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Lopped Trees Fences of Old

Footnotes to Long Island History

LOPPED TREES FENCES OF OLD

MARCH 8 1951

by

Thomas R. Bayles


    
LOPPED TREE with its knotty trunk is a fine specimen of the natural fence cultivated by early Suffolk  farmers. This tree located at Middle Island a short distance north of half mile pond, was probably cut nearly 200 years ago.

       The old lopped tree fence was a familiar sight in the early days in Brookhaven town before wire fences and rail fences came into use, but today only the older generation would know what the term lopped trees meant.

       When the settlers cleared a field it was customary to dig a ditch around the sides of it about 2 or 3 feet wide and the same deep. This was a laborious job and a good day's work for a man was 4 rods of ditch, for which he usually was paid 50 cents. The earth was thrown up alongside the ditch making a mound and then the trees growing along this mound were lopped, or partly cut so that they could be pushed over and yet continue to grow.

       The man who did the cutting had a boy help him who climbed the trees so they would bend over in the right direction and save as much cutting as possible.

      The lopped tree would continue to grow and in 20 years or so the upright branches would become trees which also were lopped. In this way a fence was formed that made it very difficult for cattle and sheep to get through and over the ditch. Some of these trees grew in very queer shapes as the years went by and may still be seen along some of the roads around the town, especially around Bellport and Middle Island.

       George Washington mentioned them in his diary during his trip over Long Island in 1790, but he didn't consider them very efficient as they were not "Hog Tight."

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