Wednesday, September 8, 1948
Among the most suggestive and beautiful works of the pioneers are their old stone walls. There are many such around Parishville, for stones were not lacking on the fields they chose to be their own and which they so laboriously cleared and settled. I say the old walls are beautiful, for they speak so eloquently of the toil-worn hands, now but a handful of dust, that gathered them one by one and placed them painstakingly in the rows that separated their fields from one another, or from those of their neighbors.
Before making the stone walls they made the stone-boats on which they conveyed the stones from field to destination. They took two stout planks, fastened them into one piece, arranged a place on which to hitch the oxen or, perchance, the horses that were to draw the stone-boat. Then, one by one, the stones and rocks were loaded thereon and dragged to the place where the wall was to be. The big rocks were placed at the bottom, the rest arranged neatly but without mortar in symmetrical rows. Thus the fields were separated from each other and, as we know now, for all time. For there they stand, many of them just where the patient workers placed them over a century ago. Of course some have fallen down and a few have been used in modern road-building. Long rows of old stone walls may be seen all over our town. Mutely, the grey lengths testify to the dogged industry, the love of the land, the ordered ingenuity and frugality of their planning.
The stones were in the way of cultivation and fences were needed. Rails took time to make, so the walls grew over the years, thus getting the stones out of the way and making at the same time plain separations for the fields.
They are aged now and show the wear and tear of time. Somehow they have turned more grey, more weather-beaten, lonelier, sadder with the days, the months, the years during which they have stood guard over the acres which were loved and cared for a hundred years ago.
A little later in the autumn, wild vines will trail over their length, flaming into the beauty which that season brings. You may have seen little squirrels and chipmunks scampering along their uneven lengths. Once I glimpsed a baby rabbit jumping from a possible foe as the car whizzed by. Raspberry and blackberry bushes may grow along their neighborhood, and tall trees shade the old rocks which never swerve from the places assigned them so long, so long ago. Steadfastly they still guard that which was given into their vigilance when Time was younger, when there was more time for homely labor, when lumbering oxen ploughed alongside their immovable presence.
I know an ancient stone wall where tall maples tower above it, shading a living spring bubbling up from the brown old earth. Nearby there used to be a mossy log where small boys and girls went to "get a pail of water" for their teacher. Ah, it was a heavenly place. Robins and blue-birds sang throughout the summer day. Fragrant ferns and mint grew around the spring. At certain times the smell of new-mown hay filled the air with its unrivaled fragrance. Once, a shy partridge scuttled quickly away into the woods, her babies at once invisible and safe. And it took a long time to get a pail of water, so many entrancing sights and sounds enthralled the little school prisoners.
Our village has many sightly walls, even after you have climbed the Dugway Hill. For there are more hills up on top. A very nicely made wall sustains the lot on which the Parish Tavern once stood, but it looks as though made more recently than 1809 when the tavern was built. Mr. and Mrs. Everett Bassett live there now and it was for years the Milo Adams place, his son, Clark, and family succeeding him.
The late Eastman Morway built a fine cobblestone wall around the former Dr. Charles Duffy lot. Donald Young and family own it now. Century-old, big stones are across the front of the Jaquis lot where Mr. and Mrs. Fay Duffy now live. In front of Hillcrest cemetery is another old wall. Near the river are the remains of the Parish grist mill, built in 1809 but which were ruined by the fire of 1913, and the building of the new dam some years later. The old arch may be seen strong as ever. On the north side of the Morton Spear lot is a very old sustaining wall without mortar. So rocks and stones were disposed of usefully and beautifully. The pioneers did that work as they performed all their duties as early settlers, partly from necessity and partly from frugality. They disliked to waste anything and generally found a use for everything. Later they used their worn-out garments with which to weave rag carpets, thus making more abidable rooms and saving the rags. Their hooked and braided rugs were often beautiful and so well made as to last years and years.
Besides the stone walls, the old rail fences are also seen in more of less considerable numbers. For they had timber, too, in profusion, although they little realized the ways they used it often seem wasteful to us. The old rail fences going zigzag through the land are also weather-beaten and grey. Like many other old contrivances, both stone walls and rail fences have given way to modernity, wire fences now dividing the fields from one another. "Line fences" are important items in the farmer's routine and probably always were. No doubt the pioneer oxen, pigs, and cattle had as good appetites as they do now, and if and when had access to a corn or grain crop, would consume the same whether it belonged to their owner or his neighbor. So, as soon as the early farmers collected a dairy or some pigs, he must also confine them or just as like as not have a row with his neighbor. If you have one of their old walls on your land, love and cherish it as a precious legacy from the past. How much the old rocks could say if they could speak.
But I do not expect sentiment of that nature from every one, and many old things are in disfavor and are often discarded with more or less indifference. Soon I shall tell the story of David Parish's house-building.