Stonewalls – something different to consider

Hillsdale NY 10.11.2020


As a lifelong resident of the Northeast of the US, stonewalls are a ubiquitous feature of any walk in the country. They are a constant reminder of our geology and the industriousness of our ancestors. Some people think of spring as a season of flowers and rebirth. Farmers in our region think of it as another adventure in clearing stones from fields and repairing frost-heaved stonewalls.

A recent article on The Conversation,  New England stone walls lie at the intersection of history, archaeology, ecology and geoscience, and deserve a science of their own” by Robert Thorson, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Connecticut, and originator of stonewall sciences, pointed out some staggering numbers about the scale of stonewalls in the Northeast. “The mass of stone that farmers moved in that century [18th] staggers the mind – an estimated 240,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) of barricades, most stacked thigh-high and similarly wide. That’s long enough to wrap our planet 10 times at the equator, or to reach the Moon on its closest approach to Earth.” And then, “Natural scientists have been working to quantify this phenomenon, which is larger in volume than the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall in Britain and the Egyptian pyramids at Giza combined.”

Some have made stonewalls into art.

borrowed from

Andy Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall at the Storm King Art Center (New Windsor NY)

This brought to mind Robert Frost’s poem Mending Walls with its famous line repeated, “‘Good fences make good neighbors.’”1 Read further about stonewalls and Robert Frost in a recent issue of Smithsonian Magazine, “How Stone Walls Became a Signature Landform of New England” by the same Robert Thorson.

All of this brought to memory a visit in 1971 to the island of Korcula in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of the former Yugoslavia near Mostar. My New England stonewall eyes were startled at the size and number of stonewalls created to surround fields of corn that were not much larger than 100 yards on a side. Talk about stubbornness as a human characteristic!


Here is some more to read about stonewalls:

Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and New York by Susan Allport (Second Edition Countryman Press)

Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England’s Stone Walls by Robert Thorson (Walker & Company of New York, 2002)

and a website: Stone Wall Initiative


  1. Read the poem here: