Stone Walls

Stone walls

New England is known for all the stone walls that thread their way through the woods and along the roads. Why are they in the woods? Because these woods were once fields that the farmers had cleared of trees and rocks and the numerous rocks were used to build walls to mark the borders of their fields and also to keep animals in. At first they used wood to build fences but then with so much stone it seemed like a good idea to build fences with them. And why are there so many stones? The glaciers probably had more to do with it than anything else. When they receded they were left behind. And we all know that with the freezing and thawing of the ground each year it moves stones to the top so there seem to be a never ending supply of them. Just ask any farmer who plows or harrows a field how many stones are there.

You may notice that in some places there are stone walls about the width of a roadway apart and it could be the farmer used that pathway to get to his fields or home. But in some instances they were part of a stagecoach road. When I was in 1^st & 2^nd grade and going to the two room school house, we hung a May basket for the teacher. And then ran down in back and onto a cleared path through the woods with a wall on each side. Of course that was off school property and we did get a talking to about going off school property but were never punished for it. It was not until I was an adult that I found out that it really was a road — the stagecoach road that came up Tan Yard hill, past the school and on up the next hill and beyond.

Last year I was at a program about the Civil War called King Cotton. It was very interesting. The north needed the cotton in order to keep the mills running and so did everything they could to get it through the blockades. But one thing that was said that I do not agree with, is that all the stone walls we have were built by slaves. There were slaves in Connecticut. That is a fact. But, they were owned by the wealthier people, not the average person, and most farmers were not wealthy. People tended to have large families and the sons would help their father clear the land of trees and rocks in order to plant crops. They had to do something with all the rocks they took out, so it made sense to build “fences” using the stones. Now we all know that most of our stones are not conducive to building walls. They are mostly round or odd shapes and it amazes me that they put them together in such a way that the wall would stand, made without mortar, and still be here today. They were artisans for sure. We have some beautiful walls that were made by professionals but most of what we see when we ride along our roads were made by farmers.

So, as you ride through New England notice the beauty of the stone walls that have stood for hundreds of years and were built by ordinary folk like you and I. And try sometime to build a wall. It will give you a great appreciation for what these ordinary folk could do with the round odd shaped stones of New England.

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