Downsville residents mending fences

September 18, 1998

from left: Bernie Wampler, Jaye Kline, Albert Gaylor and Clyde By MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

DOWNSVILLE - If the stone fences along Dam No. 4 Road could only talk.

Tales might emerge of slaves and farmhands laboring to clear antebellum fields of the seemingly inexhaustible supply of limestone, the bane of every Washington County farmer trying to plant a crop.

But of late, the crumbling pre-Civil War fence rows that stretch for several miles on both sides of the road most likely would plead for repairs.

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The Rev. Jan Dorsey, pastor of the Downsville Church of the Brethren, has heard the call and much-needed help is on the way.


"The fences were dry stacked when they were built. In other words, no mortar was used and over the years some stones have come loose and tumbled down," Dorsey said.

Weeds and debris also are choking out whole sections of the fence, hampering visibility for drivers using the narrow but heavily traveled road that leads to the Potomac River.

"We have initiated this as a community project in Downsville," Dorsey said. "We're looking for all the help we can get."

The project will begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, with the 250-foot section of fence across from the church.

A number of volunteers from the church will work through the day, bringing their own tools, gloves, work shoes and safety glasses.

"The women of the church will have drinks, snacks and a lunch for the workers," Dorsey said.

The Washington County Roads Department is scheduled to spray the fence walls before Sept. 26 to kill weeds, Dorsey said.

They also will put up road safety signs and provide safety vests on the days of the cleanups.

Drivers using that road on Sept. 26 are being urged to drive slowly and carefully, and to watch out for workers, Dorsey said.

Organizers are asking property owners, senior Scout troops, service clubs and other organizations to help with the work on Sept. 26.

High school students may be able to earn community service hours toward graduation, Dorsey said.

"For safety reasons, we can't use workers younger than high school age," Dorsey said.

Already, pledges of support for the project have been coming in.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook has volunteered to use his dump truck to help haul debris from the sites.

Snook said there are records showing that some of the fence is on established property lines while other sections are on private property.

Local historian John Frye said the entire section known as Downsville was part of Lord Baltimore's estate many years ago.

"I suspect the fence was built for two reasons," Frye said. The clearing for farming theory is valid since the Downsville area is known for its limestone, he said.

Frye said it also probably provided work for slaves who otherwise might not have had enough to do.

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