich and durable fence of the same material, with a brick wall outside, surrounding the whole Common, a circumference of five thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven feet, was begun and completed within six months.”

Fig. 23, Alexander W. Longfellow, Sketch of the grounds of the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House, 1844.
“A buckthorn hedge has been made between us & Mr. Hastings, and Mr. Worcester not satisfied with the rustic open fence which separates between us demands a hedge there also which will cover up entirely the glimpse that I get from my western window and which I do not at all like to loose [sic].” [Fig. 23]

“In 1844, the increasing funds of the corporation justified a new expenditure for the plain but massy iron fence which encloses the front of the Cemetery. This fence is ten feet in height, and supported on granite posts extending four feet into the ground. It measures half a mile in length, and will, when completed, effectually preserve the Cemetery inviolate from any rude intrusion. The cost of the gateway was about $10,000—the fence, $15,000.
“A continuation of the iron fence on the easterly side is now under contract, and a strong wooden palisade is, as we learn, to be erected on the remaining boundary during the present year.”

“The east hill should be planted densely, the plants may be of any kinds—better it should be overgrown with the common pine than remain in its present state; anything growing on that side would make the Cemetery seem more private, which is very desirable, as all who feel must know—and indeed it may be laid down as a rule, that all the exterior fences of a rural cemetery ought to be enveloped in shade of trees or young plantings of trees, else why do we fence our lots, or shut out the world’s otherwise, if not in grief—therefore, all along the east and west fences should be thickly planted, occasionally spreading out wide as I have marked upon the plan on these two lines.”

The pleasure grounds of the two sexes are very effectually separated on the eastern side, by the deer-park, surrounded by a high palisade fence, but the Park itself is so low that it is completely overlooked from both sides; and the different animals in it are in full view from the adjoining grounds used by the patients of both sexes. . . .
“Between the north lodge and the deer-park, separated from the latter by a sunk palisade fence, is a neat flower garden. . . .
“The fences that have been put up, were rendered necessary by the uses to which the different parts of the grounds were appropriated. A large part of the palisade fences, like those enclosing the deer-park and drying-yard, were to effect the separation of the sexes, and the close fences have been made, almost invariably, for the sole purpose of protecting the patients from observation, and giving them the proper degree of privacy.”

“The ‘burying-ground’ at New Haven, Connecticut, has long been celebrated for its beauty. It has recently been enclosed with a massive wall on three sides, and a bronzed iron fence in front. The entrance is of free-stone, in the Egyptian style. . . . H. Austin architect.”

“The low fence along the garden on the line of Third street, gave a full expose of the garden walks and shrubbery, and never failed to arrest the attention of those who passed that way.”
“THIS beautiful square, now so much the resort of citizens and strangers, as a promenade, was, only twenty-five years ago, a ‘Potter’s Field.’ . . . It was long enclosed in a post and rail fence, and always produced much grass.”
“The grounds generally he had laid out in beautiful style, and filled the whole with curious and rare clumps and shades of trees; but in the usual selfish style of Philadelphia improved grounds, the whole was surrounded and hid from the public gaze by a high fence.”


“Seeing that Fencing, and Enclosing of Land is most evident to be a piece of the highest Improvement of Lands, and that all our Plantations of Woods, Fruits, and other Tillage, are thereby secured from external Injuries, which otherwise would lie open to the Cattel. . . . And also subject to the lusts of vile persons. . . .
“For which reason we are obliged to maintain a good Fence, if we expect an answerable success to our Labors.”

  • Marshall, Charles, 1799, An Introduction to the Knowledge and Practice of Gardening (1:114–15, 124) [41]
“For hedges about a garden, (i.e. for the divisions of it) the laurel, yew, and holly are the principal evergreens: the former as a lofty and open fence, the second as close and moderate in height, and to be cut to any thing, the last as trainable by judicious pruning to an impregnable and beautiful fence. . . .
“Here [about the house] should be also a good portion of grass plat, or lawnwhich so delights the eye when neatly kept, also borders of shewy flowers, which, if backed by any kind of fence, it should be hid with evergreens, or at least with deciduous shrubs, that the scene may be as much as possible vivacious.”

