One of my favorite features about the building that houses the Trust’s Washington office is the historic iron fence around the front yard. Iron fencing comes in two types, cast-iron and wrought-iron. Wrought iron is an older technology than cast iron in the west. Though the Chinese had developed the technology to cast iron as early as the 3rd century BCE, cast iron was not found in Europe until the Medieval period. Both types of metal are used in historic American fencing, often in combination, with cast-iron posts supporting wrought-iron panels. Iron fences were used in urban areas to separate small front yards from the sidewalk. They were also commonly used in cemeteries to surround family burial plots. Iron railings were equally ubiquitous in certain cities, found as hand rails along stoop sides and as balustrades along porch and balcony edges.
Maintenance and Repair
Iron oxidizes, or rusts, quickly when exposed to air and moisture. When pollutants are present, the amount of moisture in the air required to begin oxidation is lowered, meaning that proper care of ironwork in urban environments is especially critical.