Save the Dry Stone Causeway

Dry Stone Causeway

In my town a section of back road is scheduled to get an upgrade. A tight bend will be eliminated where the road now crosses a stream. The plan is to move the gravel roadway downstream and install a cement "box" culvert, thereby reducing the curve and widening the road bed. The old stone causeway, at the current crossing, has born the weight of countless vehicles, from horse drawn sleighs to eighteen-wheeler log tucks. It's been performing its duties longer than anyone now living can remember. Surely, it deserves retirement, maybe even a neighborhood party in its honor. But a far less noble end to its working life may soon be coming.

The State of Vermont, who's coffers are being tapped to build the new crossing, recommends demolishing the old structure. The fear is that, should the channel become plugged in heavy rains the old road bed above it could act like a dam, fail catastrophically and wash out the new road bed and cement culvert. The thinking is reasonable enough but doesn't factor in the value of the old structure.

The ancient causeway is a beautiful piece of stone craft that perfectly marries a drystone abutment to a bedrock outcrop by bridging the two with broad slabs. The sloped ceiling directs the force of the weight above toward the ground behind the abutment. This simple bit of rural engineering personifies the character of our Vermont fore-bearers. They recognized the goodness in the natural world and applied it to their needs. They borrowed from the systems already in place. The stream had been running clear alongside the outcropping for a very long time. The Yankee road builders saw how well the system worked and chose that place to make their long lasting, maintenance free, dry stone causeway.

If you'd like to see this work preserved, let a member of the Dummerston Selectboard know it. You don't have to be a Dummerston resident to call or write, just say you're a friend of the little gem on Stickney Brook Road.