Just a few minutes outside of downtown Lexington, commercial and residential development falls away to this… undulating hills of lush green grass, grazing horses, and mile after mile of four-plank wooden fences. In graduate school, I heard that the black fences in central Kentucky are the result of a keeping up with the Joneses scenario. The owner of one farm who had some sort of tie to the asphalt industry painted his fences with the sticky black pitch almost as an advertisement for the diversity of the product and before long his neighbors were following suit.
I did some quick Googling to see if I could find any corroboration for this story, but came up empty handed. However, I did find that as late as 1955 white plank fences painted every spring with a lime wash were an emblem of the Inner Bluegrass landscape. At that time, only Mereworth Farm had black painted fences. In the decades following, black fences became as ubiquitous as white. Now, I couldn’t find any link between Mereworth Farm and asphalt, but it is possible that Mereworth is the farm from the story.
In the debate between black fences and white, there are other justifications than an aesthetics. Some horse trainers believe that white fences are safer for valuable thoroughbreds as the are more easily seen by the animals, possibly preventing injury. On the other hand, black fences painted with either creosote or asphalt are lower maintenance as the pitch preserves the wood, prevents cribbing, and the fences have to be painted only every five or so years, rather than every spring.
Have any of you heard the tale of the asphalt Barron? Do you prefer the look of white or black? What do the fences in your neck of the woods look like? Four-plank? Five? Black, white, natural wood?