|Dr. Scuzzarella’s enthusiasm
gave us a catalyst for the creation of our stonewall.
|Measuring the length of the
proposed wall with our homemade Gunther’s chain.
|Mr. Carroll MacDougall was
a huge part of our success.
|Stone donated by Benevento
Sand and Stone.
|Kevin Gardner demonstrated
stone wall construction.
|X marks the spot!|
|Grounds supervisor Bill Bourque’s
expertise was integral to the project.
|Student started digging the
trench outlined by Bill Bourque.
|“Tamping” the pea
|Pea stone was used to fill
in the trench.
|Stones were laid one over two.|
|Students worked on the wall
in all kinds of New England weather.
|Students visited Robert Frost’s
estate and the wall that inspired the poem “Mending
|Robert Thorson was an inspiration
for the project.
Inspired from reading Allport’s Sermons in Stone, Thorsen’s Stone by Stone and Gardner’s The Granite Kiss, the class wondered what it would be like to actually build a stonewall. Little did we realize at this point the trials, tribulations, and the wherewithal it would take to bring the project to fruition. It wasn’t until the completion of the wall that the class finally became “pragmatic visionaries”.
We first approached our principal, Dr. Carla Scuzzarella, asking both for permission and support. She chose a location in which she felt the wall would be best suited.
Based on the length of our proposed wall (thirty-three feet, or one half of a Gunther’s chain), we then determined how much stone we needed. As we certainly didn’t want to cannibalize existing stonewalls we hoped that a construction company or quarry would donate the stone necessary for the project.
Our school was unable to provide any funding for this project as we are a poorly funded district fighting for accreditation that is in jeopardy due to a dilapidated high school building. One of our students, Lillian Barres, made dozens of calls to local stone sources using the local yellow pages in an ever-widening radius around our area. Her diligence was eventually rewarded when she contacted Margaret McGinnis of Bevenento Sand and Stone in Wilmington, MA. Coincidentally Margaret is a graduate of our high school and a former student of mine. Through Margaret, Bevenento kindly donated ten tons initially, and over twenty more tons of stone and pea stone gravel over the course of the project. Her generous commitment to our stonewall project is a major cause of its success.
We now had ten tons of stone but only a rudimentary idea of how to build the wall. We turned to Kevin Gardner for professional guidance. Gardner is the author of The Granite Kiss, a book I found almost by accident in a bookstore in Nashua, NH. Coincidentally Gardener was signing copies of his book when I visited the store, and soon after learning about our project he was already offering to visit sometime to demonstrate to the class how to formulate a stonewall design. Our students were thrilled and frankly surprised that the author of one of their textbooks suddenly showed up to offer his expertise. His visit was nothing short of sensational. He is a true “renaissance man”, being an author, teacher, public radio producer, but most importantly to us, stone wall builder.
Kevin first used small stones on a table to demonstrate stonewall building techniques. Students were then asked to create their own tabletop stonewall. Gardener is a masterful teacher who so excited the students that they asked him outside in the rain to view our stones and help us in the design. The plan for our thirty-three foot wall was a semi-circular double wall approximately three-and-a-half feet high (fourteen links on a Gunther’s chain). Kevin suggested that we mark an X for our center point and begin to sort the stones by size and function. Gardener’s advice and direction became essential to our success. Beverly High School’s grounds supervisor Bill Bourque was also essential as our on-site advisor and mentor.
Using a hand wheelbarrow and dolly (as oxen and plows were unavailable), we began sorting the stones by size and function. We divided the stones into five categories:
- footing stones : the largest, thickest and heaviest;
- cap stones: for the top;
- building stones: footstones through capstones that have a “face”;
- corner stones: includes the shape of other categories as well as a right angle; and
- rubble stones: irregular stones used to fill in or ‘chink’ between the gaps of the larger stones.
For the sake of stability over time we dug a trench that followed Bourque’s wall outline. This trench was thirty-three feet long and approximately three links (twenty-one inches) deep. After digging the trench we filled the space with pea stone gravel.
Keeping Gardner’s and Bourque’s advice in mind we began to construct the wall. We tried to take an approach that was fairly simple, slanting the stone to the center for stability, and laying one stone over two. We began the wall at both ends and the middle to ensure uniformity.
The construction began in October 2004 and was completed in the summer of 2005. This project was a unit in a course entitled “Primary Research Through the History of Beverly”. The members of the class, Lillian Barres, Justin Desrocher, Megan Nylund, David O’Brien, Sarah O’Shea, and Corey Schweitzer should be commended for a Herculean effort. The construction of “Carla’s Wall” (named after our principal Carla Scuzzarella) was not the only unit in the course. These students spent hundreds of hours researching all aspects of the palimpsest of Beverly’s rich history, including a wonderful class project on the “Merrimack Valley” style of colonial gravestone carving.
In addition to class time, the wall construction effort took place before school, after school, on weekends, and on school vacations in all kinds of New England weather. Yet, these students never complained or deviated from their self-appointed goal. We had fun along the way. We visited Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” at his family farm in Derry, NH and had the opportunity to meet Robert Thorson, the author of another of their textbooks, Stone by Stone, after hearing him discuss his book one evening at the Arnold Arboretum in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. As was Kevin Gardener, Robert Thorson was an inspiration to the students and their project. He even offered to link the website component of the project to his Stonewall Initiative website.
The exemplary effort of these dedicated students along with the support of enthusiastic and altruistic people such as Gardner, Thorsen, Bourque, and Benevento Sand and Stone shows what can be done in spite of little or no budget, but the unrelenting pursuit of a vision. Along the way these student learned a variety of skills that helped shape them into intellectual decathletes. More importantly, they demonstrated an intellectual hunger and civic virtue that was rarely fueled by the roar of the crowd. They became quiet leaders who got the job done, always thinking of making their school and community a better place without any consideration of personal gain or recognition.
Allport, Susan. Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and New York. New York: W.W. Norton, 1994.
Bidwell, Percy. “The Agricultural Revolution in New England.” The American Historical Review 26 (1921): 683-702. http://www.primaryresearch.org/stonewalls/bidwell.pdf
Foster, David R., and John F. O’Keefe. New England Forests Through Time. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000. 4-19.
Gardner, Kevin. The Granite Kiss: Traditions and Techniques of Building New England Stone Walls. Woodstock, VT: Countryman P, 2001.
Robert, Thorson M. Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England’s Stone Walls. New York: Walker & Company, 2002.
Report of the Commisioner of Agriculture. United States Department of Agriculture. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1872. 497-511. http://www.primaryresearch.org/stonewalls/fencesurvey.pdf