“THE FENCE, where the place is large, becomes necessary: yet the eye dislikes constraint. Our ideas of liberty carry us beyond our species: the imagination feels a dislike in seeing even the brute creation in a state of confinement. Beside, a tall fence frequently hides, from the sight, objects the most pleasing; not only the flocks and herds, but the surface they graze upon. These considerations have brought the unseen fence into general use.”

  • Repton, Humphry, 1803, Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (pp. 80, 84) [43]
“That the boundary fence of a place should be concealed from the house, is among the few general principles admitted in modern gardening; but even in this instance, want of precision has led to error; the necessary distinction is seldom made between the fence which incloses a park, and those fences which are adapted to separate and protect the subdivisions within such inclosure. . . .
“To describe the various sorts of fences suitable to various purposes, would exceed the limits and intentions of this work: every county has its peculiar mode of fencing, both in the construction of hedges and ditches, which belong rather to the farmer than the landscape gardener; and in the different forms and materials of pales, rails, hurdles, gates, &c.”

“The [pleasure] ground should be previously fenced, which may be occasionally a hedge, paling or wall, &c. as most convenient. . . .
“It being absolutely necessary to have the whole of the pleasure ground surrounded with a good fence of some kind, as a defence against cattle, &c. a foss being a kind of concealed fence, will answer that purpose where it can conveniently be made, without interrupting the view of such neighbouring parts as are beautified by art or nature, and at the same time affect an appearance that these are only a continuation of the pleasure=ground. Over the foss in various parts may be made Chinese and other curious and fanciful bridges, which will have a romantic and pleasing effect.”

  • Main, Thomas, 28 September 1807, Directions for the Transplantation and Management of Young Thorn or Other Hedge Plants (pp. 37–38) [45]
“A promiscuous assemblage of several different kinds of plants in a hedge cannot be recommended; such a heterogeneous composition will neither make a good fence nor look handsome.
“It may, however, be allowable for me to say, that this mode of fencing, whenever it is practised in the United States, will contribute its share to give an orderly and systematic turn to our plans of rural policy, conducive to a permanent neatness and regularity among arrangements that are commonly in a continual state of confusion and change.”

FENCE, in country affairs, a hedge, wall, ditch, bank, or other inclosure, made around gardens, woods, cornfields, &c. See HUSBANDRY. . . .
“The situation of a garden should be dry, but rather low than high, and as sheltered as can be from the north and east winds. These points of the compass should be guarded against by high and good fences; by a wall of at least ten feet high; lower walls do not answer so well for fruit-trees, though one of eight may do. A garden should be so situated, to be as much warmer as possible than the general temper of the air is without, or ought to be made warmer by the ring and subdivision fences. This advantage is essential to the expectation we have from a garden locally considered.”

“Competent fences are also serviceable in sheltering tender seedlings, and in forming warm borders for early crops and winter-standing plants; while, in another direction, some part of the line of fence will afford a shady border in summer, which is required by the peculiar constitutions of many small annual plants. . . .
Fences.—The Flower Garden, which is not an appendage to ornamented grounds, will require a fence, wherever the domestic buildings do not serve as a boundary. For the inclosure, a wall or close paling is on two accounts to be preferred on the north side; both to serve as a screen, and to afford a warm internal face for training fruit-trees. When one of those is not adopted, recourse may be had to a good hedge-fence, planted on a bank, and defended by an outward ditch. The best outer hedge-fence is formed of white-thorn and holly. The ha-ha, or sunk-fence in a fosse, is a happy contrivance for preserving a distant prospect: but this is seldom adopted when the adjoining land belongs to another occupier. . . .
External Fences.—Fences of all kinds are rather necessary and useful, as instruments of shelter and security, than to be chosen as materials of ornament. Whether the view terminates on the fence, or is directed beyond it, the effect on the scene at best is negative: thus a fence is sometimes made higher than its proper use requires, merely to shut out something more unsightly; and, in judiciously employing that capital invention, the sunk fence or ha-ha, the advantage, though great, is purely negative—some prospect worth retaining at considerable cost is not obstructed. . . .
Internal Fences.—These must be lighter and more elegant: but the materials will equally vary with the local position and purpose. What has been said of shrubs for internal fences under Flower Garden, is applicable to the most extensive ornamented grounds; except that regularity is less requisite, if not out of place; and primness ought to be avoided. Posts, with a single chain, or a rope well pitched, are sometimes enough to keep cattle from a walk. When a stronger barrier is wanted against animals grazing the pasture near the house, so as not to intercept a distant view, one of the best devices is what is termed the invisible fence; which is composed of lines of elastic wire passed through upright iron stancheons, the whole painted green. . . .
“Instead of the ha-ha, or the invisible fence, the landscape-gardener sometimes forms a terrace three feet high; at the verge of this, an iron rail, or a double rail, run along two feet high, is a sufficient fence. . . . Raised fences, in straight lines, and meeting so as to form angles, are totally at variance with all ideas of picturesque beauty: but a perfectly straight fence, drawn across a valley, appears to the eye as though serpentine; and therefore, without controverting any assumed principle, fences may run in the shortest direction over unequal surfaces; a few trees or bushes may be planted where the straightness, in a coincident line of view from the garden, would be most visible.”

