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The Fence Post

Spite Fences

November 20, 2019 | by Joe Morrell

ugly fence

The Eyesore

Some neighbors might ignore you quite satisfactorily, other neighbors are kind or conversational in passing, while some offer more exchange, even the possibility of becoming true friends. And then there are those neighbors that consider your mere presence an insult, the sight of you and your domain an anathema. This grumbling soul can for the most part be ignored by you, you imagine that there must be good reasons, and as you are not in charge of this curmudgeon's emotional state, it is best to simply go on about your business, keeping the glaring eyes in your periphery. Seething anger is unpleasant all the way to being scary and best not to jostle a hornet's nest. Until the day when it goes up--the eyesore, that pure symbol of animosity, a monument to meanness: an ugly fence. A spite fence. An intentionally unappealing fence that: 

  • has no purpose
  • goes with nothing
  • interrupts everything
  • calls attention to itself 

seated angry man raging with hoodie



Perhaps the phenomenon of "spite fences" is a new concept; generally, it's when a neighbor builds a fence to purposefully antagonize one's neighbors. If the fence is unattractive, the eyesore may elicit a response from the neighborhood as a whole or in part. If not already, the neighbors may become cut off from the contentious builder of the fence or from other neighbors as frustration builds and sides are taken. Litigation that involves such disputes is difficult to measure, as the offense for the most part is psychological with varying circumstances.

In the U.S., the blocking of light and air is not considered a recognized offense (as it can be in other countries.) If the issue is the height of a fence, local codes may be consulted and the law may have your back; however, merely blocking the view of a neighboring yard is not a cause for an official complaint. A major directive on fence building is that it not cause injury to others. Some states have adopted ordinances regarding spite fences and guidelines have been created. Generally, it must be established that the fence is solely built to antagonize and has no practical or seemly purpose. It is up to the defendant to prove that the fence has a function other than to perturb those living nearby.

Communicating Objections 

At the outset, it may be important to consider that you're not the one to approach the offender. One of your other neighbors may have a better relationship with the problematic fence owner and may be able to smooth the way. If you've collected other complaining neighbors, it may be best to put your objections in writing rather than showing up at the door en masse. On your own time, venting and gossiping about your neighbor may seem unifying with others, but it may be fueling the fire and raising your blood pressure. If at all possible, depending on the willingness of the various parties involved in a fence dispute, a mediator might be able to assist in a standoff. A trained mediator enables a discussion with both parties with the aim of establishing a dialogue, exploring the fence's (and the neighbor's) purpose, and the potential dismantling of the fence.  

two person writing on paper on brown wooden table

Lacking a Resolution

You must question yourself and realize that the conflict may never go away and that you must acknowledge your part in the dispute, working on the triggers the fence brings up in you.

  • Is it possible you are being merely self-seeking, arrogant, or high-minded?
  • Is your being right propping up a sense of self-righteousness that borders on obsession? 
  • Are there any inroads you could make to mollify the hostility with the neighbor?
  • Is there a way you can introduce humor into the situation moving forward, if only for yourself? 

Not feeding the antagonism may assist in a resolution. Adjust your perspective and try to find a bigger picture to help diffuse the tension. Taking a step back, and waiting to respond when conflict arises is always a good plan. It never hurts to retreat, reflect, allow your blood pressure to lower, and then return to the fray, if indeed necessary.

Woman Sitting on Brown Wooden Chair Beside Coconut

While we're on the subject of neighbors and boundaries, have a look at our blog, "Does a Good Fence Make a Good Neighbor?"

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Topics: fence building, fence choices, Fencing Tips

Stone Fences Yesterday and Today

October 17, 2019 | by Joe Morrell

The gold city series 02

Historic Fences Today

In exploring New England, one becomes aware of a continual presence during a hike or looking out a car window. Along the roadways, in forests, in front of homes, farms, and even office parks, stone fences speak silently of earlier times. The immutable evidence of a history of necessity; a result of farming and working the land, now juxtaposed with modernity recalls us to a fledgling nation. 

