Stone Walls of New England

May 18, 2017

I have always been fascinated by the seemingly endless lengths of stone walls in the woods around the Berkshires.  A silent reminder that the woods were not always so, and that up until around a hundred years ago, most of the wooded areas that we are so used too, were open fields.
This was due in part to the insatiable demand for timber and need for expanses of open fields for agriculture. Farmers would clear the numerous stones from their fields and pile them at the edges. The stone piles defined property lines, and fenced in pastures for grazing. At one time, some the rougher walls may have had wooden posts standing out of them supported by the stone piles. This was an easier way of adding height to a wall without having make up the height with just stone. This type of fence might have been used in a pasture to keep in animals. It is interesting to try and imagine the story or purpose that an old wall in the woods may have had, so separate from the way things are today.
Because of more cohesive plans for environmental protection of lands and the more conglomeration of farms and so on, the woods are coming back. (Sadly, there is little evidence left of the old growth forests that existed before settlers moved into the area around 400 years ago.)
Keep an eye out for the stone walls around you, and maybe discover what a stonewall can do for your landscape, ascetically and functionally, while keeping the tradition of New England stone walls alive.

“We are never prepared to believe that our ancestors lifted large stones or built thick walls. How can their work be so visible and permanent and themselves so transient? When I see a stone which it must have taken many yoke of oxen to move, lying in a bank wall … I am curiously surprised, because it suggests an energy and force of which we have no memorials.”

-Henry David Thoreau

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