May 31, 2002 | By: Aimee D. Heald

A drive down rural Kentucky roads reveals hundreds of stone fences. Some are new, some are restored and still others have remained untouched since their creation.

Until now, travelers in southeastern Kentucky’s Clay County didn’t see stone fences. A group of women decided they wanted to change that and sought the help of Jan Hutto, Clay County native and the first woman certified as a master stone craftsman in the United States. These women wanted to preserve Kentucky’s heritage while at the same time teaching young people a job skill that could keep them in Clay County after graduation.

Daphene Lewis is part of Clay County’s Women Involved in Agriculture team. She is optimistic about the future of stone fencing and the potential it holds for employment opportunities in the area.

“Stone fencing is becoming a lost art in Kentucky,” she said. “The main goal of the project is to teach the children a skill they can use as a money-maker in the county. But it’s also an art and something they can take with them if they choose to leave the county.”

Lora Lee Howard, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer sciences, plays an integral role in the stone fence project by coordinating many of the funding efforts, encouraging school children to get involved and developing ways to gain support in the communities of Manchester and Burning Springs.

“We’re really trying to teach our youth and adults a heritage skill,” Howard said. “Jan [Hutto] is from this area and she really wants to help people learn a skill that will keep them in Clay county if they want to stay here.”

The current project is a fence started by Clay County middle school students at an emerging community park in Burning Springs. The students have worked with Hutto, Lewis, Howard and other women to begin a fence that will eventually serve as the welcoming feature of the park. So far the students have used seven tons of stone but the finished product will utilize nearly 50 tons of stone.

Students at Burning Springs Elementary School, adjacent to the new park, have started a fund raising project for the cost of the stone by collecting pennies from their classmates. Howard said the students wanted to have a part in the park and that was a fun way to do it.

Howard also has helped start a “Buy A Ton” project in the local community. She said businesses agree to buy a ton of stone for the projects at a cost of about $120, and in return the donors receive a certificate to hang up at their business showing their participation. Howard said right now they have about 15 businesses participating in the “Buy A Ton” project. The first seven tons were donated by a company in Corbin, Ky.

The students primarily are learning to use the dry stone technique for fencing, but a future project at Clay County High School will challenge students to use the technique for a unique landscape design. Another project will also be started at Clay County Middle School.

“Landscaping is becoming very popular in the county,” Lewis said. “We’ve got a gardening club in the county now and stone projects could be a big part of that in the future.”

Whether for fences or landscapes or just learning a fun new skill, those involved in the project are helping to preserve a Kentucky tradition. All the stones are laid free-handed with no mortar to continue the same tradition started by Irish immigrants to the area more than 150 years ago.


Lora Lee Howard 606-598-2789