Monday, August 24, 2015

Iconic New England: Rocks, Stones, and Walls

Orange-colored granite on Mt. Cardigan in Orange.
(All photos by author.)
During his recent work on our Tug Mountain property, excavator Dave unearthed many large rocks, which he considerately moved into various piles for later use. He called to our attention one hefty rectangular granite one that could become part of the front step. He moved another, larger, irregular-shaped boulder weighing two tons that was in the middle of where the garage is to be located. Now it is 10 feet behind it. We will be leaving untouched a huge, pyramid-shaped rock that, like an iceberg, undoubtedly has more to it than meets the eye. Doug, meanwhile, is looking forward to having some spare time (and a tractor) to do some of his own rock moving to refurbish a few of the old stone walls that are noted on surveys and mark historic property boundaries.
The pyramid rock is staying put

Two-ton rock that was moved.
Stone wall on Canaan Street in Canaan.
People in New Hampshire take their rocks seriously; they are part of the landscape and the heritage. Stone walls date to the pre-Revolutionary War period when settlers, aided by oxen, cleared land to grow crops and raise livestock. The stones and rocks they unearthed were unceremoniously dumped or tossed into piles near the edge of the field. Only later were the walls re-laid more deliberately, with craftsmanship and artistry.

Stone walls can be classified by the degree of care that went into their creation— dumped, tossed, single, double, or laid—according to stone wall expert Robert M. Thorson, a geologist at the University of Connecticut. Most of New England’s stone walls are tossed walls, according to Thorson, and were built between 1775 and 1825. Today, stone walls are seen by many as ruins of early American civilization, cultural resources worthy of protection.

Same stone wall as above, in fall, looking toward Vermont.
In his poem, “Mending Walls,” Robert Frost writes of a stone wall on his Derry, NH, farm: “Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That wants it down.” But in New Hampshire today, don’t even think of stealing stones from that roadside pile you admire. It is a crime to remove those genuine Colonial New England treasures; one that carries “treble damages.”

Note: I consulted several classic resources, including Doug, to determine the difference between rocks and stones. The consensus is that stones are smaller and smoother than rocks. As Doug aptly said: “Rocks are what you can’t move; stones you can make into a wall,” 


  1. That “Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That wants it down” is gravity! Glad your adventure continues to present intriguing challenges!

    1. Yes, the thing about gravity is that it keeps the wall up and makes it fall down. The thing about the wall is that it divides the neighbors and brings them together. Thanks for commenting.