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Monday, February 4, 2013

VINTAGE ARCHITECTURAL NATIVE LIMESTONE ROCK

 Hand chiseled ends on large limestone stairs
 Lancaster, Kentucky

As one visits the towns and rural areas  of  central Kentucky you are likely to bypass many beautiful stairs that were designed for households and commercial establishments from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. More than likely you wouldn't notice them -- as stairs are just stairs -- right? 

However, the stairs that you see in my photos above and below all have a connection to the social and economic history of the area. I think a pretty interesting one.



Limestone steps to a historic home in Lancaster, Kentucky

The vintage stairs shown are made out of native limestone that  was found in either local rock outcroppings in fields, creek beds or in small quarries. 

Native limestone contributed an important and respectful architectural material to the area's settlement era.  One can still find an abundance of vintage limestone rock being used for walls, fences, chimneys, foundations, stairs,  housing, sidewalks and other building configurations.

It was a major building material in and around central Kentucky and to accomplish this certain social and economic factors came together.

One being immigration. During the 1800s stone masons,  mainly from Ireland, immigrated to the area to practice their homeland  trade of masonry. The Irish potato famine during the mid-1800s seemed to be one of the driving forces for immigration to the states. 

Secondly, prior to the civil war, black slaves were able to fill in as masonry assistants. After the civil war  black assistants became masons in their own right.  

Old limestone steps remaining from a buildings long gone.
Mt Vernon, Kentucky

Masonry during this time was slow work. The work was done by hand  -- having rock delivered to the work site and then carefully chiseled with special tools to fit the project at hand.   The rock was delivered by horse driven wagons.

If one studies the different old limestone masonry work around central Kentucky one will eventually recognize that each mason left his own individualized  imprint on his work.  Some very finely accomplished -- some rather naive. To be able to attach individual names to certain limestone projects is rare -- their names being lost to history. Basically masonry was a male trade during this era. 

So the interesting story is that it took blacks, immigrants and limestone coming together to leave not only a social impact on the area but an economic one that left architectural integrity on the built environment in central Kentucky. 

Reference used for this post:
My thanks to the authors Carolyn Murray-Wooley and Karl Raitz, authors of Rock Fences of the Bluegrass.Their book contains fascinating research on the limestone fences of central Kentucky. 


16 comments:

  1. The simplest things all have a story...thank you for sharing.

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    1. You are so right. Everywhere we look there are stories. Thanks -- barbara

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  2. Stories live in everything touched by human hand, no matter how humble, this post says that in a lovely way. If we have but eyes to see, the world around us is full of interest and beauty. You catch it with your camera and with your words.

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    1. June -- Such nice words from you. There is so much that can interest us if we just slow down and take the time to observe. Sometimes I feel like our world is just spinning so fast that many people don't know what is really going on -- they just march. -- barbara

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  3. I love seeing all of this stonework all over our state. Nothing quite like it!

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    1. Michelle -- I found the story about Kentucky stonemasons who constructed these pieces of "art" terrific -- thanks to Ms Murray-Wooley who did a terrific piece of writing and research on the limestone fences in Kentucky. -- barbara

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  4. Barbara, I so enjoy your posts! I live in Cincinnati, and have spent time in many of the areas you write about: caving and camping in Rockcastle County, staging outings from Mt. Vernon, or just driving around the countryside south of the Ohio River taking pictures. Your knowledge of culture and history, and your love of place, really adds to my understanding of Kentucky. Thank you.

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    1. Lexie -- What a wonderful historic town you live in. When I ride through it I gawk at all the fantastic old buildings. You are not far from my favorite old city that looks like a movie set -- Maysville. What an unspoiled town -- it has maintained its beautiful history through all its commercial structures. We have something in common -- our cameras -- this is a great area from Cincinnati south to take photos. thanks for the nice comment -- barbara

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  5. Very interesting - we have a lot of limestone here in NW Washington - whole huge buildings made of it - not just steps and fences. It is amazing to see the marks made by the masons as they formed the gigantic pieces that became buildings. I don't know the history of it - and need to look into it.

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    1. Your buildings must certainly be beautiful. It would be interesting to find the history of these limestone structures. Rock in any form is rather mystical to me. thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  6. I like the simple, even crude, look of these steps. We have only one kind of rock here: porous lava rock, which is good for walls and steps and crude shelters. Hawaiians built large structures called Heiaus, using lava rock.
    http://www.aloha-hawaii.com/hawaii/heiau/
    We have nice lava rock walls on our property. I should take pictures of them.
    The best walls are built without mortar by Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders.

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    1. Hattie -- Interesting about your natives and how they built with it. Would love to see some exanples on your post. Early settlers here dried-laid their rock walls. Not until about the late 1800s or so did they start using mortar between the rocks. thanks -- barbara

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  7. Such a simple staircase and the interesting things about it. Sometimes we are so busy we just pass by without really looking. Thank you for sharing your insight and history of these stairs.

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    1. Diane -- The layers of material objects we set down historically make us what we are today. By peeling back the layers we can understand more about who we are as a people -- as least that is what I think. thanks Diane for stopping by -- barbara

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  8. Most interesting. I love these sidelines to history. Our "karst" region in southeastern Minnesota rests on limestone as well. It was shipped to face buildings in New York and other points east. Today the our new baseball park (Target Field)is partly constructed of this material.

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  9. Interesting post, Barbara. Limestone is such a great resource for the areas that have it. Here we have fieldstone -- not very workable.

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