Who built this old stone wall in the middle of the woods?
On a recent hike not far from my home, I came across an old stone wall in the woods. Stone walls are not uncommon in Tennessee but this one seemed to be in a strange location, on a hillside in the woods. I was curious about its origin, so I did some research.
The old stone walls of the South
Most of the writing about old stone walls seems to center on the old stone walls of New England, but the south has a wealth of old, dry-built stone walls, too. I found this one in the woods of Middle Tennessee, but I was puzzled by its placement.
Clearly it’s an old wall, with mature trees grown up along its edges. But why was it built here — and by whom? A quick Google search found an article from the history department of a local university that says the origin and purpose of this old wall is unknown. Stone walls were used as defensive structures during the Civil War, and the university article offers that as one possible purpose of this particular wall, since it’s positioned on a hillside overlooking a river. But the bottom line is that no one knows its history.
Stone walls in the south were often built by slave laborers who were trained by skilled stone masons who had immigrated from Scotland and Ireland, where there’s a long history of stone wall construction. Some of these old mortarless stone walls were built as long ago as the early 1800s. They served as boundary markers along property lines, as fences to keep animals in (or sometimes out), and to protect cemeteries. Farmers needed to clear rocks from their fields for plowing, so the walls served a dual purpose.
History of stone walls found in Middle Tennessee
This article features interesting history of the old stone walls found throughout the nearby city of Forest Hills, Tennessee. Whether this same history can be applied to the mysterious wall featured in the video is anyone’s guess.
And this VOA article, Dry Stack Walls: A Disappearing Piece of American History – 2002-03-05, further discusses the influence of Scotch-Irish stone masons and slave labor on the building of dry-built stone walls in Middle Tennessee. This article also highlights the fragile state of these old mortarless walls. They’re valuable historic structures that are easily destroyed.
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