The Guilford Preservation Alliance was instrumental in the effort to write an ordinance protecting Guilford’s historic stone walls. This ordinance went into effect September 11, 2010 and states, in part, “The preservation of stone walls is important in maintaining the character of Guilford’s country landscape. To the extent feasible, existing stone walls shall be preserved and maintained. Existing stone walls shall be used in demarcating property lines between lots to the extent feasible. Where the preservation of a stone wall is not possible, the wall shall be relocated along new property lines. The Commission may require the creation of conservation easements or similar instruments to insure long term protection of stone walls.” This article by Joe Nugent appeared in the Fall 2008 GPA Newsletter:
As development pressures continue to build and the price of native fieldstone soars, New England’s old stone walls have become an increasingly marketable commodity. A number of Connecticut towns have already taken steps to preserve this iconic feature of our traditional landscape, but the majority of Guilford’s stone walls remain vulnerable to theft, cannibalization, and neglect.
In his book, Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England’s Stone Walls, Professor Robert M. Thorson of the University of Connecticut makes a compelling argument for preventing the wholesale “strip-mining” of this irreplaceable resource. He cites a 1939 engineering survey, which estimated that New England had about 240,000 miles of stone walls at the end of the Civil War. (By comparison, China’s so-called Great Wall is a mere 4,000 miles long!) Many of these walls have been dismantled or destroyed over the years, making it all the more important to extend some degree of protection to those that have survived intact.
How did Guilford’s stone walls end up where they are now? As the forests were clear-cut in the 1700s for pasture land, many rocks and boulders were tossed in heaps along the edges of fields, just to get them out of the way. During the eighteenth century, as individuals relocated farther out from the center of town, the Puritans invested these primitive stone walls with religious significance: Both literally and symbolically, the walls surrounded the people and assured them of the Lord’s protection.
Almost all of Guilford’s stone walls were built without the use of machines. Both the size of the individual stones and the height of the wall were determined by how much weight a single man could lift. This explains why most walls are no higher than a man’s thighs. Stone walls are classified according to function and structure. There are retaining walls, boundary walls, estate walls, stone fences, cattle guides, pens, foundation walls, cellar walls–even “walking” walls, designed to serve as walkways.Wall structures can be single-stack, double-stack, or “tossed.” A classic double-stack wall, constructed between 1937 and 1939, can be seen along the perimeter of the Henry Whitfield Museum property. Most stone walls in Guilford, however, are of the cruder tossed variety.
Guilford is fortunate to have many miles of well-preserved stone walls. A large portion of these structures are visible from roadways and contribute in important ways to the town’s rural and historic character. Should Guilford consider instituting a regulatory process to ensure that these walls survive for future generations to enjoy? We want to know what you think. To send us your comments, click on Contact Us above or write to: Guilford Preservation Alliance, Box 199, Guilford, CT 06437.