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Disappearing Fences and Garden Gates

posted Jul 10, 2018, 7:19 AM by James Nennemann
By Sherry Perkins

At one time they multiplied as fast as rabbits across the Midwest and western United States. Fences were put up quickly as farms and ranches were established, defining boundaries while keeping the livestock under control. Although fences could stop disputes, they weren’t always seen as harmless--range wars could be triggered by the wrong fence in the wrong location. Most were made of wire–some barbed–some not, and some made of wood. Fence posts were often made from the limbs of the Osage Orange tree, known for its durable wood. Later on, the steel post became a part of the equation. Today, the fences are disappearing along with the old barns and windmills. Fewer farmers need to build or repair fences, particularly if they do not keep livestock—the routine of having a rider open the gate is becoming a thing of the past.

Back in the day, garden gates were a part of every farmstead and even some town yards. Every farm yard was surrounded by a wire fence on all sides with each side having a “garden gate” from which you either entered or exited.
In the country there were many reasons for the gate and fence, including keeping at bay farm animals who thought the grass was greener on the inside. The barrier kept out the chickens who liked to scratch Mom’s flowers while leaving you-know-what for the kids’ barefoot toes to find. And speaking of kids, the fence kept little ones from venturing off into the many dangers lurking in stock tanks, hay mows, hog pens and machinery. 

The gate itself was sometimes tricky to unlatch. Some gates had attached weights which could create a strong spring action catching slow-moving humans, knocking some folks over. Gates drew children like a magnet; they were fun to swing on and climb over. Some gates were very decorative with curly-cues on the top bar and others were just plain squares or rectangles of wire that invited small feet to climb aboard. Words of Did you shut the gate? were common at most houses. Sometimes the family vegetable garden had its own fence which didn’t keep away small predators or deer of course, but the growing vegetables were protected from hooves of cows, pigs, and horses.  But only if you Shut The Garden Gate! Yard fences were also often used for drying the heavy, wet overalls on wash day when the clothesline was full.

Songs and poems about the garden gate aren’t being written anymore. Youngsters today would probably struggle in simply opening a gate but they are commanding good prices at auctions, being used for decorative purposes in the flower and rock gardens of this 21st Century where they sit like royalty among the tulips, peonies and yucca. Their ornate wires and square pipe have the ability to take one back to a simpler time and open one’s mind to the many memories they hold.


A white picket fence in Tabor around 1890
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