H I S T O R Y
“Land of the Post Rock” is a distinction given to about 3 million acres in
North Central Kansas- an area where a single bed of rock (the 8-12”
Fencepost bed of the Greenhorn limestone layer) was used so extensively
for fence posts during early Kansas settlement days that the posts have
become an identifying feature of the landscape.
Settlers to Kansas found
that the area was destitute of timber and turned to the material at hand…a
layer of rock close to the surface that they soon found could be used for
fencing as well as building. Besides being durable and fire resistant,
this limestone had several other advantages. Being close to the surface it
could be obtained easily with the proper tools and techniques. It was
uniform in thickness (8-12”). It was persistent, extending with little
interruption for miles. And when freshly quarried it was soft enough to
shape with tools and hardened after being exposed to air.
There were of course disadvantages. Quarrying rock in “post” length
required skill, hard work, and time. Once split out and shaped they had to
be transported. This again required hard work and ingenuity as each 5 to 6
ft long post weighed about 350-400 lbs.
Posts were hauled/delivered to the pasture using various means. To go
short distances a “sled” or “boat” was often used. This has been described
as being a large forked tree limb with branches laid crosswise to make a
platform which would hold several posts. A team of horses would then pull
the sled to the post hole.
After being delivered to the fence line it was considered a simple job to
tip the post (always the heavier end) into the prepared holes. The holes
were dug by hand to a depth of 18” to two or more feet (depending on the
height of the posts). Holes were dug about every 15 feet so that in the
finished fence line there were about 320 posts per mile. Corner posts
were propped to stay in a vertical position by leaning other posts against
them at about a 45 degree angle (generally in the direction of the fence
Often because of its name and unique use, Fencepost Limestone is
identified with stone posts- neglecting its primary use as building stone.
Even settlers with little knowledge of how to quarry or lay stone used it
to line wells and cellars, to form inside walls and outside fronts of
dugouts, to build fireplaces, to make steps and porches…
The 1870’s was Post Rock Country’s formative period as well as being the
period of time that saw the greatest influx of European
immigrants…Bohemians/Czech, Volga Germans, Germans, Swedes, Danes,
Norwegians, Scots, and English. Soon every community in North Central
Kansas included stone masons from the “old country” which assured
knowledge about the building potential of post rock and their inclination
to use it. The emerging (and now remaining) architecture was the most
visible link of these groups/communities to their past and gives insight
into the way they worked, played, and worshipped. Many agree that of all
influences in central Kansas none exceeded that of the Germans. Despite
grasshoppers, crop failures, and other adversaries, most Germans held on.
Cooperative work involving building with stone gave those with little or
no experience a chance to learn from a trained craftsman. By the 1880’s
improvements on homestead claims included stone houses, outbuildings,
foundations and footings, wells, walls, feeding/watering troughs, fence
posts, gate posts, hitching posts, clothes lines, and sidewalks.
FROM THE QUARRY...TO SETTING THE STONE
(tools, quarry process, dressing, lime mortar)
Tools used in the quarrying and shaping process were simple. They included
feathers and wedges (plugs), stone drills and bits of various sizes,
chisels, stone hammers, slips and scrapers, and scribers. Most of the
tools were made at home forges or in local blacksmith shops.
The quarrying process for obtaining building block, fence posts, or other
products was the same: holes were drilled about 4 or 5” deep into the rock
and 9- 12” apart along a line marked for splitting; feathers and wedges
were placed in the holes; and tapping the wedges lightly with a stone
hammer split out the slabs, posts, or blocks.
Although building block size was standard (2’x8”x8”), there were a variety
of ways in which a block was dressed or finished: rough quarry faced, axe
flattened (characterized by the kerf marks of the axe), pitched faced
(also know as pillow faced), and sawn (although traditionally done with a
two man bucksaw, some ingenious settlers came up with alternatives such as
a mechanical saw on a beveled gear driven by a mule walking in a circle).
Special hammers and chisels were used for finely dressing or
architecturally carving lintels and sills (and sometimes quoins). Lintels
were unique from building to building and were an opportunity to add an
element of style and artistic beauty to a structure. Sills often followed
in the style of the lintels and were usually weatherized to help shed
The mortar needed to lay building blocks came from “slaked” lime…burning
broken pieces of limestone in crude kilns along creek banks to extract
(which produced) a lime powder used for mortar and plaster. One needed to
begin “slaking” their lime long before any other element of the building
process could begin. Burning lime mortar and plaster was one of the first
industries to evolve with limestone quarrying and the building trade.
SIDEWALKS, BRIDGES AND CAVES
Sidewalks were the pride of many post rock towns, historically quoted as
being the “best sidewalk in Kansas”, and “firm under feet for
generations”. The large pieces were hauled from local quarries fastened
with chains to the running gears of the rock wagon. Sidewalks could be
either a full 8” thick or a thinner flagstone. The flagstone came from
specific areas of Post Rock country (Mitchell and Lincoln counties) where
the Fencepost layer has a natural tendency to split along the center brown
streak, which made flagging from a slab of rock possible. This was used
extensively for sidewalks.
After 1900 when the building and maintaining of roads became important to
the region, post rock was called upon as a material for bridges. In
building bridges for both public roads and railroads, the stone arch
emerged as a popular architectural form. Native limestone bridges tended
to be at least twice the cost of any other type of bridge. Most thought
the cost was justified as the bridge would stand for hundreds of years and
cost little or nothing for repairs. In addition to this, nearly the whole
amount paid for a bridge was going back into the local economy
(material/stone and labor).
Another unique use of the post rock was for stone arch caves, which
farmers needed for shelter from storms/tornadoes and a storage place for
farm products. The typical method for building caves was to lay stone
blocks for the base of the cave walls to a height of about a foot. Wood
forms for the arch were set on the wall bases and boards placed over the
forms made a solid arch. Stone blocks were then laid over those boards.
When laying the blocks was completed, the wood forms were knocked out. The
stone arch (the cave wall) would stay. Mortar was not necessary as
pressure from the stone would hold the arch in shape.
POST ROCK'S DECLINE AND 1930'S WPA
By 1920 building with stone and regional development had passed their
climax. Among many factors contributing to this decline was the
availability of cheaper, easier to use building materials. Many of the old
stonemasons were leaving the scene and young men (returning from WWI) took
work away from the homestead. A new type of economy and pace of life was
evolving. Power machinery began to arrive on farms. The automobile gave
residents mobility and the area accessibility. Homesteads were losing
their self-sufficiency status. Rural farming began shifting to fewer
The depression of the 1930’s made possible a brief comeback of post rock
as a major building material. It was widely used in public construction
projects funded by the federal Works Projects Administration (WPA). No
posts were quarried or set under the WPA, but post rock was used in many
building projects: schools, libraries, city halls, community buildings,
bridges, park shelters, recreational facilities, and courthouses. Post
rock was again a resource that came to the aid of its regional economy,
leaving behind a multitude of incredible limestone structures and adding
to the legacy …”Land of the Post Rock”.