“31. The fence of a garden is an important matter; for, we have to view it not only as giving protection against intruders, two-legged as well as four-legged, but as affording shelter in cold weather and shade in hot, in both which respects a fence may be made of great utility in an American Garden, where cold and heat are experienced in an extreme degree. . . .
“33. In America a fence is not wanted for this purpose [raising fruit]; but it is very necessary for protection; for shelter; and for shade. . . .
“34. With regard to the second point; the shelter; this is of great consequence; for, it is very well known, that, on the south side of a good high fence, you can have peas, lettuces, radish, and many other things, full ten days earlier in the spring, than you can have them in the unsheltered ground. . . .
“49. And why should America not possess this most beautiful and useful plant [the Haw-Thorn]? She has English gew-gaws, English Play-Actors, English Cards and English Dice and Billiards; English fooleries and English vices enough in all conscience; and why not English Hedges, instead of post-and-rail and board fences? If, instead of these steril-looking and cheerless enclosures the gardens and meadows and fields, in the neighbourhood of New York and other cities and towns, were divided by quick-set hedges, what a difference would the alteration make in the look, and in the real value too, of those gardens, meadows and fields! . . .
“486. Forest trees. . . . From the Transactions of the Society of Agriculture of New York, we learn, that hawthorn hedges and other live fences are generally adopted in the cultivated districts; but the time is not yet arrived for forming timber-plantations. . . .
“1803. Rails or fences, for parks and garden-scenery, are, as to lines, similarly characterized as gates; and, like gates, fences are of many species, from the rudest barriers without nails or iron work . . . to the numerous sorts of iron and wire barriers. . . .
“1804. Walls are unquestionably the grandest fences for parks; and arched portals, the noblest entrances; between these and the hedge or pale, and rustic gate, designs in every degree of gradation, both for lodges, gates, and fences, will be found in the works of Wright, Gandy, Robertson, Aikin, Pocock, and other architects who have published on the rural department of their art. The pattern books of manufacturers of iron gates and hurdles, and of wire workers, may also be advantageously consulted. . . .
“6874. Fences. Masses, in the ancient style of planting, were generally surrounded by walls or other durable fences. Here the barrier was considered as an object or permanent part of the scene, and for that reason was executed substantially, and even ornamentally. They were generally walls substantially coped, and furnished with handsome gates and piers. The rows of avenues and small clumps, or platoons intended to be finally thrown open, were enclosed by the most convenient temporary fence.”

“The most should be made of the agreeable and interesting views which may be had in the neighbouring landscape. They may be made useful to the general plan by being represented as the property of the proprietor.
“For this reason, I highly approve of blind fences, and live hedges. But fences, necessary as enclosures, should be concealed so as not to appear as boundaries to the establishment, and present to the eye a disagreeable interruption in the prospect.”

