Stone Wall Defender Robert Thorson
“The market for stone-wall stones is growing,” he says, “but there’s no regulation, no way to track how many walls are being strip-mined.” He knows they come mostly from the stone-rich, land-poor parts of northern New England and go to the stone-poor, land-rich parts, particularly southwestern Connecticut. Indeed, when I get home and do a quick computer search for old fieldstone for sale, I find two sources within a minute: one from Midcoast Maine and the other from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
Thorson takes me on a driving tour, as we pass impressive waist-high walls carefully laid and haphazard-looking walls overtaken by weeds. He cites progress: how he’s recently lent his support to a group of Framingham, Massachusetts, citizens who want to rewrite the state’s century-old law, which makes stealing stone walls a crime punishable by a maximum fine of only $10; how citizens in Smithfield, Rhode Island, have crafted local ordinances that go beyond the state’s “Leona Kelley” stone-wall preservation act of 2001; how he passed a skidder at a logging site the other day that had carefully worked around an old boundary wall, so as not to disturb it.
We step out of the car at an old Quaker meetinghouse at the top of a gentle rise of open land bounded by stone walls, across from a farm that has just been protected through a conservation easement. Thorson shows me the rough, gray walls surrounding the meetinghouse, walls where he used archaeological clues to confirm the rumored site of Revolution-era graves. I put my hand on a wall, damp from an April shower. Knowing that thin thread of history somehow deepens my appreciation for the place where we’re standing. And there’s no way it should have, but it makes me feel more connected to the place we all live. In the introduction to his book Stone by Stone, Thorson wrote, “Although inanimate, stone walls have an important story to tell. They give us a clock by which we can judge the passage of almost unimaginable time.”
To learn more about Robert Thorson’s work, his upcoming lectures, and his books, go to: stonewall.uconn.edu
SLIDE SHOW: New England stone walls by William Hubbell, from Good Fences: A Pictorial History of New England’s Stone Walls (Down East Books, 2006; $29.95)