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Stonemason explains New England’s stone walls

Stonemason sheds light on New England’s boulder boundaries

  • Kevin Gardner, author of the book, "The Granite Kiss," creates a stone wall with small rocks during a lecture about New England stone walls at the Greenfield public library, Wednesday, April 6.

  • Kevin Gardner, author of the book, "The Granite Kiss," gives a lecture about New England stone walls at the Greenfield public library, Wednesday, April 6.

  • Kevin Gardner, author of the book, "The Granite Kiss," creates a stone wall with small rocks during a lecture about New England stone walls at the Greenfield public library on Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • A stone wall borders a field in Leyden. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • A stone wall borders a field in Leyden. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



The Recorder
Thursday, April 07, 2016

GREENFIELD — Kevin Gardner’s hands are like stones. That might be because he is a master stonemason, who has spent more than 40 years building and restoring stone walls throughout New England.

Gardner, who hails from New Hampshire, says the seemingly simple stacking of stones can be a long and deliberate process. He visited Greenfield Public Library this week with a bucket of small stones to explain how and why New England came to acquire its stone walls hundreds of years ago, how stone walls came to be an integral part of the famous New England landscape.

The miles of stone walls that can also be seen in the forests and fields throughout Franklin County were largely built by farmers who wanted to contain their sheep and section off their land, starting around 1810, said Gardner.

In the decades after the Civil War there was a mass exodus from the farmland. Young people moved off farms and went to work in factories. Other farmers moved west in search of better land and better opportunities, said Gardner, author of “The Granite Kiss,” a book on the fundamentals of building traditional New England-style dry stone walls.

When the farmers packed up and left, the stone walls stayed. In some cases, forests grew up around them.

While there have been reports of about 250,000 miles of stone walls in this country, the actual number of miles remains unknown, he said.

While the walls are concentrated in the Northeast, it’s possible to find dry stone walls as far south as South Carolina.

“Contrary to the myth of New England, stone walls do not last forever,” he said. Gardner spoke to residents about how they too can construct and repair these structures that, over time, can deteriorate, get knocked over or vandalized.

He used his bucket of small stones to demonstrate the building process on a table in front of the audience at the library Wednesday.

Whenever possible, he said he tries to keep the historical integrity of the structure intact, but sometimes projects call for new stones and new ideas.

Once he gets started on a process, a rhythm will develop. He contemplates the stone, the space for the stone, and which stone will fit into which space. He said he loves the constant sifting through shapes.

“Be very patient with yourself, don’t worry about how much you get done,” said Gardner. “It’s absolutely a meditative process, there is a lot of deliberate, slow moving work,” he said

By cross-hatching the stones, builders can make sure that they construct a strong wall. Gardner said, the rules to building stone walls are simple, but to really master the craft, a builder must practice.

“You either have a temperament for it or you don’t,” said Gardner. “People who like building walls enjoy creating order out of chaos and I just happen to be one of those people.”

The talk was sponsored by the Friends of Greenfield Public Library.