Lee Troutwine’s property on Elkhorn Creek in Peaks Mill featured a 104-year-old home and fields surrounded by dry stone fences when the 1997 flood submerged everything on the grounds.
After surveying the damage to the stone fences, Troutwine started collecting estimates for repair.
“The prices were astronomical, so I tried to figure out if I could do it myself,” he told the October gathering of The Garden Club of Frankfort.
After taking some classes, Troutwine embarked on the repairs and has been building dry stone fences for the past 16 years.
“I never thought I would be doing this,” he said. “I was a bureaucrat in state government and now I use a sledgehammer. What was a necessity became a hobby, then an obsession and now is a lucrative occupation.”
Troutwine is a second level dry mason and, along with the Dry Stone Conservancy, is on a mission to support preservation of dry stone structures and revive and promote the ancient craft of dry-laid stone masonry. The Bluegrass Region of Kentucky was known for its impressive number of dry stone structures built with native limestone. Today only 5-7 percent of the rock fences remain.
“They are part of our heritage, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate due to developers, contour farming and the lack of qualified masons to repair them,” he said.
Troutwine explained that most dry laid walls will last for 150 to 200 years with only a little attention. They last so long because “you are actually building two walls with small stones in the middle and, with freezing and thawing, these walls keep getting tighter and tighter,” he said.
“In addition to lasting a very long time, dry stone walls can be built anywhere on any type of ground, are fireproof, don’t rot, don’t need painting, and are environmentally friendly,” said Troutwine. “The rocks can be recycled, small animals can live in the walls, and large animals respect them. Most of all, a dry-stone fence is a thing of beauty.”
After discussing some of the technical aspects of building a dry stone wall, Troutwine encouraged Garden Club members to consider creating garden walls and paths with dry stone masonry. He shared pictures of many of his own projects.
“If you took just one class offered by the Dry Stone Conservancy, you could begin to adapt dry stone masonry to your own garden,” said Troutwine. “The classes are offered in the spring and fall, but they fill up fast.”