An 1800s Style Backwoods Homestead

Larry Hall decides to build his retirement hobby farm in the style of an 1800s backwoods homestead.


| April/May 2000


Building a retirement farm in the style of an 1800s backwoods homestead.

The grass is greener . . . on the other side of the split rail fence.

We wanted a split rail zigzag fence (also called a snake or worm fence), which was a form of construction prevalent in Colonial America. Instead of herding livestock the European way, by using swineherds and shepherds, Colonial homesteaders put their time and energy into building fences. Fencing land was such a common pioneer practice — by one estimate there were 6 million miles of wooden fence in America by the 1880s that townships often required the services of a fence viewer. This locally elected official insured that new fences were built exactly on boundary lines. He also settled arguments concerning loose livestock and made sure all fences in his district were in good repair.

Though past its heyday, split rail fencing remains as relevant a construct in rural America today as it was in the days of our pioneer ancestors, when the value of wooden fencing often exceeded that of the land itself.

Building Fences

In Colonial days, the rule of thumb for fence building was that you needed one acre of timber to fence ten acres. In our case, to build 500 feet of fence we needed 414 fence rails. We took 38 trees, all oak and cedar, from our 15-acre woodlot, cut each tree into two or three 9' logs, then quartered each log to produce four rails. Keep in mind that selecting trees for split rails is not like cutting dead and hollow trees for firewood; they must be sound, straight and the right size.

When it came time for construction of my backwoods homestead, I took hints from Colonial fencing, while making a few changes and improvements to the pioneer technique. Back then, the standard length for a rail was 11 feet, a length so widely accepted that farm fields were often measured by walking the fence line and counting the rails. However, I made the length of our rails 9 feet so I could get three sets of rails from most trees felled, and so that the completed fence would be less likely to sag.





mother earth news fair 2018 schedule

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!

LEARN MORE



Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard


Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265