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Wilson County, Mt. Juliet

The Chandler Stone Wall

The Chandler Stone Wall

The following is a report from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, "Architectural Assessment for Proposed Improvements to Route 4450", August 1997, conducted by Ruth D. Nichols and Robbie D. Jones, Historic Preservation Specialists with cooperation from Mr. Larry Kent, property owner.

Located along the south side of the Old Lebanon Dirt Road near the Chandler-Radford Road, is a farm site that holds a stone wall and dam and a natural bridge formation. Completed circa 1900 by John D. Chandler (1868-1958), this unique stone dam/drainage/wall structure was designed to dam a local creek and a series of under ground springs to promote land reclamation. Apparently Chandler, a local farmer, stone mason, and blacksmith, spent approximately four years constructing the system utilizing "dry laid" masonry to create a reservoir, dam, retaining wall, and underground "drain tiles" that served as a land reclamation project. The stone wall, which extends approximately 266 feet along the south side of the Old Lebanon Dirt Road, is approximately five feet high and retains adjacent farmland south of the structure. At the west end of the wall is an attached stone dam that stretches across a shallow creek. A small reservoir, north of the dam, drains into the creek which runs under the Old Lebanon Dirt Road in a north/south pattern

John D. Chandler, born in 1868, inherited approximately 90 acres along the Old Lebanon Dirt Road in 1898. His dwelling, located northwest of the existing dam and bridge is no longer standing, as it burned in the mid-to-late 1970's and was never reconstructed. Construction of the stone wall, dam, and drainage system apparently began prior to Chandler's legal ownership of the property as family members state that the wall was completed around 1900, only two years after the transfer of the property to Chandler. Construction of this system was completed by Chandler himself, who cut the stone and hauled it to the road using horses hitched to a makeshift sled. Supports for the dam include steel beams fashioned by Chandler in his blacksmith shop. Current owner, Larry Kent, states his father, Chandler's great nephew-in-law, purchased the property in 1953 because Chandler could no longer care for the farm. At the time, the parcel held approximately 57 acres. Chandler passed away in December 1958, twenty days prior to his 90th birthday. Larry Kent gained the property in 1991 and continues to use it for agricultural purposes.

Although Tennessee has not conducted a state wide inventory of its stone fence resources, an extensive study of Kentucky's rock walls and fences dates dry laid construction in that region to as early as 1777. The term "dry laid" illustrates the lack of mortar in this type of fencing technique. Dry laid fencing, identified as the most common type of stone wall/fence construction, incorporates a method in which builders either dug a narrow trench or laid foundation stones directly on bedrock and stacked stones, creating double coursed walls with battered sides that sloped inward toward the top. Chandler's initial attempts at construction of the retaining wall incorporated a method of laying stones directly upon the ground. This failed to support the wall and Chandler constructed the structure using a trench to support the stone foundation members.

The construction of stone fences and dams for use in water control necessitated that builders incorporate a plan which allowed water to flow under the fence without putting pressure on it. Common construction methods incorporated a long lintel across the creek supported by normally coursed stone on either side and above the lintel. In Chandler's dam, several hand made steel "angle iron" beams serve lintels supporting the dam which measures approximately eleven feet in height and two feet in width. A cedar gate at the south end of the dam controlled the flow of water into the reservoir, which is a common feature seen in Kentucky's early stone dams.

It is unlikely that Chandler's efforts were influenced by government publications of the period distributed by the Agricultural Extensions Service. The date of Chandler's construction, believed to have been completed circa 1900, predates the guidelines. Additionally, extension service publications as well as agricultural journals of the period discouraged the construction of traditional stone dams and fences emphasizing that such practices were expensive and inefficient. Material such as wood, concrete, and barbed wire were encouraged for use as inexpensive alternatives.

Prior to the 1920's, the government played no active role in the promotion of soil conservation. Although government funded research on soil improvement began during the 1800's. It was up to the individual farmer to upgrade and maintain his farmland. During the 1920's, agricultural journals and the Department of Agriculture's Extension Service began national campaigns stressing the importance of individual soil control and land reclamation. These efforts finally led to congressional involvement that in 1929 funded a national study of soil erosion. Chandler, obviously acting alone in his decision to construct a drainage/land control system, illustrates this typical pattern in which individual farmers created their own systems of erosion control based on what each farmer knew or learned through traditional agricultural practices. As mentioned previously, Chandler's stone wall, dam, and irrigation system was created as an extensive soil reclamation project. At the south side of the stone wall, one can see that the fields behind this wall have been built up by a depth of at least four feet. Chandler flooded his farmland and recaptured lost soil through use of an extensive drainage system. As a traditional farmer, Chandler continued to raise corn the entire time he owned his property, again illustrating probable lack of influence from modern agricultural literature that promoted the production of experimental crops such as soybeans. Still functional today, Chandler's system includes numerous ditches and hand made underground stone drain tiles that channel underground springs and carry water into the reservoir. Chandler's creation originally included a stone extension fence that admitted livestock into the reservoir area where they could drink. This portion of the original stone fence is no longer intact. Farmland south of the exterior stone wall that fronts Old Lebanon Dirt Road retains strong evidence of its historic use with remains of an access road to the southern pastures, extant hand dug channels, and open fields that are still utilized for agricultural purposes.

Editor's Note: John D. Chandler was the son of Shelton and Thursey Melvin Chandler. He married 29 April 1891 in Wilson County, Sarah W. Jackson, daughter of William F. and Elizabeth Wilson Jackson. John D. is buried in the Cowgill Cemetery on Old Lebanon Dirt Road (Davidson County).



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