Two Traditions

Old farm wall, Jamestown, RI is built of the same stuff as the wall below. Which follows the New England tradition?


Lots of people have written the SWI to ask whether it is better to leave old walls alone to slowly dintegrate, or whether it is best to maintain them in their “present” form. There is no simple answer, but there is a good one:  show respect for one of two traditions.


As with the case of old buildings, the folks who built that old wall you’re wondering about would likely be pleased to have someone maintain their work. In this strategy, modern society can maintain them by keeping them from being covered by vines and brush,  and being brought down by trees. This approach is typical of well-laid (mason-built) walls along public roads, which are exposed to full sun.


The other tradition is to respect old walls and cellar holes as the cultural ruins they have become, especially when they occur in a closed canopy forest of a re-grown woodland. Here, the most powerful messages we can send are to honor the integrity of manual labor,  the passage of time, and the conversion of something utilitarian into something that has become a semi-sacred place. This is the archaeological approach.

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Should these posts be straightened or not?