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Stone Wall Defender Robert Thorson

Stone Wall Defender Robert Thorson
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“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

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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)

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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2 Responses to Stone Wall Defender Robert Thorson

  1. Joan Freyholtz September 15, 2009 at 2:56 pm #

    I hope and pray that the New England States will pass a law that will protect the stonewalls in that area. How awful that some are being bulldozed out. That’s progress??

  2. SHARON BEMIS April 9, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    When I was a child I would follow the stone walls along the highway, outside our car window as we traveled from Troy, NY to my grandmother’s house in Morris, Ct. I knew we were getting close when I saw the stone walls, and they lead right to my grandmother’s door. My connection to stone walls lead me to choose Robert Frost’s poem on stone walls for a high school english project, and ask the question did the stone walls bring us together or keep us apart. I also had an uncle who could make beautiful walls out of stone. I was amazed at the straight sides, he could create from rounded stones.

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