A Wall Rebuilt

Often the fatigue that sets into a stone wall over time is caused by natural conditions. This weekend I noticed a piece of wall in Eastern Massachusetts that had been disrupted by the growth of a beech tree. The decorative border wall in the yard of an old farm house was completely subsumed by the ancient monarch. The age of the tree, well over 100 years, suggested that the wall is of an even greater age. To each side of the tree the wall has stood the test of time, remaining in good condition. The tree can be forgiven for displacing the stones, it has the right of long residence.

The failure of a garden retaining wall I helped Chuck Eblacker rebuild in Rochester, New York last week had no such excuse. It was caused by the builders of the wall less than six years ago. The unnecessary addition of a plastic drain line and the use of gravel within the wall created the conditions that ruined it. The gravel and stones slumped and slid off the piping. There was barely 8” of stone along the face of the wall in front of the drain line; not enough mass to hold back the weight of material behind.

We stripped out everything and made a new, larger footing using the gravel that had been sandwiched into the original construction. The stones were reused and mixed in with ten tons of additional wall stone.

Ill-conceived and insubstantial stone work is a stain on the reputation of the craft. Its only value is comparative. Only a dry stone wall built with high standards will stand strong and last long.