Weir Farm National Historic Site, The Stone Walls
OVERVIEW: About this audio-described brochure
This is the audio-only described version of the Weir Farm National Historic Site stone walls brochure. The brochure is two-sided, with descriptions of the stone walls, five color photographs and two art images.
The front of the brochure features an introduction to the stone and stone walls of New England, in text and images. The back of the brochure details the type of walls found at Weir Farm NHS, in text and images.
OVERVIEW: Weir Farm National Historic Site
Weir Farm National Historic Site, located in south-western Connecticut, is the only national park dedicated to American painting. Set amid more than 60 acres of picturesque woods, fields, and streams, Weir described his home as the "Great Good Place." Come walk in the footsteps of generations of world class artists, and visit the home and studio of American Impressionist, J. Alden Weir.
To find out more about what resources might be available, or to contact the park directly, visit the "Accessibility" and "More Information" sections at the end of this audio-described brochure.
OVERVIEW: Front of the brochure
The front of the stone walls brochure features a color photo of a stone wall and a watercolor painting by J. Alden Weir. The text discusses the history of stone walls and the stone used for building walls.
IMAGE: A Stone Wall at Weir Farm
This close-up color photograph shows the details of a stone wall at Weir Farm. The top of the photo shows tall wildflowers growing in the field immediately behind the wall and the dense forest beyond. The bottom two-thirds of the photograph shows three layers of stone in the wall. The bottom of the wall is not visible in the photo. The stones range in size from small stones that fit in one hand to large stones that require 2 to 4 hands to lift into place. Some stones are rounded, some are more square or angular. They range in color from a pinkish-grey, to dark grey or brown, to a white-ish grey, and most are covered in round patches of greenish-white lichen.
QUOTE overlaying the image:
Far up on these abandoned mountain farms, Now drifting back to forest wilds again, The long gray walls extend their clasping arms, Pathetic monuments to vanished men. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1892, from An American Stonehenge
PHOTO CREDIT: NPS
TEXT: IntroductionStone walls are objects of mystery and fascination. Remnants of an agricultural existence that once dominated this landscape, these walls linger as the last relics of an all but vanished past. They trace fields now fallow and line roads now busy and paved, but still hint at a time when artists and farmers walked the grounds together. These walls divided property and kept animals contained, but also inspired many enduring works of art. They are both functional and beautiful. Created by craftsmen and laborers, these walls are as much art as the paintings that they inspired. They are simple and complex, stoic and elegant, both ancient and modern at once.
TEXT: The StoneTrue understanding of these stone walls must begin with the origin of the stone itself. Millions of years ago, great sheets of ice, over a mile thick, flowed southward over much of North America. These glacial formations exerted tremendous force upon the ground beneath them. As they progressed, they fractured, gathered, and dragged stone along their path. This stone, largely granite and gneiss in this region, is referred to as glacial till. This till ranged in size from small particles to rocks the size of small houses. This cycle of glacial erosion continued until approximately 13,000 years ago, when the frigid climate subsided. In the warmer climate, the glaciers receded and left the stone behind. The result was a landscape littered with a remarkable number of stones. Connecticut for example, ended up with an average of ten feet of glacial till resting on top of the bedrock. This abundance of stone would prove a great obstacle for those that settled and attempted to farm in this area.
TEXT: The Stone Walls
Before any widespread farming of this area could occur, vast amounts of stone had to be removed from the ground. Early settlers discarded this stone in linear piles that lined the edges of their fields. Over time, these irregular piles would develop into an extensive network of stone walls that still define the landscape of this area. The character of this farm, shaped by these walls, captivated J. Alden Weir, his artist friends, and the generations of artists that followed. Explore the walls of the farm on your own with the information on the other side of this guide.
INSET TEXT Box:
Why are there stone walls in the woods?
