One of our most recent week-long stops was at Minooka Park Campground (September 2017) at the Wilson Lake Corps of Engineers in north-central Kansas; not far from the I-70 Interstate. Situated along State Route K-232 through three counties in the Smoky Hills, lies the Post Rock Scenic Byway.
The Byway stretches 18 miles running north and south. The peculiar name of the Scenic Byway, ‘Post Rock’ is named for the native limestone post rock fence posts and homes that line the route.
When driving through Kansas and neighboring fly-over states, you’ll notice there are very few trees and timber to harvest to make fence posts and building materials. Transporting timber from afar was and still is costly. So, back in the 1800’s, settlers, ranchers and farmers sought the best material that was literally at their feet…LIMESTONE.
History of Limestone…
Limestone is formed atop many layers of sediment which was deposited by a series of interior water formations tens to even hundreds of millions of years ago. This limestone became a common practical-use fencing and building material in the last years of the 19th century by the settlers who built their homesteads. The limestone was durable, fire resistant and easy to shape with proper tools when it is quarried.
Since there was very little timber available, through plant growth or shipping, the homesteaders used this versatile rock to build their houses and outbuildings.
When quarried, Limestone is fairly soft and easy to manipulate by drilling and shaping and hardened after being exposed to air. Bricks were formed on-site by splitting and shaping uniformly. They were then transported by teams of horses and wagons back to the homesteads to be used with mortar to build homes and outbuildings.
Today, in small towns in this region, limestone brick buildings, churches and homes still stand the test of time. There’s even a hotel or two. In the town of Wilson, the historical ’round jail’ still stands.
Here’s a few other limestone brick buildings the town of Wilson…
There was an idea of modernizing building fronts using a stucco finish however, the limestone outlived the stucco finish…
Even some didn’t stand the test of time but they make interesting ruins…
A fence is not ‘just’ a fence…
It was because of upset farmers whose crops were traipsed by free-ranging cattle that spawned these interesting and archaic fences.
The limestone was drilled and split on-site into 5-6’ long and 8-12” thick posts weighing approximately 300-400 pounds and then hand-shaped with tools before transporting. This was intense work that required a lot of time, muscle and skill. These posts were then transported to the pasture by teams of horses and wagons, sleds or boats.
On the farms and ranches, post holes measured 18 inches to two-plus feet deep depending on the height of the posts. Naturally, the heavier end of the new posts were set marking ranchers’ and farmers’ boundaries. Post holes were dug about every 15’ equaling a finished fence line of 320 posts per mile. Corner posts were erected with two leaning posts to create a 45 degree angle. After all the posts were set, each was wound with fencing wire that stretched to the next post, wound again, and so on thus, creating a boundary fence.
Interestingly, smooth wire was originally used since the 1830’s. However, it proved inadequate because the livestock rubbed against the wire thus loosening the posts and breaking down the fences. Then, in 1874, patents were filed to create ‘hedge thorn’ barbs on the wire, however, it wasn’t until nine years later that they were legally sanctioned. By the 1890’s, hedge-thorned wire was most common because of it’s efficiency of keeping the cattle from damaging the fences and breaking free. Today, we recognize hedge-thorn wire as ‘barbed wire’.
Even today, these Post Rock Fences are commonly used for the same reasons as a hundred fifty years ago. Now, after quarrying by modern masons, they are often inscribed with fancy insignia, designs, names, letters and numbers.
Where is the Post Rock Scenic Byway?
The Post Rock Scenic Byway is an 18 mile route that winds north and south through the Smoky Hills along K-232 in Ellsworth, Lincoln and Russell Counties in north central Kansas. K-232 is a two-lane asphalt surfaced road. The byway connects I-70 on the south with K-18 on the north and links the communities of Wilson (Ellsworth County) and Lucas (Russell County).
Don’t forget to visit the Post Rock Museum in Rush County, Kansas for more in-depth historical information: