Remember this thing?
David Mull's chimney-stack, built sometime between 1759 and 1775. It sits at the southeast corner of my lot. Part of my house was built with the logs that were taken from this one-room log cabin and moved uphill in the 1870s, perhaps when the stream it sat next to dried up, or when the ground became marshy:
Just to the southeast of that chimney-stack runs a stone wall, which I believe (from the will of Mull's son, also named David) dates to about 1812, when the younger David died and divided his land up among his sons and daughters. Here's part of it:
Now, if you follow that wall to the south, you come to the corner of my lot. (You'd better do it in January, because if you try it in July, the dense undergrowth will make you one sorry and scratched-up hombre.) When I first tried this, a couple of years ago, I was rather surprised to find a gate at the southeast corner.
I was surprised because, at first glance, there's absolutely no need for this gate to exist at all. None whatever. It doesn't open out to a road, and it would appear to the casual eye that it would have simply led one into an empty lot -- one that has never been developed, as far as my researches have shown.
Here's one of the gateposts. Wonder Woman is examining the other:
Now, it can't be that old: Unfinished wood just doesn't last that long out in the forest, unprotected from the elements. But look at it carefully: It doesn't look manufactured. I would guess that a modern, milled post wouldn't have open mortises that have to be closed by a clapped-to second piece of lumber; I would think that a gatepost like that, if modern, would have those mortises mechanically routed through the center of the main piece for strength and durability.
I think it's handmade, in other words. And older than -- well, certainly older than me.
And it's a tantalizing hint that there are ghost-roads around here that we can no longer see.
Here's a rough, not-to-scale map of the relevant section of my lot:
The road marked "Modern" in this map is actually very old indeed; we have indications that it might be Payne's Ferry Road, built in the 1740s. It leads down to the Potomac, and for some part of its life actually went all the way to Harpers Ferry. "Modern," in this case, means still in use.
I can't eliminate from my mind the question, Why does that gate exist? When did it stop being used? What was it used for? How was this land configured and used before it stopped being farmed? When, for that matter, did it stop being farmed?
For a hint on that last question, here's a photo looking back through the gate toward the cabin:
There are many extremely mature hardwoods directly in the path that connects the old cabin and the gate; they've got to be more than 100 years old. Another data-point: The stone wall is quite clearly finished on either side of that gate, meaning that the gate itself was always intended to be there, from the date of the erection of the wall.
My belief (I guess you'd call it a hypothesis) is that that gate was the main entrance for this homestead, and access to the house through what is marked on my map as the "modern driveway" began in the 1870s, when the original homesite was abandoned and the house moved uphill. The former "driveway" (for lack of a better word) went through that gate and along the east wall.
But that demands an answer for an extremely tantalizing question: Why there? Why would you build the main entrance to your homestead where there doesn't appear to ever have been a road?
The answer, of course, is that a road once was there! Some 100 yards or so from that gate is the old Ebenezer Church Road, which is still visible in spots where it goes up and over Short Hill. I'd bet any amount of money that the 1812 directions to what would eventually become Jingo Acres went, "Pass Jacob Virts' place, and hang a right when the road starts to go uphill."
Here's about where you'd have taken that right:
So: What I need to know is, How old are those fence-posts? Short of, I dunno, carbon-dating them, I have no scientific way of knowing. I know that different kinds of wood decay at different rates, and the fact that the posts have stood upright rather than lying horizontal may very well have contributed to their longevity. But the answer to that question would tell me a great deal about what I want to know about my home's shadowy past.
Later Edit: Some of you asked about the nails and other hardware holding the parts of the post together. Here's another view, taken from the outside angle, that shows the hardware a bit better:
The nails are round-headed, galvanized (? at least not rusted through) and pretty clearly modern. The wire is also still pretty robust, but interestingly, the staples holding the wire in place are very rusted and nearly crumbling.