Feature Story

Iron Fences

Page No. 115

Next time you visit Center Cemetery in Colchester, if you look closely at the left or right gate post, down at the bottom on the shoe of the gate post, you will see Page No. 115 cast in the metal.

Page, i.e., Page Woven Wire Fence Company, was founded in 1889 by J. Wallace Page, a Civil War veteran, farmer, tinkerer, and future industrialist. By 1898, Page had turned (pardon the pun) his one man fence making shop into two large plants, one in Adrian, Michigan and the other in Monessen, Pennsylvania, producing woven wire, farm fence gates, wire, nails, staples, and wrought iron fences for cemeteries.

No. 115 refers to one of a number of cemetery fence patterns available from the Page Woven Wire Fence Company. Their 36 page catalog from about 1910 shows patterns No. 114 and No. 116; the similarity to No. 115 is obvious.


Pattern No. 114

Pattern No. 115

Pattern No. 116

Cemetery fence companies can often be identified by the shields they placed on the cemetery gates. The first example to the right is a shield for the American Fence and Iron Works Co., Cincinnati, Ohio. In some cases they can be identified by distinct styles. And in other cases, some fence component is marked with a catalog number that can be traced to a specific company, as we found in Colchester. Look for these fence markings when you are next in a cemetery, take pictures, and start Googling when you get home. You will be surprised by the amount of history in your fence.

Up-To-Date Mfg. Co.

Mrs. Mary Thornton's 1911 testimonial letter to the proprieters of the Up-To-Date Mfg. Co. of Terre Haute, Indiana included this charge: There are two cemeteries not far from here that needs fencing very bad. I do hope after they see this fence that they will send you their order. Those proprieters, Messers. Srofe and Bindley, emphatically guarantee everything in their 1911 catalogue including their fencing for cemeteries and churches, as shown below.

A Brief Primer on Ironwork

There are essentially three types of golden age (1870-1920) cemetery fences (although there are many sub-types or varieties), according to Chicora Foundation, Inc., Columbia, S.C.

The most common (at least today) are the wrought or cast fences. These were manufactured by companies such as Stewart Iron Works, and consisted of either two or three wrought rails into (or onto) which were attached various cast elements. These are often classified as picket (either beveled or with special picket heads), hairpin, hairpin and picket, bow and picket, and bow and hairpin, although a great variety of other designs (short-long pickets, scroll, etc.) can be found. Posts were often of four distinct types: line (solid, often wrought), panel, square/solid (usually cast), and open or scroll.


Picket

Hairpin

Hairpin and picket

Bow and picket

Bow and hairpin

Scalloped picket


Post forms: Line, Panel, Square/solid, Open/scroll

Less common but found at many cemeteries are pipe fences, also called "gas pipe fences" in many catalogs. There is much less information about these designs, although many can be quite attractive. They often were galvanized, frequently with white metal decorative elements. They may be found set in stone posts using lead or in metal posts with a white metal clip. They may also be found as low fences set on stone walls.


Pipe fence

A third fence type is woven wire. These were the least expensive and many were very intricate. Unfortunately they are also the least well preserved, often being damaged by mowing and quickly corroding. A few may still be found around family plots or individual graves (where they were often only a foot high), as arbors and other decorative devices.


Woven wire fence

Barry Trutor, VOCA Member