STONE BY STONE: The Magnificent History of New England's Stone Walls

Robert M. Thorson, Author
Robert M. Thorson, Author . Walker $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1394-0
Reviewed on: 07/22/2002
Release date: 08/01/2002
Paperback - 287 pages - 978-0-8027-7687-7
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"To know New England well, one must know its stone walls," writes the author of this authoritative paean to the structures he calls the "signatures of rural New England." There were once approximately 240,000 miles of stone walls in New England, and Thorson, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Connecticut, combines natural history and human history as he tells the story of the walls and how they were built. In his geo-archeological study, he begins by exploring how the stones, formed deep within the earth, were shaped and scattered by glaciation, buried under forest and soil buildup, brought to the surface after the New England pioneers cut down the trees and exposed the soil to frost heave, and tossed to the sides of their fields by early farmers clearing the land. He finds these tossed walls, which make up the majority of stone walls in New England, as aesthetically pleasing as the carefully constructed walls that came later. Every type of stone wall fascinates him. He extols their color, form and texture, the sounds they make, the shelter they provide for animals, their beauty as they disintegrate. As agriculture declined in the region, the walls were neglected, and today they are "almost as sad as they are simple," he says, for they are evidence of a lost Yankee culture. Now most of the walls have been abandoned, and their stones have become a cash crop to be sold and often carried far away from their original locations, which Thorson considers an "environmental tragedy." His book covers much technical material, but his enthusiasm for the subject brings it to life. Copious notes, extensive bibliography and an appendix with geologic time lines are included. Illus. not seen by PW. (Sept.)

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