The stone wall in back of the Portsmouth Historical Society building marks the original boundary of the Christian Union Church lot that was bought in 1824.
From the beginning, Portsmouth citizens were concerned about marking property boundaries.
At first boundaries were marked with hedges and wood, but stone walls became the permanent way to mark our property lines.
Our walls look different from the walls in the communities off the island. The fieldstone that make up our walls are flatter. That makes them easier to work with when a wall is put together. Our slate, for example, is layered and can be split into slabs. Slab type stones make the best walls.
Slate, quartzite, puddingstone and granite are among the types of rocks in our walls.
Portsmouth stone walls remind us of our farm heritage. Clearing the land for crops was no easy task. It wasn’t just a one time chore. Trees had to be cut down and stumps removed. As the soil was plowed, rocks had to be dug out and cleared away from the planting area. Rock removal was not just a one time process. The winter’s freeze brought up a bumper crop of rocks every year. So what was the farmer to do with the rocks? Removing them was heavy manual labor. They had to find them, lift them, load them onto a cart, carry them to the edge of the field and then off-load them.
What did the farmer do with these discarded rocks? They made them useful. Instead of dumping them in mounds, they used them to form the boundary of a pasture or planting field.
The walls around the Portsmouth Historical Society are called stacked walls or “dry” walls because there is no cement holding the stones together.
The first step in building a stacked wall was to dig a fairly deep ditch on the boundary. Larger stones were placed underground to form a foundation. Stones were placed in a pattern so that where two stones met there was one stone in the row above and below. Large flat “capstones” finished the top of the wall.