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Speaker to Spill Secrets of Bedford's Stone Walls

The Bedford Historical Society hosts local experts Susan Allport and Andrew Pighills, acclaimed stonewall artisans and experts on the history, construction and preservation of dry laid stone.

Whether you've lived in Bedford forever or moved here last week, chances are you were at once charmed by the miles of stone walls that seem to encircle this bucolic town.

Ever wondered who built them? What craftsmanship is behind their artful alignment with landscape around them? Susan Allport, a Bedford resident and the town's appointed "fence viewer" will reveal some of the stories behind the stone walls in Bedford and beyond on Wednesday at the 's annual meeting at on the Bedford Village Green.

Allport, author of several books including Sermons in Stone: The Stone Walls of New England and New York, will present “Profiles in Preservation: The Art of Dry Stone Walls” with Andrew Pighills, a dry stone wall craftsman from Yorkshire, England who now lives in south east Connecticut.

Patch talked with Allport—also known for creating the rich-in-omega 3s "Susie's Smart Cookie," and as science writer-author of Queen of Fats—to ask about her fascination with stone walls and get a preview of Wednesday's event.

Patch: How long have you lived here and have you always been interested in stone walls?

Allport: I've lived in Bedford for 33 years. My husband and I spent a lot of time on the Trails and we noticed that what we saw on our land was replicated on property after property, and we wanted to see how thye came about. After I wrote Sermons in Stone, I was appointed to be the town's "fence viewer," which means I serve as a resource to homeowners on the building of stone walls. Residents can email me if they need name of contractors. The first fence viewer was appointed in 1681, so it's a town tradition.

Patch: Many people are so entranced by stone walls. Why?

Allport: They are so rhythmic. When you have so many of them, it creates this sense of time and town together—that’s part of it. And we can all relate to the idea of one stone at a time. I suppose they tie us back to earlier agricultural times. 

Patch: Aside from looking nice, what purpose did they serve? Property boundaries?

Allport: Mostly to keep the cows out of corn! And the sheep in the meadow—the walls were to prevent animals from moving to one location to another. Remember in the early 1900s we were primarily an agricultural area and produced milk for New York City until railroads were built. Then production moved west and north. They were also used as bunkers during the American Revolution and I can tell you something interesting about that—but I'll save that for my talk.

Patch: Fair enough! So who built them? Farmers?

Allport:  Farmers relied on their sons to build them, so farmers that had a lot of sons had more stone walls. At the , a lot of the walls were built by Civilian Conservation Corps members during the Great Depression. They took down a huge number walls later to build the buildings you see there now, like the Trailside Museum. A lot of the ones you see in Bedford now have been done by immigrant labor from Italy and Ireland.

Patch: So are there are walls that are more functional and those that are more artistic?

Allport: Yes. A great example of really beautiful walls are the ones at the They are just lovely and there for aesthetics.

Patch: And do they require maintenance?

Allport: Yes, you need to pick up the stones. They do fall out—maybe because of an animal crossing over, a tree falling or frost heaves, when the earth moves after cold weather. Morgenthau Preserve is an example of a recently completed clean up project where the walls were picked up.

Patch: Thanks for the preview! Sort of off topic, but what's new in the cookie world?

Allport: In fact we have a new flavor. In addition to the original breakfast cookie, we are testing a gingered apple cookie. We'll let you know when it's out.

 

A wine and cheese reception will be held at 6:30pm followed by the brief annual meeting and presentation. Historical Hall is located at 608 Old Post Road on the Bedford Village Green.  The event is free for members and $25 for non-members.   For reservations and further information please contact the Bedford Historical Society, (914) 234-9751, or visit the

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