Monday, October 15, 2012

Historic Stone Walls in New England

Do you ever notice old stone walls that seem to pop up in the middle of the woods? I’m sure you have, especially if you live in New England. It seems you can’t cross through a small forest without stumbling across one (no pun intended). Or, drive through a quaint, historical town without finding at least one road that has old stone walls lining the shoulders. Do you ever think about where these stone walls came from and who may have built them? This always crosses my mind when I find them.

Stone walls in New England are very abundant. In some cases, they are hundreds of years old and were constructed using very primitive methods, such as oxen to drag the stones and some sort of lever bars to move them. Today, people build stone walls to create aesthetic boundaries and decoration. However, back when these older, historical structures were created, they were built mostly to make use of the stones instead the need for a wall.

New England has very rugged and rocky terrain. When the glaciers rolled across the Appalachian Mountains, they deposited stones and rocks of all sizes across the region. When settlers came to New England, they slowly created farmlands and giant fields, many more than exist today. These rocks and stones got plowed to the surface on a regular basis and were nicknamed “field” stones. A farmer had few uses for these rocks. They used them for structures such as foundations, chimney and smoking structures and dug well walls. There were only so many stones that were needed for these necessary items, so the excess stones were used to make stone walls. Many farmers only wanted to drag these stones to just outside the field boundaries as it was pretty laborious work, so many stonewalls signify the edges of an old field…most likely now a full-fledged forest.

I’ve always said I wanted a house that had old stone walls on the property. My new house does have the remnants of an old stone wall on it from the old farm and orchard that used to reside on the property before they built my house. I’m now trying to continue that stone wall further down my property. I’ve been collecting stones, digging them up outback…which I found to be very hard work. I’ve found that making sure it looks good is like playing with a jigsaw puzzle. Here are a few shots of the wall so far. Let me know what you think. 

 The start of my stone wall.

 My stone wall as of recently. It's coming up along well.

 Another shot of my stone wall in the works.

 An old stone wall on my property line.

 A segment of an old farm stone wall left on my property which is now part of my landscaping.



  1. Nice. There are many a stone wall down in this part of Appalachia as well. None on our property though, but we've come across several on hikes in the Smokys and other parks. I've always wanted to build a stone wall too but as of late we've just been chopping and stacking wood out back. :D

  2. Lookin good Karl! We came across a couple of old stonewalls while hiking up Smart Mt. on Saturday. Pretty cool when you find them well off the beaten path. Keep Up the good work.

  3. This is great. Like Tim said we have stone walls in the south too. I'd say yours are probably older though. Just a bit of history remaining for us to see. Your walls are looking really good. Hard work, I'd say.

  4. We have the old ones on our property too, some of them are still part of the property boundaries. We live on what used to be a farm, so I'm not surprised to see them. I love them, though and good for you for building a new one!

  5. My father's family moved to New Boston from Lawrence (MA) when he was a teen (1920s?). He and his father and brother cleared fields and the family tried to make a go of farming in the southern hills of NH, in the process building a few stone walls of their own. After some years of backbreaking labor they failed, and returned south to work in the mills. I understand that not every NH farmer had similar bad luck--the fact is that my dad's family was working very unfavorable (hilly) land--but that image of them doing all that work, only to fail, affects how I look at those stone walls I trip over in the NH woods. Hard work. Hard work. No millionaires.