Many of the stone walls that we see today in New England are situated in and around forests. However, this was not always the case. In fact, most of the region was cleared of trees by the early eighteen hundreds. Farming and the emerging textile industry, which required grazing areas for vast numbers of sheep, were largely responsible for the disappearance of the trees. However, after the turn of the century, this area became increasingly suburban and the return of the trees was a natural consequence of the transition from agricultural to residential use. These walls have remained in place as the land has changed around them from farmers' fields back to forests.
IMAGE: Man, Stone Wall, and Dog
CAPTION: Man, Stone Wall, and Dog, by J. Alden Weir, circa 1900.
DESCRIPTION: This watercolor painting depicts a farmer placing stone on a wall, while his dog lies in the grass nearby. The mid to dark green trees of the forest beyond the field are visible in the background, while the field itself fills the middle and foreground. Centrally located in the image, a farmer, facing left, is leaning over to place another stone on the wall. He wears a straw hat with a blank band, a light grey vest over a white shirt, and light brown pants. His plow is lying on the grassy path behind him. In the foreground, his black dog lies among tall green grasses beside the path.
IMAGE CREDIT: NPS
OVERVIEW: Back of the brochure
The back of the stone walls brochure features four color photos of stone walls and a pen and ink drawing. The text discusses types of stone walls, and two walls at Weir Farm National Historic Site, the Great Wall of Cora and the Platt Wall.
OVERVIEW: The Walls of Weir Farm National Historic Site
This section of the brochure describes in text and images, three types of stone walls, a thrown wall, a laid wall, and a rubble filled wall.
TEXT and IMAGE: A Thrown Wall at Weir Farm
The most basic wall is the thrown wall. Lacking a formal structure or foundation, these walls do not take any experience to build. However, their lack of stability causes these walls to often lose stones, requiring farmers to constantly rebuild their initial wall to prevent it from being breached by animals.
This color photograph shows a thrown wall on the grounds of Weir Farm. The wall takes up three-quarters of the photo. The top quarter of the photo is a strip of blue sky and bare trees visible in the distance. The shadow from a nearby tree runs along the top of the wall on the right side of the image. The stone of the wall is varied in size and color, and is piled in indistinct layers. Some stones are small enough to fit in one hand, others are large enough to require two hands to lift into place. The stones range in color from a white-grey, to a blue-grey, to a dark brown-grey. Many stones have round patches of greenish-blue lichen on the visible side, and a few have patches of green moss.
PHOTO CREDIT: NPS
TEXT and IMAGE: A Laid Wall at Weir Farm
At the turn of the century, an influx of settlers from Europe brought experienced quarry men and masons to the area with new solutions for the farmers of New England. Soon, more formal walls of quarried or "dressed" stone appeared in the region. Built with greater interest in structure and form, these walls are known as laid walls. They are not only more secure and dependable, but also more elegant and formal.
This color photograph shows a laid wall on the grounds of Weir Farm. The wall takes up about three-quarters of the photograph. The top quarter is a strip of laid wall visible in the distance. The visible portion of this laid wall is constructed in layers of rectangular stone. The thickness of the rectangles vary, so that the layers are composed of one or two stones. Small rounded and angular stones have been fit into the cracks and spaces between the rectangular slabs. Each layer of stones is slightly off-set from the ones above and below, so that the vertical spaces between rectangular stones meet the middle of a stone in the layers above and beneath.
PHOTO CREDIT: NPS
TEXT and IMAGE: A Rubble Filled Wall at Weir Farm
Although a vast improvement, laid walls are not built to allow for the movement of soil beneath their foundations, movement that results from the freezing and thawing of water in the ground. Consequently, a third type of stone wall appeared, the rubble filled wall, that combines the favorable aspects of both previous designs. These walls consist of two laid walls built alongside each other, with a rubble fill placed between to add greater flexibility. Basically, the outer walls hold the wall together, while the rubble fill in the center allows the wall to settle and adjust to the changing forces acting beneath it.