Fig. 24, Asher Benjamin, “Front Fences,” in The Practical House Carpenter ([1830] 1972), pl. 33.
“PLATE XXXIII. On this plate are three designs for fences, suitable for the enclosure of a country residence, which may be made of wood, when iron is not to be obtained, or when expense is to be avoided. . . .
“It is not supposed that the size of these examples will suit all situations. There are many situations which require the size of front fences to be varied; as for instance, when the house is very large and located on an elevated piece of ground, and at a considerable distance from the road: in this case the fence should be of the largest dimensions. But if the house be small, and so situated as to have the fence near it, the fence ought then to be small and low, so that it may not appear as a principal in the structure.” [Fig. 24]

“A Flower Garden should be protected from cold cutting winds by close fences, or plantations of shrubs, forming a close and compact hedge, which should be neatly trimmed every year. . . .
“When Shrubs, Creepers, or Climbers are planted against walls or trellises, either on account of their rarity, delicacy, or to conceal a rough fence or other unsightly object, they require different modes of training. . . .
“The following observations on Fruit Gardens are taken from the third volume of the New-York Farmer and Horticultural Reposity [sic]. Article 190, page 225, communicated by an Old Man:
“‘A fruit garden in this free country ought to be protected by nothing less formidable than a pale or picket fence. It is in vain to think of having good fruit in small quantities, unless the proprietor can control every thumb and finger within his grounds, so that his stone-fruit, more especially, may be fully ripe before it be removed from the tree. . . .
“‘A pale or picket fence is a great protection to a fruit garden; for though some desperadoes may break through a few times in a season, it will effectually prevent the inroads of the small fry; and it has another important advantage: there are men and grown boys whose business frequently leads them across lots, through Peach orchards, and directly under Pear trees, that stand in a common enclosure, but who are too cautious to scale a garden fence, because they have no excuse for appearing on the inside; and these constitute a majority of the prowlers.
“‘Further, those who shoot into a garden at night, generally take aim in the day time. Prevent their observations, (this fence will in many cases prevent it,) and the temptation and danger will greatly be lessened.’”

“Suppose the area or garden space to be small, one great object would be to shut out by shrubbery the boundaries, so that the small extent might not appear, to fill every angle and corner with the Lilac or other large and spreading plant, and to take every advantage of the adjoining land. Thus imagine the neighboring piece to be grass; by means of a very open or of a sunk fence and a grass plat the grass on both lands would appear to combine and present an extensive expanse of green, or if wood adjoins, then by judicious transplantation an uninterrupted line of copse would be formed, on which the eye would rest with pleasure. The invisible fences commonly used in England, might here be of great service, they are made of thick iron wire, about four feet high, with thin iron posts at distances of eight or ten feet, painted black, so that they form no impediment to such combinations of prospect with contiguous properties. The same may be done where a rivulet or a piece of water exists near, observing always that such innocent appropriations of our neighbor’s property is much better enjoyed when only caught at glimpses and between intervals of shrubbery . . .”

  • Anonymous, 1 April 1837, “Landscape Gardening” (Horticultural Register 3: 121–23) back up to discussion
“The first thing, when a spot is fixed on for a house, if it be in a new country especially, is to cut down all the native trees and shrubs within several rods of it. The proprietor then sets to work and applies his whole resources to build as large a house as possible. When the work is completed his funds are exhausted; he can make no further improvements about his house; it is left standing, dreary and alone, perhaps unpainted, an unsightly broken fence to enclose it, and the nakedness of the yard only relieved by an old barrel, a pile of wood, and broken hoops and boards. Sometimes indeed a more finished appearance is presented; the house is neatly painted, a handsome grass plat extends before it, and a picket fence encircles it.”

“Ivy and Virginian creepers [are most proper] for walls, tall shrubs for concealing old boarded fences, and unsightly objects. . . .
“The trellises, arbors, walls, fences, and so on, should be covered with vines and creepers, so that the whole may have a corresponding appearance.”

