I don’t think its possible to drive through Westchester County NY where I grew up (or Fairfield County too for that matter without seeing and thinking about stone walls. Indeed as we’ll see there are a lot of books that have been written (and photographed) on the subject. A couple of year ago when Martha Stewart was moving in up the hill from where I live in Katonah there was a little bit of local controversy and criticism as the masons rebuilding the stone walls that encircled her 153-acre Cantitoe Farm property built the stone wall “too perfectly.” It seems despite the excellent craft and artisanship in the rebuilt stone walls they no longer had the aged patina, rustic appearance and character of times gone buy we see everywhere here in Bedford and Katonah.
If we can say anything about our passion and New Yorkers and New Englanders it is that we certainly love our stone walls. I can recall thirty years ago (at the time I was working as a stone masons helper) reading about local legislation being enacted to protect the historical stone walls that resided on public land from being stolen! In some towns doing any work on any kind of exiting stone wall requires applying for a permit.
Last spring I discovered an excellent article in Yankee Magazine on Robert Thorson, “New England’s Stone Wall Defender” (whose book Stone by Stone is linked to below) and an accompanying video VIDEO: Stone Walls of New England which featured views of stone walls from the book by William Hubbell Good Fences: A Pictorial History of New England’s Stone Walls which I’ve also linked to below. In the video, we learn about just how important to us those walls are not as architecture but as archeology.
As it turns out that Robert Thorson runs The Stone Wall Initiative at University of Connecticut “a web-based resource for stone wall enthusiasts” where he explores the archeological and historical aspects of stone walls here in the northeast and the threats to their preservation.
In the coming month, we’ll continue to look at stone walls but expand our view from the historical farmer’s wall to examine more architectural designed compositions and forms and learn about Random Rubble Masonry, Coursed Rubble, and Coursed Ashlar walls and more.
Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and New York
by Susan Allport (Author), David Howell (Illustrator)
In 1871 there were 252,539 miles of stone walls in New England and New York—enough to circle the earth ten times.
What do we actually know about these structures? About the people who built them, and why they were built? Stone walls are not simply monuments to the skill of Yankee farmers. The historical record makes clear that many were built by slaves, Indians, indentured servants, and children.
Sermons in Stone is the surprising history of the walls, a story that begins in the Ice Age and has been shaped by the fencing dilemmas of the nineteenth century, by conflicts between Native Americans and colonists over land use, by America’s waves of immigration and suburbanization. Beautifully illustrated by David Howell, this is an illuminating and entertaining work of the first rank.
Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England’s Stone Walls
by Robert Thorson
From Publishers Weekly
“To know New England well, one must know its stone walls,” writes the author of this authoritative paean to the structures he calls the “signatures of rural New England.” There were once approximately 240,000 miles of stone walls in New England, and Thorson, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Connecticut, combines natural history and human history as he tells the story of the walls and how they were built…
Good Fences: A Pictorial History of New England’s Stone Walls
By William Hubbell
For this stunning new volume, photographer William Hubbell has turned his lens toward New England’s ubiquitous stone walls. Beginning with the basic geology of the region and why New England has so many darned rocks, he presents a chronological overview of the varying styles and methods of wall building, and includes conversations with six contemporary wall builders. The result is a surprising and refreshing look at stone walls and at the history of New England.
by Robert M. Thorson
The only field guide to stone walls in the Northeast.
“Every stone wall is unique and every stone tells a story,” says Robert M. Thorson, the author of the first field guide to historic New England stone walls– one that helps you identify and appreciate those in your yard, neighborhood, and throughout the Northeast.
Exploring Stone Walls is like being in Thorson’s geology classroom, as he presents the many clues that allow you to determine any wall’s history, age, and purpose. Thorson highlights forty-five places to see interesting and noteworthy walls, many of which are in public parks and preserves, from Acadia National Park in Maine to the South Fork of Long Island. Visit the tallest stone wall (Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island), the most famous (Robert Frost’s mending wall in Derry, New Hampshire), and many more. This field guide will broaden your horizons and deepen your appreciation of New England’s rural history.
The Granite Kiss: Traditions and Techniques of Building New England Stone Walls
by Kevin Gardner , Susan Allport, & Guillermo Nunez
n this elegant, literate primer, a master stonemason imparts the fundamentals of building traditional New England dry stone walls, along with thoughts on the history, aesthetics, and philosophy of the craft of placing stone. Author Kevin Gardner defines “the granite kiss” as “that instantly discouraging, and inevitable, experience in stone work when a fingertip or two fails to escape the contact point between two large stones on the occasion of their first meeting.” In this eminently readable primer on the fundamentals of placing stone, Gardner distills 25 years of experience in building and repairing New England-style dry stone walls into clear, step-by-step instructions. In addition to directions on building basic stone walls, he also demystifies steps, wells, ramps, walkways, and many other forms of dry masonry. Detailed illustrations throughout by Guillermo Nuñez bring the stonemason’s craft to life. Along the way, Gardner considers the history, aesthetics, and philosophy of placing stone in a book that will bring as much pleasure to armchair craftsmen as it does valuable instruction to the beginning wall builder. 30 black and white illustrations • Glossary • Bibliography • Index.
In the Company of Stone: The Art of the Stone Wall
By Dan Snow
Dan Snow builds stone walls without benefit of mortar or other binding material. This ancient dry-stone method is experiencing a revival, and Snow’s In the Company of Stone is full of moody photos of recent landscape projects, some of which look as if they’d been part of the scenery for centuries. Snow’s poetic commentary and a helpful appendix of design detail make for an inspiring, informative book.
Originally written Feb 12, 2010. Revised Fri, May 26, 2017