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MJ History: John Chandler’s Stone Wall

This week we have another entry from the Mt. Juliet Homecoming book that is published every year in accordance with the event. This one is called “John Chandler’s Stone Wall.”

Located along the south side of Old Lebanon Dirt Road, west of Mt. Juliet Road, is a farm site that holds a stone wall and dam, a natural bridge formation, and a farm field with extensive drainage network. These structures are all historically significant and related to the stone wall. 

The wall was completed circa 1900 by John D. Chandler (1868-1958). The unique stone dam/drainage/wall structure was designed to dam a local intermittent creek (Lick Creek) and a series of underground springs to promote land reclamation. Chandler, a local farmer, stone mason and blacksmith, spent approximately four years constructing the system utilizing dry-laid masonry to create a reservoir, dam, retaining wall and underground drain tiles that served as a land reclamation project. It is located on Stone Wall Farm, with a street address of 2260 Old Lebanon Dirt Road in Mt. Juliet. The property owner, Larry Kent, is the great-great nephew of John Chandler. 

The stone wall, which extends approximately 985 feet along the south side of Old Lebanon Dirt Road is approximately eight to 20 feet in height and retains adjacent farmland south of the structure. At the west end of the wall is an attached stone dam that stretches across a shallow creek. A small reservoir retains water on the north side of the dam, just before Lick Creek runs northward under Old Lebanon Dirt Road. Lick Creek drains into Stoner Creek approximately 1,035 to the northwest. Stoner’s Creek, which runs through Mt. Juliet, was named for Michael Stoner. In 1768, Issac Lindsay came to this area with four other men from South Carolina. Somewhere in this general area they met, quite by accident, with Michael Stoner. He, and a man named Herrod, had come down the river from Pittsburgh, Penn. The two parties joined forces for winter’s trapping. This is when Stoner’s Creek was named for the Pennsylvania Dutchman. John D. Chandler, born on Dec. 26, 1868, purchased approximately 96 acres along Old Lebanon Dirt Road from his father-in-law, William Frank Jackson, the great-great grandfather of Kent for $1,346.40 on Jan. 23, 1902. Construction of the stone wall, dam, and drainage system may have begun prior to his legal ownership of the property, as family members state that the wall was completed around 1904-1906. 

Chandler’s niece stated in 1976 that she remembered Chandler’s stone wall being completed before she started school. This niece was born in 1900 and started school at the age of seven. She also stated she remembers that Chandler was working on the wall when a house burned in 1904. This information put the wall’s completion date sometime between 1904-1906. 

Chandler himself completed construction of this system. He cut the stone and hauled it to the road using horses hitched to a makeshift sled. Today, there are still piles of limestone approximately 985 feet south-southeast of the junction of Old Lebanon Dirt Road and Chandler Road. This may be the location where Chandler quarried the stone for his wall. Supports for the dam include steel beams fashioned by Chandler in his blacksmith shop. 

Chandler’s initial attempts at construction of the retaining stone wall incorporated a method of laying stones directly upon the ground. This failed to support the wall, and Chandler reconstructed the structure using a trench (as described above to support the stone foundation members).

The construction of stone fences and dams for use in water control necessitated that the builders incorporated a plan that would allow water to “flow under the fences without putting pressure on it.” In Chandler’s dam, several steel angle iron beams serve as lintels, supporting the approximately 12-foot-wide dam. A cedar gate at the south end of the dam controlled the flow of water into the reservoir, which again, according to Murray-Wooley and Raitz, is a common feature seen in Kentucky’s early stone dams. 

Chandler’s stone wall, dam, and drainage system was created as an extensive soil reclamation project. At the south side of the stone wall, one can see that the fields behind this wall have been built-up by a depth of at least four feet. Chandler flooded his farmland and recaptured lost soil through use of an extensive drainage system. Still functional today, Chandler’s system includes numerous ditches and handmade underground stone “drain tiles” that channel underground springs and carry water into the reservoir. Chandler’s creation originally included a stone extension fence that admitted livestock into the reservoir area where they could drink. This portion of the original stone fence is no longer intact. 

The first major change to the stone wall occurred in the summer of 1992. After a period of severe rainfall, the entire field south of the stone wall was flooded. Although family members report seeing water flowing over the stone wall bridge every few years, this time the flood waters were flowing over the top of the length of the wall. The floodwaters coming from the eastern watershed were so intense that neighbors reported seeing water shooting out of the cave at the eastern end of the wall 30 feet into the air. At 3 a.m., the stone wall burst about 262 feet from the east end. The bulk of the wall was below grade and unaffected, but those stones above grade were knocked down on the northern side of the wall. The owner spent the next few months repairing the wall to its original condition. After the repairs were complete he worked throughout the fall to reinforce the backside of the stone wall with the topsoil. This topsoil had been retained by the wall over time in the field directly to the south of the wall. He pushed 1-3 feet of topsoil up against the wall in an effort to reduce water pressure directly on the stone face. 

From approximately 1980 to the present, the owner has also sought to conserve the drainage area around the stone wall by harvesting topsoil from the field to the south. The wall has been very effective at slowing and retaining floodwaters behind the wall. As the water slows and floods the fields, there is sufficient time for the sediment in the floodwaters to settle out into the field. Over the past 100 years, the depth of soil in this field has constantly risen. In an effort to prevent the field from rising too high, he has transported the soil to other locations on his farm as well as surrounding neighborhoods. 

On July 19, 2001, the Tennessee Historic Commission certified that Chandler Stone Wall has been entered on the The National Register of Historic Places. 

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