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Gray rock fences built of ancient limestone are hallmarks of Kentucky’s Bluegrass landscape. Why did Kentucky farmers turn to rock as fence-building material when most had earlier used hardwood rails? Who were the masons responsible for Kentucky’s lovely rock fences and what are the different rock forms used in this region?

In this generously illustrated book, Carolyn Murray-Wooley and Karl Raitz address those questions and explore the background of Kentucky’s rock fences, the talent and skill of the fence masons, and the Irish and Scottish models they followed in their work. They also correct inaccurate popular perceptions about the fences and use census data and archival documents to identify the fence masons and where they worked.

As the book reveals, the earliest settlers in Kentucky built dry-laid fences around eighteenth-century farmsteads, cemeteries, and mills. Fence building increased dramatically during the nineteenth century so that by the 1880s rock fences lined most roads, bounded pastures and farmyards throughout the Bluegrass. Farmers also built or commissioned rock fences in New England, the Nashville Basin, and the Texas hill country, but the Bluegrass may have had the most extensive collection of quarried rock fences in North America.

This is the first book-length study on any American fence type. Filled with detailed fence descriptions, an extensive list of masons’ names, drawings, photographs, and a helpful glossary, it will appeal to folklorists, historians, geographers, architects, landscape architects, and masons, as well as general readers intrigued by Kentucky’s rock fences.

Expertly produced with excellent layout, illustrations, and organization. Clear, well-written, and interesting. -- Filson Club History Quarterly

An outstanding study . . . the finest work to date on American fences. -- Geographical Review

Offers a thorough introduction to the history, geography, and culture of the Bluegrass to both the armchair visitor and the seasoned Kentucky resident. -- Vernacular Architecture Newsletter

This beautifully illustrated book traces the origins of Kentucky fences back to Irish and Scottish examples. -- Washington Post

In this deeply research book, she brings all of her expertise and experience to bear on a notable built landscape feature of Kentucky: the pioneer stone house. This is an impressive, scholarly, profoundly researched, and fully illustrated book. Her writing is clear, making it accessible to a general public, and enhanced by a glossary of architectural terms. . . .An immediately essential volume on any architectural historian’s bookshelf. -- John Wolford -- Ohio Valley History

This book will be of interest to those with an interest in Kentucky history. The book is well-written, and the chapters are self-contained to the point that they can be read in any order, depending on the reader’s interests. The illustrations are such that “Early Stone Houses” can sit on the coffee table, to be paged through when the moment strikes. -- Andrew McMichael -- Bowling Green Daily News

The beauty and effort of this volume are a tribute to the past and to [the author’s] notable efforts. -- The Folio

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Kentucky, Stone walls, Limestone


Cultural History


Color photographs by Ron Garrison.

Rock Fences of the Bluegrass
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