Stone walls in the middle of nowhere?

Oh man, my first post and it’s a question.
Have mercy on me.
Anyway, I’ve lived in the northeast (USA)
all my life and have always wondered who
(and why) build all these friggin stone
walls running all over the place. For those
of you who have no idea what I’m talking
about, let me lay it out for you.
Pick any wooded spot, large or small,
anywhere in the northeastern US, walk ten
feet into said wooded spot and you will
stumble upon a seemingly hastely built
stone wall. These walls are contructed
without, to me, any rhyme or reason.
They run at every angle (other than 45
degrees). Some run parallel to each other
only ten feet apart. They criss-cross each
other. They are everywhere! Logically, one
would think they were built for marking
property boundaries. But who would own a
ten foot wide piece of land a mile long?
Web searches yield nothing on these walls.
Who built them? Why are they found, for
example, in the middle of the Adirondak (sp)
mountains miles from civilization?

Welcome on board, Kent.

I don’t know for certain about the walls 10’ apart, but I can hazard a guess. I suspect that they mark pathways, either between properties or between two pastures to allow carriages to pass through without having to worry about livestock getting in the way.

P.S. When posting, you don’t have to hit “enter” after every line. Let the word-wrap handle it. That way you don’t get the narrow column.

Carpe hoc!

Welcome. They were most likely the walls surrounding old pastures and farms. Often when a pasture was no longer useable, or the ground not fertile enough, the farmer would move. The soil in that area (Well a lot of the north east) is very stony. Farmers hate stones because they ruin his plows (and stones in pastures make it difficult for cows to get around). So, farmers would get as many stones out as they could. Since they had no use for them, they would use them to build stone walls.

Once the farmer moved property or whatever, the forests and fields would grow back, and you have all these stone walls.

Anyway, this is just my best guess.

They were built by european settlers, trying to clear the land for agriculture. The northeast is entirely covered by glacial till, in which sediment size varies from a fine flour-like material to large boulders.

The boulders are randomly distributed through the matrix, so as you plow you keep hitting more and more. On top of that, since the soil freezes and thaws each winter there is convective motion happening, which constantly carries more boulders to the surface.

Where do you put them all? Build a fence. Pretty soon you’ve got the whole property fenced in but each year when you plow, you end up with more and more boulders. So you start fencing in individual fields, pathways, etc…

One reason for the seemingly random stone walls was that they served as corrals for livestock. This custom was brought over from Europe and the British Isles by immigrants.

It made a practicle usage for otherwise useless material and they were also used as property or section lines.

It was also a training source for what later became the art of stone masonry

The information you desire about stone walls in the northeast can be easily gotten from books by Eric Sloane.


Most of the forests of New England are actually abandoned farmland. New England was settled mainly because it was close to where settlers landed. As the country grew, most farmers abandoned New England and relocated to better farmland in the Mid Western or Western states. The abandoned farmland then reverted to woodlands.

One of the problems with New England farmland is that it is full of rocks. Every year the farmer would have to clear out new ones. The purpose of these fences are to store a pile of rocks, not to mark any particular boundary.

Once upon a time, those walls in the middle of nowhere were in the middle of somewhere.

All reasonable answers. I’ve run across such walls (or remnants of them) in the Smoky Mountains. Have been told that they were not so much to keep livestock corralled as to keep same out of gardens. The gardens were fenced; the animals ran free.

Ah, the wonderful English invention of enclosure. Everyone’s got it more or less right- the stones were for property marking more often than not. They used 'em for everything since there were plenty of them. Somewhere around Chester NH there’s an old animal pound at least 200 years old, fairly well put together and made completely out of such stones.

What’s really cool/creepy (depending on your POV) is that some of those walled-in places may actually be burial grounds.

Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!