Featured Article

Farmland stone coveted by suburbanites
Article Audio

2:55 minutes (1.4 MB)
Download this Article
Share this Content

Stone wall dividing a pasture: Photo by Lucy Napathanchil, WNPRStone wall dividing a pasture: Photo by Lucy Napathanchil, WNPRUniversity of Connecticut geologist Robert Thorson walks along Old Turnpike Road near his campus, pointing out several stone walls that stand in the yards of old farmhouses and those that lie hidden in the nearby forest.

“That one we would call a stacked wall, because nobody is obsessing over where to put the stones. You’re simply stacking them up to define borders and perhaps to fill a fencing function of some sort."

Some people have called Thorson the “stone wall guy” ever since he wrote a book on the subject and started a project called the Stone Wall Initiative. Thorson says he’s traveled all around New England to educate its residents about preserving these ruins.

“I've been running field trips up and down this place. Sometimes I want to point out a stone to a student and it’s not here anymore. So where did it go? It got taken away.”

He says there are no firm numbers on how many stone walls have disappeared. But Thorson says the demand for stone is high. So much so that advertisements for old stone is often seen in New England town newspapers and residents receive letters from out of state solicitors asking to them to sell their stone walls. It’s even become a regular listing on craigslist.com

"Some of the stone I sell has moss and lichen which I guess is highly touted as far as homeowners want to see the old look.”

Eric Penkauskas lives in Brooklyn, CT. Penkauskas says he started using craigslist one year ago to sell stone that he digs up on his 10 acres. It's the same kind of backbreaking work done by the colonists. And it’s one of the reasons Yankees like Mike Madura of Mystic CT want to keep the old stone around.

“It’s in our blood.. one of the most ancient colonial traditions, building stone walls.”

Madura says the stone walls represent the hardwork of the settlers who carved their livelihoods out of the land.
But to some people like native Texan, Ken Auer, they represent something solid and long-lasting, like New England, itself.

“You’ve never seen stone walls in Texas. That’s one of the reasons I like it, it’s very New Englandish."

Auer says he’s heard of people stealing stones from old walls. But he’s not too worried about it. “No because my dog will probably eat their face off.”

But UConn geologist Robert Thorson says these stones are disappearing, whether they’re being sold, stolen, or bulldozed over. And towns around New England have been listening. Many have passed ordinances that ban people from taking apart stone walls along scenic roadways. One community in Rhode Island is even looking at tax exemptions to encourage property owners to preserve stone walls.

For more photos, visit our Flickr page.