GOOD FENCES MAKE good neighbors, wrote America’s greatest poet.
In Mandeville, old fences make great neighbors.
At no time has that maxim been more evident than this week, when workers from Progressive Iron Works in Slidell began reinstalling a century-old fence at a house on the Mandeville lakefront.
The fence stood through two world wars, the Great Depression and too many hurricanes to count, but it was taken down in 2012 in what the current owner calls an error.
It’s re-erection marks a victory for Mandeville’s history buffs and a final sign of reconciliation between the home’s owner and his neighbors, some of whom were aghast when they saw the fence coming down.
The fence’s tale began in the latter part of the 19th century, when it rolled out of the famous New Orleans foundry, Hinderer’s Iron Works. Hinderer, a German immigrant, had opened his business in the 1880s on Camp Street, where he made many of the fences that appear on the north shore.
This particular one is very ornate: The wrought-iron fence is capped by delicate vine finials alternating with a botanical finial that represents a fleur-de-lis but is actually a fern design, according to Becky Rohrbough, an Old Mandeville resident and amateur historian.
The fence stood sentry around a stately Victorian house built by 19th-century Mandeville Mayor George Moorman. Moorman’s house wasn’t the first on the site — an Anglo-Creole cottage owned by a man named Seraphin Maspereau was there first — but it was likely the grandest. And it stayed there, slowly falling into disrepair, along with the fence, until the 1980s, when the house burned to the ground.
After that, the lot remained vacant until it was bought in 2012 by Kevin Adams and his wife, Miss. The couple wanted to build a house there, and one of the first things their contractor did was remove the old iron fence that still stood around part of the property.
“The fence was in pretty bad shape. It had trees growing in it,” Kevin Adams said. Parts were missing, and there were places where the cement foundation was broken.
“It needed some serious TLC,” Adams said.
His initial thought was to refurbish it, but the contractor didn’t know that and cut it down. The move shocked some of Adams’ neighbors, including Rohrbough.
Rohrbough isn’t just an observer of the city’s history; she is one of its main activists. She pushed for the city to create the Old Mandeville Historic District, and she lives in a 102-year-old house.
“It was a sad mistake,” she said of the fence’s dismantling.
Rohrbough and others approached the city, and for a while, it appeared that Adams might donate the fence to the city so that it could be placed around another of the city’s historic buildings. But then he decided that, instead, he would restore the fence and augment it, adding another 60 feet or so to complete the wrap around his property.
Adams said that even though he didn’t intend for the contractor to cut down the fence, its temporary loss actually ended up helping to save it.
“It’s ironic, but the best way to save it was to take it down,” he said.
Adams was put in contact with Sal Diecidue, of Progressive Ironworks in Slidell. Diecidue, known as Sam Dash, is the 85-year-old proprietor of the shop he founded in 1948. He knew just what needed to be done to restore the fence.
“You would have to do everything blacksmith-style,” he said. That meant heating the metal and shaping it with a hammer to get it right. “That’s the kind of work we like to do; we have done a lot of it,” Diecidue said, though he allowed that it was a “challenge.”
Because of his age, Diecidue doesn’t do all the work anymore. Instead, he formed the first pieces and showed the craftsmen in his shop how he wanted it done. They in turn spent about two months forming the pieces needed for the project.
Some of the most delicate work was for the finials that top the fence. “There were 93 of them missing,” Diecidue said.
He wanted to live up to the quality of the original workmanship, he said: “When Hinderer built this job originally, it probably took him four months to do. The workmanship on the fence was great.”
Earlier this week, workers began reinstalling the fence in anticipation of the Adams house being completed.
The fence won’t be identical to the original. Diecidue’s workers are building the concrete foundation higher to help the fence withstand future floodwaters, he said.
Diecidue’s work has been praised by both Adams and Rohrbough.
“It was not a small project,” Adams said. “They did a magnificent job.”
Rohrbough echoed those sentiments.
The Adamses plan to move into their house later this month. When they do, they will have some grateful neighbors.
Adams “has had that property beautifully restored,” Rohrbough said. “Hopefully, the fence will grace the house for another hundred years.”
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.