Old stonewall built from railroad cut

MOUNT HOLLY, Vt. – When Jeb Porter of Vermont Landscaping and Stone Wall LLC began pulling apart the old stone retaining wall in front of a house in the center of Belmont, in order to rebuild the wall, he was struck by three things: the enormous size of some of the boulders, their rough appearance, and the drill marks along their edges. The marks indicated the rocks had been blasted out of ledge, and Porter is convinced that those boulders came from the “Big Cut,” also called the “Summit Cut,” in Mount Holly when the Bellows Falls line of the Rutland Railroad was built in 1848-1849.

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Jeb Porter points to a drill mark. Photo by Julia Purdy

When the cut was finished, large stonepiles were left behind, which the residents hauled away to use elsewhere. The house is listed by the state as a “classic cottage” style, built in 1850. These facts support Porter’s hunch about the origin of the boulders.

Mount Holly’s rocks are irregularly shaped and don’t cleave cleanly along a grain, Porter said. Building a wall with them is a challenge of skill and judgment, which is just the way Porter likes it. “I can’t build a wall out of perfectly flat stones,” he said.

He constructs each wall like a pyramid. The largest rocks go on the bottom and the outside walls taper in. Rubble and the “rock du jour” fill the center and the chinks. Finally, the long, heavy capstones are added.  “Every rock has a place and every rock has a purpose,” he said. To make it survive the elements, “You’ve got to get the physics right – everything has to rise and fall on itself,” he explained.

Porter has been working with stone for 35 years, 25 of those in Mount Holly. His handiwork lines the main street in front of several homes, which helps to unify the streetscape, he told The Vermont Journal recently. He and his assistant, Ethan Bodin, align the rows by eye, with one man standing at the end of the wall and directing the placement of stones down the line.

“We’re happy to have Jeb doing the wall,” said Rep. Dennis Devereux, chairman of the Mount Holly Historical Society. He said the wall was in disrepair and posed a safety hazard.

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A finished wall that has withstood the elements. Photo by Julia Purdy
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Jeb Porter placed the standing stones to mark a roadside drain. Photo by Julia Purdy
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The beginnings of a well-built wall. Photo by Julia Purdy

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