Sunday, May 18th, 2008
My parents have a couple of God-knows-how-old stone walls on their property in Connecticut, and I’ve never paid them much attention except when investigating the crannies for lizards and snakes.
It turns out, though, that these historic remnants of the state’s farming past are in danger from developers and thieves of various sorts.
They sometimes come in broad daylight, with bulldozers and other heavy equipment, loading rocks from Connecticut’s old stone walls into dump trucks and carting them away to beautify another home, decorate a driveway or make a rustic entrance to a mall.
More surreptitious scavengers of stone work in the dark or slip deep into the woods, where old stone walls often exist in isolation, glimpsed only by hikers. After they pluck the most desirable ones, weathered stones covered in lichen to establish their antique pedigree, they typically leave behind a jumbled, rock-strewn mess.
In most places, salvaging or removing such stones with a landowner’s permission is lawful, but from the historical point of view, archaeologists and preservationists say, it is a crime, a theft of history. Stone walls are an important part of the landscape, delineating where settlements and farms existed, and how they operated. They tell a story about who we were — and are.
Much of the time the scavengers have the permission of the property owners who have no particular need or affection for their stacked stone treasures. Some towns have zoning ordinances that regulate the mining of stone walls, but the ones mentioned in the article are mainly about walls on or abutting public land.
Then there’s the question of the few poor laws out there being enforced. Here’s the spoiler: they aren’t.