Frost Heaves and Rocks

17th-century settlers created field after field; pulling tree after tree out until the land was 70% deforested. This allowed rocks to become unearthed from a combination of erosion and frost heaves, resulting in piles of rocks hauled to the edges of fields. They were, over the following centuries, laboriously fashioned into the stone fences we see today. This created a distinct line of forest to field. Of similar origins to the field stones of the British Isles, these familiar rocks suited the settlers in New England. Some surmise that the earliest stone fence in New England dates to 1607, most likely it was previous to this date. Ultimately some 240,000 miles of stone fences were erected, peaking in the mid 19th century when industrialization altered the practice. 

green grass near wall and trees

Rock Lodgings

Stone fences are hives of activity for many types of wildlife--small creatures take refuge in the crevices, spaces, and tunnels. The evidence or tracks of mice, squirrels, chipmunks, minks, and weasels may be noticed in and around. The walls may serve as a system of trails by larger animals or foxes may deposit scat on or around the walls to alert others. As temperatures climb, spiders, worms, and insects use the stonewalls for shelter while tree frogs and snakes take refuge as well--hibernating beneath during the winter months. 

Here are some examples of more current stone fence building:



Another Historic Fence: Stacked Rails

Another early fence of note and particular to the practice of the early settlers is the worm fence. A fence, zigzag in plan, made of rails resting across one another at an angle - according to the Random House Dictionary. This style of fencing is also known as Snake Fence, ZigZag Fence, and Battlefield Fence - the latter term due to its presence on many Civil War battlefields. Worm Fence (also known as Virginia Worm fence) has been used in America since the 1600s. Easy to build, split wood rails are stacked on each other to create the fence. The ends of the rails alternate, creating openings. For stability of the stacked rails, each section of the fence is angled from the previous one, giving the appearance of a worm or snake.

worm fence at Gettysburg

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Topics: fence, fence building, worm fence

Stone Fences - A New England Tradition

January 13, 2011 | by Duncan Page

stone wall fence in autumn

A Ready Supply

Old stone walls are sometimes referred to as stone fences, a common sight in New England. They can be found: 

  • along roadways and hiking trails
  • marking property and field boundaries
  • surrounding cemeteries

They run through the deep woods and up into the mountains - a silent testimony to the untold hours of sweat and hard labor spent in getting the land to yield sustenance.

Up comes a fresh batch of rocks...

As land was cleared, rocks and boulders had to be moved to create fields for crops and grazing animals. Each spring a new "crop" of rocks was thrust to the surface by the winter's frost. Either moved by hand or with the aid of draft horses or teams of oxen, stones were moved no further than necessary.

The accumulation of rocks was piled along fence lines separating fields and defining property boundaries. Often these walls or fences were no more than elongated piles of rocks. After the farms became more prosperous, the piles were rebuilt into the more aesthetically pleasing walls that can be seen today.

Condos for Wildlife 

The walls were fashioned without mortar and relied on the shape of the rocks to create stability. Over the years, some walls were dismantled and the stones were used for other projects. The untouched walls settled and tumbled down, becoming encrusted with moss and lichens. They are a habitat for many types of wildlife--small creatures take refuge in the crevices, spaces, and tunnels. Mice, squirrels, chipmunks, and weasels are residents, as you may notice and their tracks will be in evidence. The walls may serve as a system of trails by larger animals or foxes may deposit scat on or around the walls to alert others. As temperatures climb, spiders, worms, and insects use the stonewalls for shelter while tree frogs and snakes take refuge as well--hibernating beneath during the winter months. 

A Silent Legacy 

Today stone walls or fences have become a cultural icon. Many contemporary landscape designs incorporate this feature, though they can lack the aesthetic charm of the traditional walls. The farmers who built them have passed on, yet what a legacy and marker the walls make for us and future generations, and in many cases they still serve as boundaries and evidence of past times. 

Do you have any stone walls on your property?  Do you think stone walls make an effective fence?

field and stone fence

Take a walk or hike in the New England countryside and stone walls will no doubt be a part of your experience. 

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Topics: fence, fence building

President Reagan Builds A Fence - Video

July 14, 2010 | by Duncan Page

 At the Reagans' Rancho del Cielo
In this video, former President Ronald Reagan builds a fence at his ranch in Santa Barbara, California. The 688-acre ranch, which the Reagans bought in 1974, was a favorite retreat which was maintained by a small staff for his visits. Animals on the property included dogs, cattle, and horses. He and Mrs. Reagan enjoyed canoeing on a small lake on the property and the ranch is now a California state landmark. Rancho del Cielo is translated Sky Ranch or Heaven's Ranch.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, visit the Reagans at the Ranch in 1983. 
 Ronald and the Queen
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