Thursday, March 25, 2021

Oak Valley Sheep Pen


Top of the sheep pen, as seen from Oak Valley Trail
Next time you're on Oak Valley Trail, pause for a moment when you get to the interesting ledge above a seasonal brook (see photo above). This was the top of a livestock pen, probably one for Merino sheep, which were all the rage in the early 1800s. Down below, parallel to the ledge, a split rail fence zig-zagged along the bottom.  There was probably a gate about where a very large oak tree now grows. The entire structure was about 80 feet long and 40 feet wide. 

A zig-zagging line of stone marks an old fence line
Imagining the same spot 200 years ago

Where lumber was abundant, as it was in the Nells Rock area, split rail fences were sometimes built in a zig-zag style, which eliminated the need for posts. Later, as rocks were picked out of the land, those rocks were placed at the bottom of the fence. After the farm was abandoned, the wood rotted away but the stones remained, crossing the land in a zig-zag pattern. There are several examples of this along the trails in the Nells Rock area. 

How a wood fence turns into a zig-zag line of rocks
(from Reverence for Wood by Eric Sloane)

It's possible the pen was used for cattle rather than sheep, but ruins in this area tend to be from the early 1800s, and that's when Merino Sheep were very popular.  The land along Oak Valley Road was otherwise pretty marginal for farming, so it was settled late, abandoned early (mid-1800s), and purchased by the water company in the late 1800s (preserving the stone structures). 

The sheep is next to this muddy wetland crossing

The zig-zagging line of stone near the brook doesn't look like much of anything at first glance, and it's next to where the trail crosses some mud, so it would be real convenient for someone to harvest those stones to place across the mud. We don't want that to happen, so we're looking at building a better wood crossing at the brook. 

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