“Why should we care about stone walls?” This question was asked by a Portsmouth elementary student after I had given a presentation on stone walls to a class.  I answered that stone walls are part of our heritage as a farming community and that they are history we can touch.  I am haunted by the question because I hope Portsmouth children and other residents will appreciate the walls and work to preserve or protect our walls.  It may just be that we have so many beautiful walls that our families just don’t appreciate how special our walls are.  Sadly stone walls at Glen Park were among town property vandalized recently.  Thieves have stolen some of the critical capstones on the walls leading to Glen Manor House.  Everyday wear from people sitting or walking on the walls can dislodge stones as well.

There are efforts to preserve our walls.

Our town has an ordinance that seeks to protect the walls that border the town roads.  The Stone Wall Preservation Ordinance of the Town of Portsmouth aims “to protect one of the Town’s important cultural resources, historic stone walls, saving one of the beautiful features of the Town for the people of tomorrow and preserving the rural character of the Town.”

The Aquidneck Island Stone Wall Initiative is a joint project of the Newport County Preservation Society and Preserve Rhode Island. Their vision statement states: ” It is intended to protect and improve Aquidneck Island’s scenic quality by preserving its historic stone walls. Stone walls are visible reminders of the Island’s rural agricultural history and contribute to its sense of place and scenic character.”  With funding from the vanBuren Charitable Trust, the Initiative has restored a wall by the Simmons Farm and it is now working on a wall by the Norman Bird Sanctuary.  It is an effort to call attention to the need to preserve and protect the walls as part of our cultural heritage.

I’m not sure posting “Do not walk on the walls” signs around the athletic fields would work.  Years ago my students were researching the Leonard Brown House and the Camara Sisters (Mary Lou and Gerry) told us a story about the walls.  Mr. Nicholson, the husband of the owner of Glen Farm (Edith Taylor Nicholson) appreciated the walls and wanted the Glen Farm children to stay off of them.  He would pay them a quarter to get down off the wall.  Well, whenever the children saw Mr. Nicholson’s Cadillac coming they would get on the walls just to get their quarters!

Illustration of Children on Glen Walls

All I can do is call attention to the walls with blogs, books and talks.  Perhaps a child (or adult) might appreciate the work involved in building the walls, the beauty of the walls themselves and the farming history the walls represent.