Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Visiting Local Stone Walls, Maynard, MA

Click on any photo to enlarge

The first article ever written for this column [Nov 2009] was about whatever happened to Maynard's stone walls. From the lead paragraph, "New England’s famed stonework is a reminder of a period 150-250 years ago when dry-laid stone was part of every household: stone walls, wells, foundations, root cellars and more."

The article went on to describe the history of stone and the reasons for Maynard’s relative dearth of stone fences and stone walls compared to neighboring towns - the core of the answer being that stone was mostly recycled into foundations when the farmlands were chopped up into house lots.

March is a good month to visit what remains of Maynard's stonework. Most of the snow is gone, yet the stonework is not yet obscured by greenery. In town, the most impressive remnant is the railroad retaining wall behind 60-62 Nason Street.

Railroad retaining wall, circa 1849
The wall dates to 1849 and is a mix of dry and mortared stone. Look for chisel marks a few inches deep along the edges of large granite stones. These were holes drilled to facilitate splitting rock to create flat surfaces. 

Near churches, look for stone walls topped with copestones - mortared stones set on end to deter wall sitters. The wall in front of the Congregational Church, on Main Street, was recently rebuilt with this feature still in place.

The area around the intersection of Summer, Maple and Brooks Streets offers a variety of interesting stone work: copestones (by the VFW building), dry stone walls, mortared walls, path borders and a balancing rock.  

Extensive stone walls can be seen along the south side of Track Road, which is a name for the old railroad right-of-way and future Assabet River Rail Trail as one walks from Maynard into Stow.

Copestone wall on Walnut Street
On the north side of town, just north of where Rockland Avenue branches off Acton Street, there are extensive stone walls bordering what was once the Marble/Whitney/Parmenter house and farm. The house burned to the ground in 1924. What remains is the stone foundation, walls, retaining walls and several sets of stone steps.

Southeast of the homestead site are several glacial erratics - large granite boulders weighing three to ten tons - deposited here during an Ice Age. These boulders are somewhat rounded, suggesting that they were between the bottom of the glacier and bedrock as the glacier sloooooowly scraped and rolled them across the surface. Rocks can also end up on top of a glacier - by way of an landslide as the glacier scrapes past a mountainside - resulting in non-rounded rocks being transported miles and miles away before being deposited at a new resting place.

Balancing rock, Brooks and Summer Streets
Today's article began with stone being repurposed. Today's reality is that theft of stone is a big problem throughout New England. Stone walls on private property are obviously someone's property, but this does not dissuade thieves from backing a truck up to a wall for a grab and go. A good stonewaller saves large stones for the top. These tie the wall together from one side to the other. Removing even just the top stones not only breaks the line of the wall, but also puts the integrity of the entire wall at risk.

Stone on town property is not up for grabs. Tumble-down stone walls crisscrossing town-owned woods are part of our collective heritage, and should never be moved or removed.

Poet Robert Frost famously wrote "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,...” He meant winter freezes or trespassing hunters. Bad enough, but repairable. Once a wall is gone, it's gone.

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