  • Downing, A. J., February 1838, “On the Cultivation of Hedges in the United States” (Magazine of Horticulture 4: 6, 43)
“In many sections of the Union, where timber is becoming scarce, and stone for fencing does not abound, a substitute is anxiously sought after, and must be found in some species of plant, capable of making a close and impenetrable hedge. The advantages of live fences are great durability, imperviousness to man and beast, a trifling expense in keeping in order, and the great beauty and elegance of their appearance. Harmonizing in color with the pleasant green of the lawn and fields, they may, without (like board fences) being offensive to the eye, be brought, in many places, quite near to the dwelling-house. . . .
“The wall of masonry, the iron paling, or the wooden fence, may be well suited to the vicinity of houses or crowded towns; but for harmony of color, freshness of foliage, durability, and, in short, all that is most desirable for beauty and protection, the verdant hedge is without an equal.”

  • Kenrick, William, April 1838, “Live Hedges” (Magazine of Horticulture 4: 16)
“Live hedges constitute the most durable and effectual, as well as the most beautiful fences known, when properly managed and well trained. A perfect hedge should form a barrier, close and compact to the surface of the earth.”

  • Gentle, Andrew, 1841, Every Man His Own Gardener (1841: 93)[53]
"I would prefer a kitchen garden near the house, but not fully in sight, partly surrounded with trees, ornamental as well as fruit, or grape vines, sloping a little to the south, and facing the sun at 11 o’clock, with a variety of soils, all of good depth, and free from stones or gravel, or rain water standing on it. It may be either square or oblong, but is most convenient to work when the sides are straight, with a fence of moderate height. In laying out, I would prefer a border all round the width of the fence, the walk half the width of the border, the main cross walks four feet wide, to plant currants, gooseberry, and raspberry bushes, four feet apart, or strawberry plants near the farmyard, and convenient for water.

"For a market garden the same sort of ground, with a good fence all round…."

FENCES. This subject is of great importance to the farmer. There is no tax upon his purse and labor so great, as that which demands the continual making and repairing of his fences. . . . According to the present system, hundreds of half starved animals of all kinds are continually breaking into, or jumping over, or knocking down, the best kind of worm fences. It would be much to the ultimate advantage of the proprietors of land, if they would, wherever it is practicable, resort to the making of stone fences. . . . With respect to live fences, they are found, in England, to be the best sort under general circumstances, excepting where there is abundance of stone at hand. . . . In making fences of this kind, we should of course try our native plants and trees, before resorting to foreign kinds, on account of the uncertainties of climate. . . . The plants in America which are at all suitable for hedges, are the American thorn, the cedar, the holly, the crab, the honey locust, the beech, the willow, the hemlock and the black locust. . . .
HEDGES. These are becoming, and in some situations have become, highly desirable. Where there is plenty of rail timber, it will naturally be used for fences before any live enclosures. Where there is plenty of rocks also, these are the best and in the end the most economical materials for fences that can be used. But where no rocks are found, and no rail timber, it will be useful to substitute live hedges. In different sections of the country different kinds of plants proper for live fences will naturally exist. The locust for this purpose is one of the most valuable trees in the south. The Buckthorn in New England. . . . The European hawthorn . . . in the west.”

  • Anonymous, 28 July 1842, “Words of a Solomon and Sacred Roll . . .” (Western Reserve Historical Society Library, Shaker Manuscript Collection, reel 67VIIA43)
“I do require that ye fence your meeting ground after the following order, as soon as ye consistently can, after you have ascertained the sacred spot which I have chosen. Build ye a smooth board fence and paint it white. ** Make it 4 1/2 feet high, with a board flatwise on top.”

FENCES for flower-gardens and shrubberies, are either such as are intended to be invisible, or, more properly, not acknowledged,—such as barriers of wire, or, light iron rods, and sunk fences; or such as are intended to be acknowledged, and to form part of the landscape,—such as architectural parapets and hedges. . . .
“Architectural fences are used in small gardens, close to the house; and they should generally be low walls, of open work, in the style of the architecture of the building; and these walls may have piers at regular distances, terminating in vases, or other architectural ornaments, provided these are in harmony with the house. These walls, and indeed all other architectural fences, should be varied with shrubby plants planted against them, so as to harmonize them with the plants in the beds and borders within.”

