Stone Wall by Glen Farm Road.

Glen Farm Road wall a few winters ago.

As Portsmouth was celebrating its 375th birthday in 2013, I was working on a booklet of historical locations in town.  I began to notice that everywhere I went to photograph these sites from our history, I found a stone wall.  I know that through the years these walls can be moved or rebuilt, but vintage maps show that many of these walls have been in place for a hundred years or more.  I began to wonder what stories the walls could tell us about the history of the sites if they had a voice.

There was a time when there were no walls here.  Oh the rocks were there, buried deep in the soil.  Ancient glaciers moved across Aquidneck Island and left behind the stones: gray-green slate, shale that breaks apart, puddingstone with pebbles cemented together, white quartz and granite.

The native people who used our island for hunting and planting may have unearthed rocks and pushed them out of the way of planting, but they were not constructing walls.  Early settlers and colonial farmers began to use the stones they dug out while clearing the land in walls that marked boundaries.  Another use was to hold animals in a pen or prevent pests from getting into the plantings.

Portsmouth stone walls are special.  If you notice the walls across the way in Bristol, Tiverton or South County you will see more rounded rocks.  Our walls are flatter and fit into patterns more easily.  Many of us have these walls in our backyards.  Some are rough farmer walls that are loosely stacked, but other walls are remarkable finished walls – capstone and all.  The walls give a special character to our town and should be preserved, protected and rebuilt when possible.