This color photograph shows the end of a rubble filled wall on the grounds of Weir Farm. The end of the wall fills the majority of the image, with a view down the length of the stone wall as it stretches into the distance. On the right edge of the photo, a strip of barren ground is visible with brown leaves collected against the base of the wall. On the left, two thick tree trunks are immediately adjacent to the stone wall, their bases obscured by the shadow of the wall. The end of the wall is comprised of four layers of stone. The top layer is a single large rectangular stone. The bottom three layers are comprised of two or three rectangular stones per layer, with smaller stones filling up the cracks and spaces. The bottom layer of stones is slightly wider than the top stone. The color of these stones ranges from white-grey to dark brown-grey, with some bands of rust red or tan running through individual stones. The center top third of the image shows the length of the wall as it stretches into the distance. The rectangular stones comprise the outer surfaces of the wall while the center is filled with smaller stones.
PHOTO CREDIT: NPS
TEXT: The Great Wall of Cora
The rubble filled wall that stretches north from the Burlingham House Visitor Center to the intersection of Nod Hill Road and Pelham Lane in front of the Weir House was built after the Great Depression. This wall was constructed by the Knoche family for Cora Weir Burlingham, J. Alden Weir's third daughter. This massive wall called the "Great Wall of Cora" by her sister Dorothy, was built to mark the boundary of her property and border the fields west of Nod Hill Road. It was constructed at a time when many farmers were relocating to the Midwest. Therefore, this wall was built less as a functional wall, and more as an ornamental addition to the landscape. This design is most evident when you compare the two sides of the wall. If you look at the exterior of the wall, the stones are large and formal. On the interior, they are small and rounded. The explanation for this phenomenon is that visitors and neighbors would typically only ever see the more expensive and decorative outside of the walls, while the more common and less desirable field stone on the inside would be hidden by vegetation.
IMAGE: Joe Knoche builds a Stone Wall
Joe Knoche builds a Stone Wall by Mahonri Young shows the construction of Cora's "Great Wall."
This pen and ink drawing shows three workmen building a stone wall at the edge of a field near the Burlingham House Visitor Center. The Burlingham House is visible in the background partially obscured by large trees at both ends of the house. In the middle ground, a stone wall backed by lilacs runs in front of the house. At the end of the wall, a small stone building sits in the field, beside which a woman hangs washing on a clothes line. In the foreground, the "Great Wall" is partially constructed. Shovels, pikes, and mallets lean against the wall while three men haul shape and haul rocks for the incomplete section. Behind the finished section, a man leads two oxen through a planted field, a plow dragging behind them.
IMAGE CREDIT: NPS
TEXT: The Platt Wall
The laid wall that starts on the eastern side of Nod Hill Road across from the Weir House and extends north toward the Beers Cemetery was built in 1900. This wall was constructed during a larger project to expand the Weir House. Weir asked prominent architect and friend Charles Platt to design the addition to the house, and it is thought because of his reputation as a talented landscape architect, that he may have designed this wall as well.
As the Platt Wall begins near the house, it is very formal with large cut stones. However as you walk north alongside the wall, away from the intersection, the formal elements of the construction begin to disappear. The large quarried stone changes slowly to smaller, more rounded field stone, the neat right angles become less ordered, and the overall shape of the wall more closely resembles that of the many thrown walls on the property. The primary reason behind this unusual design is Weir's desire to have a formal ornamental wall near the house that would also not look out of place when it connected to the other walls on the property. The result is a dramatic transformation over just a few hundred feet that is often overlooked by the casual observer.
IMAGE: The Platt Wall
The section of the Platt Wall next to the Weir House.
DESCRIPTION:This color photograph shows a section of stone wall bordered by grass on one side and green trees on the other. The stone wall cuts diagonally across the image, from upper right to lower left, and has a slight serpentine curve. It is a laid wall of light grey stones. The wall is backed by many young maple trees, their branches full of green leaves. In front of the wall there is a carpet of bright green grass and a small patch of daffodil leaves.
PHOTO CREDIT: NPS
We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. For more information about our services, please ask a ranger, call, or check on our website.
OVERVIEW: More Information
Weir Farm National Historic Site, 735 Nod Hill Road, Wilton, CT 06897
www dot n p s dot gov slash wefa