Pelly said the Shaker’s commissioned laborers, mostly immigrants from Great Britain who were skilled in the craft of dry stone masonry, to build the fences in the mid 1800s. He said upkeep is a year-round process, as sections of the fences are often toppled by trees, livestock and the occasional errant motorist.
Pelly credited the conservancy for its vital role in maintaining them. He said the group sends a craftsmen once a year to conduct a workshop for the seven Shaker Village staffers who are regularly called upon to fix the fences.
The conservancy has also fostered Boyle resident Scott Rogers’ interest in dry stone masonry.
Rogers was competing in the novice division for the first time Saturday, but is no stranger to the ubiquitous structures at Shaker Village. He took a one-day course provided by the conservancy in 2006, and has been volunteering to do repairs on the walls at Pleasant Hill over the past year.
Rogers said he became interested in the work earlier in the decade and took his first class with master craftsman Neil Rippingale, the chairman of the competition committee and one of the judges.
In addition to helping with repairs at Shaker Village, he said he has also done some work around Perryville with the understanding that the owners make a donation to charity for his labor.
When the horn sounded at 8:30 a.m., Rogers and competitors from 11 states went to work taking down a section of the wall near the main entrance to Shaker Village. They would needed less than 30 minutes to raze what would take them hours of work to meticulously rebuild.
Entrants compete in novice, amateur and professional divisions. They had until 5 p.m. to rebuild a 46-inch tall section of wall following internationally recognized guidelines.
They were judged on such things as efficient use of stone, proper tie-in to the adjacent competitor’s section and accuracy in matching the historic pattern of the stonework.
The top prize in the professional class received $500 in cash and an additional $500 worth of tools and equipment.
Chris Harp, the conservancy’s executive director, said intensifying the bonds among those interested in dry stone masonry is just as important as displaying their skills.
“The main purpose is really to build camaraderie in what is a very small occupational field,” Harp said. “People get to know each other and it is obviously a great benefit to Shaker Village that they can have 35 people work to rebuild their rock fences.”
Harp said the week before and after the competition are a time for the conservancy to conduct a sort of “boot camp.” There have been a series of workshops and classes and next week certification exams will be given.
This year’s competition also drew Dan Snow, a master craftsman who is a celebrity in the world of rock wall construction. Snow gave a presentation and signed his book at Shaker Village on Friday night.
The non-profit conservancy was established in 1996 with the stated mission to “preserve historic dry stone structures, to advance the dry stone masonry craft, and to create a center for training and expertise nationwide.”
Harp said the group’s formation was precipitated in part by the Paris Pike road widening project and recognition that there were dwindling numbers of fences and people with the skill to rebuild them.
Wooley said there is not a comprehensive inventory of how many rock walls are still standing, but said it is believed that it is only around 10 percent of what it once was.
Wooley said Kentucky rivals New England, where Snow and several of the competitors hale from, for the abundance of dry stone walls. She said there were several reasons why so many fences were once built in the Bluegrass region.
“First of all, we have plentiful building material right under our feet,” she said, referring to the abundant limestone the area is know for. “Many of them were built for keeping stock and, built properly, they can last through generations. It was considered a symbol of good, sustainable farming practices and likely a symbol of status as well.”