New England Stone Walls

Click here for your FREE
weekly newsletter! (And
get 12 FREE desktop

Bring the heart of
New England into your
home with beautiful,
affordable, high-quality
New England prints.
Visit our
Gallery today!

Visit our
Marketplace for
everything New England!

More Travel Info
The Heart of New England
Good Fences: A Pictorial History of New England’s Stone Walls
by William Hubbell (Down East Books: cloth, 120 pages, $29.95)
by Rebecca Rule

When does a rock become a stone, Grasshopper?

We describe a rocky coast, a rocky landscape, rocks in a field that make it
unplowable. But when the farmer gathers those rocks and turns them into a wall,
they are transformed into stone -- a stone wall. A rock becomes a stone when a
human being makes use of it.

Photographer William Hubbell’s new book,
Good Fences, captures the beauty
and variety of New England’s stone walls, including many in New Hampshire --
with special attention to the walls of Warner. It also, simply and methodically,
builds a history of our region, illustrates the art of wall building, and testifies to
the skill and determination of the builders, then and now. Why are so many stone
walls three feet high, give or take? Because three feet is about how high a man can
lift a big stone on his own.

Here’s a riddle: What’s short and long at the same time?

A stone wall. (I made that up!)

The miles of stone walls built in central New England between 1810 and 1840,
Hubbell writes, had more mass to them than the great pyramids of Egypt.

In prowling New England for unusual walls and interesting locations, I occasionally came
across one which would touch a chord deep within. . . . (One that) echoed in silence the
magnitude of the effort required to create it -- the grunt of the men, the bellow of the oxen, the
yells of the children as all worked together to clear a now long-vanished field for planting.

You can read the text of Good Fences in an hour -- but you’ll want to spend many
hours with these photographs, in part because they are so familiar. We’ve all seen
stone walls. Some of us have climbed over them, repaired them, or even
assembled them. (I’ve got three going in my back yard right now; they grow each
spring.) Hubbell helps us understand them. Without getting too technical, he
gives us the terminology to name what we see and guides our eye so we see more
and differently. He shows us capstones, butt-ends, barways, passthroughs,
blowouts, dry walls, wet walls, single stacks (farmer’s walls), double stacks, one-
handers (all stones that could be lifted with one hand), boundary walls, zigzags,
mosaics, chinked, battered, copestone, or the ubiquitous “dumped, or tossed or
thrown wall, or maybe simply “that #*#*#*# pile of #*#*# #*#*# rocks!”
Hopkinton’s Kevin Gardner (actor, teacher, NHPR writer/producer) is one of
several featured master builders. Gardner’s book The Granite Kiss also served as
one of Hubbell’s valued sources. Gardner told Hubbell:

I have nothing but admiration for the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century builders -- those
men, women and children, Native Americans who went before us. I’m quick to say that some
of them were lousy wall builders. But some of the integrity, of the sheer determination, that
you can see in so many of these walls is just astounding.

Hubbell and the builders he consulted define stone walls broadly. A town pound
-- like the stone enclosures for stray animals pictured in Auburn, Durham, and
Chester -- qualifies. So do the stone fences around cemeteries, like the one at the
Old Parade Ground Cemetery in Warner, which:

. . . stands in mute testimony to the brave, idealistic souls who first cleared this land and
buried their first family member here in 1784. Still lovingly cared for, this cemetery is draped
on the shoulder of a hill some one hundred feet above the town.

Abandoned cellar holes (and stone foundations with the houses still on top), stone
dams and arched bridges are other examples of stone walls with special uses.
Hubbell knows his walls -- and he also knows how to photograph them so that the
photographs themselves tell stories. In one, he frames a section of wall, each stone
and shadow of stone distinct. You see how the stones cradle one another and how
the wall has sunk into the ground over time. The foreground is layered with
brown leaves, their detail so crisp you can distinguish the oak leaves from the
maple. In the background many bare trees, none too big, suggest pasture gone to
untended woods. Through a gap in the wall runs a big dog, blurred by motion.
Here’s the caption:

This wall in Warner, New Hampshire, has probably not seen a cow in more than a century,
but the narrow slit in this wall is called a cow slip. It is also known as an open stile, grike, or
cow stile. Perversely named, the cow slip is designed so humans -- and even yellow Labs --
can slip through, but cows cannot.

These walls snake through our woods, line our roads, hold back our mill ponds,
span our brooks, show us where folks used to live. They speak to us of the
abiding satisfaction of creating order in concert with nature. They speak to us of
human determination and love for the land, even thin-soiled land, bony with
#*#*#*# rocks. These walls are objects of timeless beauty. No wonder we love
them so.

This is a book to buy for yourself and give to others. It’s quintessential New
England, beautifully and skillfully rendered. William Hubbell, his wife, Jeannie,
and their golden retriever, Kodak, live in Cumberland Foreside, Maine. His other
books include The New England Coast, Seasons of Maine, and Safe Harbor.

To purchase this book visit:

About this article's author

Rebecca Rule is a humorist, author and storyteller, who is the author of two
collections of short fiction, including The Best Revenge, winner of the NH Writers
Project award for fiction.

Click here for more stories about New England....
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
Contact| The Heart of New England HOME | Search

Click Here to Get Your FREE Weekly Newsletter Today!