Stone Walls of

North Eastern Connecticut

Local-Culture
Data-gathering Project

Joanne Smith

QVCTC
Nov. 28, 1994
Instructor: Dr. Brian Donohue-Lynch

What I Have Chosen to Study:


I have chosen to study the history of stone walls in the town of Thompson, Conn. Many of the stone walls have a historical perspective behind them, and to know how they were built can be interesting. Many were used as lines of demarcation, and still stand in their original form today.

The Intriguing Stone Walls of Thompson, Connecticut


Stone walls are the boundaries in fields built by the first settlers in the area. Fields were cleared of trees; many were plowed and planted, and "rockpicked."

"Rock picking is every New England farmer's springtime misery. During the winter as the earth freezes and thaws, rocks rise to the surface of the fields; they must be removed before plowing can proceed. Stacked at the edges of the fields, they are the raw material for all those stone walls."

(Connecticut Past and Present, prologue)

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Wherever we see a stone wall today, there had to have been a field. These stone walls stand as evidence that many people lived off the rocky land in New England.

Construction Process


According to one author, Curtis Fields, the following steps should be considered in the careful construction of stone walls:

  1. Locate and dig up stones from old stone walls.
  2. Separate stones by size, and save the flattest of stones for the top.
  3. Chart the line of the wall, either straight or curved.
  4. Excavate a section of approximately six feet by some 40" wide, and down to a depth that will provide a firm footing for the foundation stones.
  5. Providing proper drainage during construction saves trouble which would be very difficult to correct later on.
  6. Construction of a free-standing wall demands precision on both faces of the wall. Being said that each stone should cast a shadow, and this would ensure a vertically straight wall.
  7. An effective width would be 26" to 30", with additional footroom of 10".
  8. If any stone does not seem level, it should be shimmed with a flat stone.
  9. Occassionally lay cross-stones to bind together.
  10. In laying stone, follow this basic rule: "One over two, two over one."

(Fields: pp.35-36)

Many of the stonewalls which were built have markings with initials, and these initials, usually on a square stone, tell who built them and in what year (McGee 87). A great amount of human strength went into the building of these walls. "The early craftsman took thirty minutes to drill a hole through a stone and hundreds of hammer blows on a three-foot, star-pointed iron drill, turning the drill with a slight twist of the wrist between blows." (McGee 86. Each stone wall was prepared by a trench a foot wider than the top stones, and two feet deep for the foundation. These stone walls would not be standing today if it were not for these underground bases.

A good stone wall is said to last a couple of hundred years. Many of the stone walls are two feet wide at the top and five feet high in some places. Many were built by Civil War veterans in the 19th century.

"Some of the stone walls in Connecticut towns contain, it has
been estimated, over six thousand tons of rock, averaging
forty inches wide and rise as high as six feet to form an even
surface without mortar in its entire length, with each stone
used as fitting tightly, most of the stones having been cut to
size and shape in a quarry." (McGee 87)

Thompson's Stone Walls

Thompson contains many packets of swampland and wetlands, and these swamp areas are said to be a product of the last "ice-age." (McDonough 18) Glacial ice sheets wore down hills and left mounds of debris which blocked drainage and formed the wetlands. The glacial sheets also were known to have stripped away much of the topsoil, and left behind what is known as "glacial till."

"Till is a chaotic mixture of sand, clay, silt and --most notably-- rocks of all sizes and description." (McDonough 18). It is this glacial debris that has been held responsible for bent plows, and curses over the last three centuries. A nineteenth-century journalist, John Warner Barber, describes Thompson's soil in this manner: "There is a great supply of valuable stone for walls and buildings..." (McDonough 19) Another historian gave the opinion that the town's fields were so burdened with stone that cultivation was seen as impossible. (McDonough 19).

As I began my journey investigating the stone walls in Thompson, I found it fascinating to see the different widths and heights of these walls. The set of stone walls in Rte. 200 were used as a trail-guide, for it was these walls that settlers followed into neighboring towns in Massachusetts. These stone walls I found to be in excellent shape, and I found from talking to local townspeople, many folks have contributed to keeping them rebuilt.

Click here to see picture...

I began to notice different types of stone used depending upon where the wall was built. Many of the stone walls built around farms seemed to be made from rounded stones,

Click here to see picture...

and the ones around the center of town were flatter. The old town library was mostly made from round stones, and the foundation was flat stones. The stone walls built around farms were also narrow, and most were not very high.

Click here to see picture...

I found a few walls in the woods that were quite wide, and built mostly of flat stones. In this one section, the walls seemed to divide at one point, and then rejoin.

Click here to see picture...

I was disappointed not to find as much historical information as I had anticipated. I enjoyed this study, and enjoyed both the research and the picture taking involved.

MORE PICTURES


Click on Any Thumbnail Below

Bibliography

Fields, Curtis, The Forgotten Art of Building a Stone Wall
Maine: Yankee Books, 1971.
Mc Donough, Mark, Townside Historical and Architectural Survey of
Thompson, CT.
July 1986.
Mc Gee, Donald J. Towers of Brick, Walls of Stone: A History of the
Textile industry in New England with Thompson CT. as a Prism
of the Factory Town.
New York: Vintage Press, 1991.
Shepard, Odell, Connecticut Past and Present.
Canada: Ryerson Press, 1939.

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These pages are maintained by: Dr. Brian Donohue-Lynch
Direct comments, questions or suggestions to:

bdonohue-lynch@qvcc.commnet.edu

Page Last Revised Slightly: Jan. 2007