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Fence Viewers

The position of fence viewer was an important one in the early settlement of Vienna Township. The fence viewer was charged with several duties:
  • inspecting fences to ensure that these structures could hold and protect livestock;
  • ensuring that fences properly marked legal property boundaries and settling boundary disputes; and
  • fining landowners for neglect of fences.
The fence viewer relied on a surveyor's chain, a measuring device of 66 feet in length.[1] This was the instrument used by the Connecticut Land Company's survey team, led by Moses Cleaveland. Vienna's first fence viewer, Samuel Hutchins, was the ideal man for the job, since he carried chain for one of Vienna Township's proprietors, Uriel Holmes, Jr. Holmes visited what was originally known as Town 4, Range 2, in 1798 to measure and divide the land for sale. They worked through the spring and summer, returned to their Connecticut homes for the winter, and traveled again to Vienna--this time with settlers--in 1799. For his survey work, Hutchins was given the first recorded lot of land in the Township.

Types of Fences
Frontier farmers in the early nineteenth century constructed one or the other of two types of wood fence: root fence and split rail fence. Root fences were created by pulling over stumps in the early spring when the ground had heaved from the winter cold. These stumps would be rolled as close to one another as possible so that the outstretched roots entwined. Though certainly not picturesque, these root fences outlasted split rail fences and cleared tillable fields of stumps that were almost impossible to burn.

The fence of choice among Connecticut farmers was a split rail fence secured by upright posts. Two or three men could split rails and build a fence of close to a mile a day. The wood of choice was oak. A white oak fence could be expected to last 20 years. Locust, cedar, chestnut, and walnut (listed in descending order of preference) were alternate choices and were, with the exception of cedar, plentiful in Northeast Ohio. An early surveyor's map of Vienna has the following note at the bottom: "timber--beach, oak, whitewood, sycamore, chestnut, ash, elm, hickory, basswood--a sufficiency of fencing timber on all the lots."[2]


This article is based on Fred L. Martin and James Bradley, "A Genealogical History of Vienna," and Carley Cooper O'Neill, "Government," in Vienna, Ohio, "Where We Live and Let Live": Town 4, Range 2 of the Connecticut Western Reserve (Apollo, PA: Closson Press, 1999), pp. 21, 101-102.

[1] The surveyor's chain used in measuring the Connecticut Western Reserve, and much of the United States, was developed by British clergyman Edmund Gunter in 1620. He devised the 66-foot-long chain of 100 links, each link connected to the next by two rings. A tally mark was made at the end of every ten links. The 66-foot-long chain equals 22 yards or 4 yards. Ten chains equal a furlong. An acre is the area of 10 square chains.
[2] Ms. Map 454, "Earliest surveyor's map of town 4-R.2 Cont. W. Reserve," Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio.