Mansfield’s Stone Walls Featured In Historical Society Newsletter
May 18, 2020
Edited by David Landry
From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 55, No. 1, April 2019
Stone walls mark New England. In most of the region we see peasant walls that separate forests from fields or gardens from pastures. Mansfield has its share of these walls and some of them have history and are beautifully built. All the stones fit tightly together like pieces of a puzzle.
The rope walls
The best known of these historic walls is the one that runs parallel to the south side of Browns Road. It’s a battered wall, which means the base of the wall is a foot wider than the top. That batter, likely in addition to the fact that the wall was built on a good rubble foundation, is likely why the wall is still standing.
The walkway and retaining wall were built between the Dewing mansion and the church
The wall spanned fifteen acres, which included an orchard, pasture, and wooded area. As we walk or drive past, we are not aware of any other walls that extend at right angles from the main north wall. It is estimated that 600 tons of rock form the walls, which were built from gneiss-granite.
Who was the wall builder? His name was Rand B. White, a native of Dixfield, Maine. White was employed by Zalmon Storrs, who lived south of what is now the rectory of the Congregational Church. Storrs left his house and property to his daughter Susan, the wife of Leonard H. Dewing from Hartford. After the extensive renovation and expansion of the house, the Dewings spent their summers there. They have further enhanced the park-like environment that Zalmon Storrs created around his home. The park should include a walk from her villa to the church and brick schoolhouse and well beyond to the north. (To have the trail mostly on one level, a low area of sloping topography had to be filled in, and to get the fill a fourteen-foot retaining wall was built sometime around 1874, ten years before the wall along Browns The road was completed and the Dewing Mansion burned down in 1909.
Rand B. White was a stone lover. He lived in a small wooden house and as his family expanded he added a stone addition. (The White House of Rand B. is currently at 21 Browns Road.) When he was building the forty-inch high wall, which was also forty-inches wide, oxen dragged the stone by train from another location and with the help of other workers and through a series of planking devices, they pushed the stones into place inch by inch.
I always wondered why there was a stile (steps to attach the wall) at the end of the wall north of the church and at the west end of the small parking lot. The capstones on the wall were laid so perfectly that they resembled a stone path, and when Browns Road got muddy as it thawed in winter and spring, people actually went up against the wall to keep their shoes and skirts from closing got muddy.
White died in 1881, so his helpers finished the wall. Near the west end of the wall on Browns Road is a stone engraved with a courtyard square: “1884 LHD”. Dewing fully paid tribute to the walls, as is often the case with someone holding the wallet, and he stated they were completed in 1884 but certainly started many years before that date, probably shortly after the wall at the Storrs Road was completed.
Spring Manor Farm, home of George H. Reynolds. Part of it can be seen on the hill above the house
the extensive stone wall along Route 32.
Spring Manor Farm
This 175 acre farm was located north of Mansfield Depot, where 16,000 feet of beautiful walls were built. Its western limit was the Willimantic River and the eastern limit was Route 32.
A long section of the wall corresponds to Stafford Road or Route 32. There was enough space between the road and the wall to accommodate a wide gravel path. The path was shaded by a long line of elms. At least one of the elms or a seedling survived the Dutch elm disease plague and was shaped like an elm vase until a crew hired by the electricity company came by and mutilated them.
Spring Manor Farm was carved out of a virtual forest by George Huntington Reynolds, one of twelve children of Christopher and Clarissa Huntington Reynolds. The Reynolds family immigrated to Mansfield from East Greenwich, Rhode Island in 1810. Reynolds and his brother Edwin trained as “mechanical engineers” at various companies when there was no academic subject in the field. The brothers got pretty rich and George bought this package, which he later called Spring Manor Farm, and brother Edwin bought Rock Spring Farm, basically where Mansfield Training School used to be. They spent most of the summers with their families on their farms.
When George Reynolds had his workers build the walls we see now, he planned to make them the same size as the rope walls just discussed, although it appears that their height never reached that of the rope wall.
Where there should be an opening or where one already existed, abutments were built larger and higher than the wall itself; these are still visible today. Also, the big difference between Spring Manor Farm’s walls and the Dewing wall is that the stone used was not the extremely large stone slabs that Rand White used at Dewing. Thus the Spring Manor stone is only a fraction of the size, but just as beautifully put together. The capstones are much larger than the stones below and were extracted from the Humphrey quarry in Willimantic.
The curriculum wall
The book, Connecticut Agricultural College, A History, authored by Walter Stemmons, states that part of the curriculum for each day, mostly an entire afternoon, consisted of harvesting grain and digging stones, drawing, and to put in a wall. and in making minor improvements to the site, but mostly the drainage of the swamp … “
When I was a student at the university many years ago I always wondered where the walls the students built are, but I never got an answer from the many people I asked. But I often saw an older man walking his beloved little white terrier and discovered he was walking from his house in Storrs to Gurleyville, then north on Cod Fish Falls Road (a gravel road at the time) and then the Old Up Turnpike Road and then south on Moulton Rd. (Then called Savage Rd.) And home. One day I asked his name and he said Charles A. Wheeler and he added that he graduated from Connecticut Agricultural College, class of 1888. He later entered the faculty and retired as Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Sciences and Mathematics. Of course, I asked him about the walls the students had built. He replied, “You are down there under the street.” What he meant was that the walls held Gurleyville Road, with the street like a terrace and the great length wall holding it in place. I went down with him when he showed me the walls and then he said, “Do you see those trenches down there? We students dug them too.” Where the trenches are is pretty obvious and it is the “swamp” that the students should be draining. You did a good job, and the swamp is now called Valentine Meadow (an in-law of one of the Storrs brothers had the last name Valentine).
The “curriculum wall” is not visible from Gurleyville Road. If you want to see it you need to park somewhere safe and walk into Valentine Meadow. The drainage ditches are visible from Gurleyville Road.
Credits: I relied freely on Jewell Friedman’s article entitled A PASSION FOR STONES, which appeared in Yankee Magazine in November 1973, and an article by Ann Galonska in the July 2004 newsletter of the Mansfield Historical Society about the walls of Spring Manor Farm.
Posted in Historical Series of Articles May 17, 2020 Tagged Browns Road Mansfied, Dewing Mansion, George Huntington Renyolds, Leonard H. Dewing, Rand B. White, Rock Spring Farm, Lachsstorrs, Spring Manor Farm, Steinmauer, Walter Stemmons
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This news release was prepared by the Mansfield Historical Society. The views expressed here are the author’s own.