Restoring 1,500 feet of stone wall along the old Albany NY post road

Preservation work is being carried out at The Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, NY this summer. Among the projects is a youth training program. Twelve young people, along with a supervisor from Groundwork USA, travel from Yonkers, NY each weekday. Kentucky’s Dry Stone Conservancy runs the program. The goal is to restore 1,500′ of stone wall along Rt. 9. Originally built in the mid 1800’s, the wall borders the old Albany post road.

Neil Rippingale is the leader of the project and head instructor. Neil visited me over the weekend here in Dummerston and gave me a progress report. He explained that some of the wall sections are stripped out and completely rebuilt, while others only have the top 12″ restored. It is Neil’s job to identify “character defining features” in the wall and have the trainees attempt to replicate them. For instance, the wall was originally “dressed to the road.” The road side of the wall was built with flat-bedded, coursed stone while the estate side of the wall had a much rougher construction of round cobbles. The rebuild must respect the style of the original even when a different approach would likely result in a stronger wall.

Unlike most of the training Neil does, where the students want to learn dry stone walling, the youth placed in this program, with funding provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are there primarily to learn basic employment skills. In the first week they averaged 28′ of restoration per day. After three weeks of practice, the group is now up to 38′ per day. Last year, Neil conducted 50 workshops for the DSC. Since starting with the the DSC eight years ago, the native Scotsman, has worked in 39 states and been to an equal number of countries, worldwide. Each project is different but all require a great deal of advance planning, plus innovation on the ground, to make them a success.

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