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Library Talk – October 17, 2017

Long-range forecast looks really good for the ‘Ghost Stories Under the Stars” this Saturday at 7:00 p.m. down at the John Parker House (300 N. Front Street). Cool and clear, a good evening to come down with a sweater and maybe a blanket to hear Dr. Ned Lodwick spin local ghostly stories based on information he has collected over the years. Please join us for some spooky fun.

OK, I’m still hooked on the 1850s in Ripley, with agricultural stuff as well as tying in with Rankins.  Up on the Rankin property there are a few very large Osage Orange or hedge trees. You’ve probably seen the big green bumpy fruit that look other-worldly.  The largest one up on the grounds is a Ripley Witness Tree, and the tree committee wrote an informative article about Osage Orange trees, and there have been other articles over the years about them as well, so I’ll try not to repeat information.

In 1851, the Brown County Agricultural Society listed as a premium Hedges—Best Osage-Orange Hedge, not less than ten rods in length, of three years growth.  Competitors must furnish a written statement of the cost of the plants; the expense of planting; the distance between the plants in the hedge; the manner and expense of trimming; the time of the year and the number of times the hedge has been trimmed. (FYI, a rod is equal to 16.5 feet, or 5.5 yards)  The same premium description was listed for the 1853 Independent Agricultural, Horticultural and Mechanical Association of Brown County First Annual Fair, and it is this fair that I have the ‘results’—the committee examined hedges grown by Dr. G. Norton, Theodore Collins and Reason Shepherd, with the premium of $2.00 to Dr. Norton.  Reason Shephard of Red Oak sold the plants, advertising that he had a few thousand for sale in early 1851.  I have not found a statement that the Rankins created such hedges, but certainly possible with evidence the trees grow well here in the Ohio River valley area.

Osage Orange ‘living fences’, if trimmed annually, could and did make a livestock barrier that was ‘horse-high, bull-strong and hog-tight’—creating a very thorny, dense hedgerow that didn’t take too many years to grow.  One survey in Kansas recorded over 40,000 miles of fence made by Osage Orange.  While strong, this hedge was a bit labor intensive, with the need to trim annually—if not done regularly the hedges would become trees, and while a decent wind break, it would no longer contain animals. Then….barbed wire came into being—first patent in 1867 (from Ohio), and with additional patents it became commercially successful in mid-1870s. Easier and faster to install than waiting for hedges to mature, and while one had to inspect and fix the barbed wire occasionally, it was a lot easier than trimming miles of hedge, and the natural fences went out of favor.  Ironically, the dense, nearly rot-proof wood of the Osage Orange made excellent fence posts for the barbed wire.

This week is National Friends of Libraries week, and our Friends groups have been very supportive of the purpose of our libraries, work hard to spread the word, hold programs as well as raise funds to help their libraries. Thanks!

Matthew