FENCES are employed to mark the boundary of property, to exclude trespassers, either human or quadrupedal, and to afford shelter. They are either live fences, and are then known as hedges, or dead, and are then either banks, ditches, palings, or walls; or they are a union of those two, to which titles the reader is referred.
“The following is the English law on the subject:—
“In the eye of the law a hedge, fence, ditch, or other inclosure of land, is for its better manuring and improvement; and various remedies are therefore provided for their preservation. . . .
“Stealing metal garden-fencing is a felony. In America each State has its own peculiar laws on this as on other subjects. In Pennsylvania, by an Act of 1700, entitled ‘An act for the regulating and maintaining of Fences,’ it was provided that ‘all cornfields and grounds kept for inclosures within the said province and counties annexed, shall be well fenced with fence at least five feet high, and close at the bottom, &c.’ By an Act of 1729, it was provided that ‘to prevent disputes about the sufficiency of fences, all fences shall be esteemed lawful and sufficient, though they be not close at the bottom, so that the distance from the ground to the bottom thereof, exceed not nine inches; and that they be four feet and a half high, and not under.’ Both acts are operative in certain counties only.—See Purdon’s Digest.
“Ornamental fences for enclosing gardens, yards, &c., are almost as diversified as the ideas of beauty in the human mind. ‘The impression, on viewing grounds laid out with some pretension to taste, is governed in a degree, by the style and character of the surrounding fence. It is a great mistake to suppose the most elaborate (and of course costly) are the most pleasing; yet acting on this supposition, we see exhibited fences which appear to have been planned as if to show the amount of money which could be thus expended, and after all, they rather disgust than please.
“‘The figures 42, 43, 44, illustrate three simple designs, formed by straight slats or pales, and therefore of the least expense; they are readily executed, and agreeable from their simplicity. The colour which should be used, is of course a matter of taste; white is generally preferred, though dark shades, even jet black, are the most pleasing to many; for ourselves, we should choose the latter, though it be not the best, so far as the preservation of the wood is concerned.’—Rural Reg.”

“As far as practicable, make divisions which are necessary about the house of the ha-ha or blind fence, or of hedges, for which purpose the Maclura or Osage Orange is believed to be one of the most desirable plants.”

“A. What a fine place you have got! that is a neat, well painted front fence; the flower plat between it and the house, with the evergreen in the centre is beautiful, and that verandah over the door, covered with flowering vines, looks well.”

  • Downing, A. J., 1849, A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (pp. 343–44) [58]
Fences are often among the most unsightly and offensive objects in our country seats. Some persons appear to have a passion for subdividing their grounds into a great number of fields; a process which is scarcely ever advisable even in common farms, but for which there can be no apology in elegant residences. The close proximity of fences to the house gives the whole place a confined and mean character. . . . It is frequently the case that, on that side of the house nearest the outbuildings, fences are, for convenience, brought in its close neighborhood, and here they are easily concealed by plantations; but on the other sides, open and unobstructed views should be preserved, by removing all barriers not absolutely necessary.
“An old stone wall covered with creepers and climbing plants, may become a picturesque barrier a thousand times superior to such a fence. But there is never one instance in a thousand where any barrier is necessary.”

“Too much has been already said and written upon the subject of wire fences, to require any remarks from me upon their beauty and economy. Even upon farms, they are cheaper and more durable, and vastly more economical, than anything else, since no ground is lost on either side; and the plough and the scythe can be used immediately up to and under them. Upon ornamental places, especially of any size, I consider them almost indispensable to high keeping.
“The great fault of our places in America, is the want of a proper termination to the ornamental grounds; or, rather, some intelligible division between the ornamental and practical. . . .
“The wire fence, therefore, forms an agreeable termination or setting to our ornamental grounds; or, if needs be, a division between the dressed and undressed portions of the estate. By its adoption, we might materially diminish the amount of lawn now kept under the scythe,—producing similar effects by substituting cattle—especially sheep—and increasing very much the charm of the landscape by the introduction of animated nature.
“I doubt if the keenest eye can detect my fence at 30 or 40 yards distance. Consequently, our finest places even do not require a lawn larger than twice this breadth in diameter, provided the grass on the other side is kept equally short by sheep.”

