Dummerston's Stone Trust is thriving


DUMMERSTON -- It's a long way from the Egyptian pyramids to the 1862 cow barn on Dummerston's Scott Farm.

But the craftsmen and advocates who collectively make up The Stone Trust, based on the ground floor of that barn, can draw a direct line from ancient building practices to the art and craft they practice today.

The Stone Trust quietly is growing, attracting students from around the United States who are interested in learning the deceptively simple techniques that can make a dry-stone wall last for centuries.

While there are many practical applications for those techniques, some say the Stone Trust's success also may be built on more-elemental factors.

"There's a resurgence in the understanding of how people make things. There's something very satisfying about working with your hands. It involves judgment. It involves aesthetics. It involves planning," said Zon Eastes, the organization's executive director. "I would say that most of the people who I've seen at the workshops are there because it's touching something much deeper in them."

The Stone Trust is just four years old, and its 3,000-square-foot indoor training center off Kipling Road is a modest, dirt-floor space. But that simplicity seems to suit the task at hand: Experts practicing "worldwide industry standards developed by the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain" engage in hands-on work with students, imparting the do's and don'ts of building a strong wall with nothing but rocks.

Standing among sample walls on a recent morning, Jared Flynn -- a board member and a founder of the trust -- says the site is used for education and testing.

"People are coming from all over North America to work on their education, because this is the only place they can do it," Flynn said.

There also are outdoor workshops. Students have been working for several years to restore the nearby Dutton Farm Wall, with Flynn estimating that more than 500 feet of that structure has been repaired.

Stone Trust administrators see applications from masons and landscape artists as well as from "people who come just because they have an interest in their own property," Eastes said. The students are eager, and some travel long distances.

"Interest is strong from all over the country," Eastes said. "We've had people come from as far away as California and Montana. And pretty consistently, we have people from Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, Ohio ..."

The workshops are popular enough that The Stone Trust now is running four indoor sessions, which are "filling up pretty quickly," Eastes said. The organization also has moved to an online registration system in order to better accommodate demand.

"We're really serving a lot of people," Eastes said.

Flynn notes that dry-stone walling "used to be a word-of-mouth thing. But the craft is much more accessible now. So the wallers who are showing up here are much more prepared."

Stone Trust administrators say those "wallers" are learning and refining principles that can be boiled down to five basic concepts detailed on the organization's website, thestonetrust.org. As Eastes says, "it's not rocket science":

-- Cross the joints: Each stone should be stacked so that it is "crossing a joint" between two stones below. Vertical joints running upward through a wall are called "running joints," and the Stone Trust says "walls with running joints are very weak and look poor."

-- Set the length of the stone into the wall: The end of the stone should be visible, with the length of the stone set perpendicular to the direction of the wall -- the same way that firewood is stacked.

-- "Heart the wall tightly": Experts say a good wall "must be built as solidly as possible. Gaps in the interior of the wall, between the face stones, should be tightly filled with small stones."

-- Build with the plane of the wall: "This means to align the stones so that there is an even plane to the faces of the wall," the trust's website says. The wall should look "smooth and even when you stand back."

-- Keep stones level: "Stones should be level both into the core of the wall and along the face. Stones that are not level will tend to slide, causing internal stress in the wall, and will eventually cause failure as the wall shifts over time."

Those concepts apply to restoring old walls and building new ones -- two different aims that are equally important to The Stone Trust. In terms of restoration, New England's many rock walls offer lessons and opportunities -- hence the trust's work on the Dutton Farm Wall in Dummerston.

Trust administrators also point out the organization's affiliation with The Landmark Trust USA, which owns the historic Scott Farm.

"There's a historical place for this," Eastes said. "People look back, and they understand something about the history of New England."

At the same time, correct building techniques can ensure that new walls are "going to last a couple hundred years," Flynn said. "Walls that are falling -- the basic techniques haven't been followed."

That's what is behind a campaign to have Vermont adopt standards used by the dry-stone walling community for state construction projects.

The logic is that "there are standards for building a bridge or building a road, so there should be standards for rebuilding these dry stone walls," said Matt Mann, a Windham Regional Commission senior planner who specializes in transportation issues and also serves on The Stone Trust board.

"That's one task that the board is undertaking -- to have these standards considered as state standards," Mann said.

Advocates are looking to spread The Stone Trust message in other ways, as well. For instance, the trust is developing a brochure for a self-guided tour of the area's dry-stone landmarks.

"People can spend a day looking at these various structures," Eastes said. "It's a vision of how to engage the community."

There also is development of a "master's park" on the Scott Farm grounds -- a site for features included in the advanced and master-craftsman levels of dry-stone certification. Examples include arches, incline walls and columns.

Such features branch into the art of dry stonework -- the type of work evidenced in an elegant arch constructed by Dan Snow in a cemetery off Rice Farm Road in Dummerston, or in the tall stone "trees" that Flynn built at Elysian Hills Tree Farm.

"There's a beauty in it. I'm personally impressed with it," said Eastes, who has taken a few courses but is not a certified waller.

For all of the trust's outreach efforts, however, members are careful to say that dry-stone walling is not an exclusive club. The Stone Trust, Flynn said, is part of a much-larger community.

"There's definitely room for everyone," Flynn said. "It's really important that we don't alienate other wallers. We're just a tool and a resource."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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