I can only imagine the pride a 19th century homesteader might have had, on the completion of a hand-dug, stone-lined water well. The clear, cold water contained in it would have been an essential ingredient for any hill farm’s success. Some old wells are still in use today at venerable New England homes, while other 30 foot deep examples of the well digger’s art may be found next to abandoned cellar holes in the backwoods. Although underground and out of sight, such a towering achievement deserved to be crowned, and many were, with a beautiful stone well cover. The cover helped keep the well from contamination, and children and livestock safe from falling in.
The former dairy farm where I recently built a dry stone garden feature probably had a hand-dug well in it’s early days, although, the old well cover incorporated into the design did not come from the property. It was purchased by the client at a salvage yard for its sculptural qualities. We determined that the best way to show off the piece was to stand it on edge using as little support as possible.
Another artifact found in old homesteads is the sill stone. Great slabs of granite were erected along the top perimeter of a cellar hole for the timber frame of the house to rest upon. I split an antique, 8’-long sill stone, lengthwise, to get a matched pair of posts to support one side of the standing well cover.
The client, Todd Lynch of Ecotropy, a landscape architect, designed the feature to be a backdrop for his barnyard garden, and included a raised bed in front of it. The well cover is complimented by and contrasted with a free-standing dry stone wall on each side of it. The walls were built with tailings from a gravel pit, just a mile down the road.