Stone walls and Little Compton — it’s difficult to imagine one without the other. Treasured artifacts of New England, they have lined the streets and woven through properties of this area …
Stone walls and Little Compton — it’s difficult to imagine one without the other. Treasured artifacts of New England, they have lined the streets and woven through properties of this area since the 1700s, when early farmers dug stones out of the ground and used them as walls to divide their land.
When the owners of property on the Sakonnet River were planning their new home with architect Ron DiMauro, of DiMauro Architects in Newport, they knew early on that stone walls would be an integral part of their new property. “They ground a home,” says DiMauro, whose firm specializes in country and seaside family homes. “We wanted to make it feel like the wall was original to the land and the house was built within it.”
In the planning and design stages, DiMauro did a lot of driving through town, taking photos of walls and studying them. “We wanted to keep to the local stones for the new wall and make it seem like it belonged there,” he says.
Finding stones close to home
Tom O’Connor, owner of O’Connor Design Build in Middletown, who along with his masons would build the wall, was first tasked with finding native stones, which as it turns out, was not an easy job.
“Every area, from Aquidneck Island to Tiverton to Little Compton, has stones that come from different veins,” he says. “Aquidneck has more of a blue shale stone, in Tiverton it’s granite, and in Little Compton, field stone. So my search was limited to Little Compton.”
In setting out to find field stones, O’Connor talked with a lot of local farmers, finally meeting one not far from the new property who had piles of field stones from walls he had taken down and some he was still digging up, which were all perfect for the project. “We did a little bartering for them,” says O’Connor. “He needed a wall re-built and I wanted the stone, so I re-built a wall for him in exchange for the stones.”
Using a combination of stones from the farm and larger ones from a local excavator for the base, O’Connor brought in more than a dozen truckloads for the 100 feet of wall to be built. “We were building an old farm-style wall but also one that needed to be sturdy,” he says. “It would be a hybrid of a wall that looked like it had been there a long time but would also last for 100 years.”
It starts with a foundation
When it came time to build, Tom and his masons started with the foundation. Traditionally up to three feet is dug down and large heavy stones put in for stability. In this case, he says, they went down 30,” installed a stone base, then added 8 inches of concrete at the base to limit movement and built up from there. Larger stones on the bottom are battered in, or angled towards the center so that gravity would bring the wall into itself and not fall outward. The pieces then get smaller as the wall goes up but stay proportioned with the larger base stones. Larger stones are added in periodically as the wall is built, with longer flat pieces at the very top to cap it off to about a 28” to 30” height. Taking rainy and freezing weather into account, the wall was built to accommodate the elements.
The process was not a fast one, says O’Connor. “Building a new wall to look old is a unique process and something we had to adjust to,” he says. “I would bring my guys over to an old wall on the property and say, ‘It needs to look like this.’ It was a learning process for all of us. We don’t build these kinds of walls every day, and I think my team nailed it.”
Laying stones is an art, says DiMauro. “What Tom and his masons have created, knowing how to lay the stones so perfectly, it’s mesmerizing to watch.”
And the owners couldn’t be happier with what the new walls have brought to their home. “Stone walls add to the soul of a home,” says DiMauro. “There is a good chance that someone else touched these very stones 100 years ago to build their own walls, so there is already a history in them, and that’s so cool and meaningful.”