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New England “Potatoes” and More 02/25/2011

Posted by DS in club business, meetings, speakers.
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At the most recent meeting of the Bristol Area Lions Club, guest speaker Matt Carter presented an informative program tracing the history of stone walls in New England. When glaciers receded thousands of years ago, loose stones left behind were largely buried under several feet of soil. By the 18th century, a shift from communal to individual land ownership among New England’s early settlers gave rise to the need for barriers between land parcels. Plowing and annual frost heaves brought buried stones, aka “New England potatoes,” to the surface and led to the development of “tossed walls” to create needed partitions. The golden years of stone wall building came after the Revolutionary War, when economic and sociological factors allowed for the concentration of land wealth and the development of substantial barriers between individual properties.

After 1825, the rise of cities and the Westward expansion led to a decline in country living in New England. The development of barbed wire, which was easy to install, led to a move away from the backbreaking construction of stone walls. The late 19th century “rusticator” movement helped to promote appreciation of stone walls, but in general fields that once were defined by stone walls returned to forest, where many of those handmade rock fences can be found today.

Matt Carter owns Green Island Stonework in Topsham, which specializes in landscape and architectural stonework (www.greenislandstoneworks.com). Since building his first dry stone wall in upstate New York almost 20 years ago, he has built or repaired over 2 million pounds of dry stone walls. Holding an advanced level certification in dry stone walling from the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, Carter conducts stone wall building workshops to benefit non-profits such as the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and the Rufus Porter Museum. His presentation to the Bristol Lions Club included an explanation of the various types of early stone walls found in New England; some of their specific roles as cattle pounds, retaining walls, or repositories for field debris; and standard building practices for contemporary dry stone walls.

In attendance at this February meeting were Tony Arruda, 1st vice district governor of the Lions Club in Maine; Roger Blackstone, past district governor of the Lions Club in Maine; and Ann McFarland, past district governor and current zone chair of the Maine Lions Club. Referencing the evening’s stone wall presentation, Arruda remarked that each Lion in the Bristol chapter represents one part of a viable whole—just like a strategic stone in a well-built stone wall. As the largest service organization in the world, he added, the Lions Club strives to make a difference both locally and globally, and that it all starts at a local level.

The Bristol Area Lions Club meets next on Monday, March 7, when Paul Kando of the Midcoast Green Collaborative will give a presentation on weatherization and energy efficiency. To make dinner reservations for that meeting, or to learn more about the Bristol Area Lions Club, please call 677-2095.

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