  • Jeffreys [pseud.], January 1850, “Critique on November Horticulturist” (Horticulturist 4: 313)
Invisible Wire Fences.—Yes, and visible ones too, I trust, will soon begin to appear in this rail-fence and stone-wall distracted country of ours. Why it is that in the grounds of our wealthy country residents, they have not long ago been adopted, is passing strange. In all the long catalogue of farm, park, lawn and garden enclosures, there is nothing equal to it. . . .
“The substitution of wire fences for those now in use, will give to every farm, park, or lawn where they are introduced, a higher value. The improvement will be incalculable. Instead of rickety, zig-zag rail and board fences, and dilapidated stone walls with their interminable attendants of brush, briars and vermin, they will afford clean cultivation, and save a great amount of labor and waste now suffered by every one who has them to support.”






  1. Humphry Repton, Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (London: Printed by T. Bensley for J. Taylor, 1803), 84.
  2. For a more detailed discussion of fence types, see Vanessa Patrick, “Partitioning the Landscape,” Colonial Williamsburg Research Report(Williamsburg, Va.: Williamsburg Foundation, 1983); Elizabeth Wilkinson and Marjorie Henderson, eds., Decorating Eden: A Comprehensive Sourcebook of Classic Garden Details (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992), 42–69; Wilbur Zelinsky, “Walls and Fences,” in Changing Rural Landscapes, ed. Ervin H. and Margaret J. Zube (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1977), 53–63 [reprinted from Landscape 8, no. 3 (1959)].
  3. Patrick, “Partitioning the Landscape,” 2, 16.
  4. While treatise and dictionary definitions of “fence” list stone and brick as building materials, it was common practice in America to refer to stone and brick barriers as walls. In 1871, the first year for which statistics were kept, a study of fence types in New England revealed that stone fences ranged from 32 percent in Vermont and 33 percent in Connecticut to 67 percent in Maine and 79 percent in Rhode Island (see Zelinsky, “Walls and Fences,” 59).
  5. At Westover, research has revealed that the iron-gate was originally painted white (Carl Lounsbury, personal communication).
  6. See Gregory K. Dreicer, “Wired! The Fence Industry and the Invention of Chain Link,” in Between Fences, ed. Gregory K. Dreicer (Washington, D.C.: National Building Museum; New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996), 71.
  7. Robert Emlen, Shaker Village Views: Illustrated Maps and Landscape Drawings by Shaker Artists of the Nineteenth Century (Hanover, N.H., and London: University Press of New England, 1987), 8.
  8. William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983), 130–31.
  9. The functions, both symbolic and practical, of fences have been explored in an exhibition and catalogue organized and edited by Gregory K. Dreicer, Between Fences, cited in note 6.
  10. Billings, Warren M., ed. 1975. The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606-1689. Williamsburg, Va.: Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, Virginia. view on Zotero
  11. Lockwood, Alice B., ed. 1931-1934. Gardens of Colony and State: Gardens and Gardeners of the American Colonies and of the Republic before 1840. 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s for the Garden Club of America. view on Zotero
  12. Thomforde, Charles. 1986. “William Penn’s Estate at Pennsbury and the Plants of Its Kitchen Garden”. Master’s thesis, Public Horticulture Administration, University of Delaware. view on Zotero
  13. Kalm, Pehr. 1937. The America of 1750: Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America. The English Version of 1770. 2 vols. New York: Wilson-Erickson. view on Zotero
  14. Darlington, William. 1849. Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston. view on Zotero
  15. Anburey, Thomas. [1789] 1969. Travels through the Interior Parts of America. 2 vols. New York: New York Times and Arno Press. view on Zotero
  16. Cutler, Manasseh. 1987. Life, Journals, and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler. Edited by William Parker Cutler and Julia Perkin Cutler. 2 vols. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. view on Zotero
  17. Brissot de Warville, J.-P. (Jacques-Pierre). 1792. New Travels in the United States Performed in 1788. New York: T. & J. Swords. view on Zotero
  18. Bentley, William. 1962. The Diary of William Bentley, D.D., Pastor of the East Church, Salem, Massachusetts. Vol. 1, 2 and 4. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith. view on Zotero
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