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Field Clearing Sources

Stone Removal and Disposal Source Materials

 Compiled by James Gage


 Many of these transcriptions are derived from text recognition software used on scans of the original materials. Although modern text recognition software is quite good, errors due occur due to broken typeface, smudges, and other issues. The transcriptions have been proof read to look for obvious errors and mistakes. There still may be minor transcription errors. Please consult the original source.

These are the source materials for the article:

 “Field Clearing: Stone Removal and Disposal Practices in Agriculture & Farming” By James E. Gage with a “Case Study of Stone Removal Activities in Joshua Hempstead’s DiaryBy Mary E. Gage published in Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut  76:33-81 (2014). [View PDF of Article]

 Table of Contents

Source Materials


Finding Aids

Source Materials


Commissioner of Agriculture

1868    Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for the Year 1867. Washington: Government Printing Office.

“[p.6] Among the important performances of this powerful machinery [steam driven tractor] for steam culture is that of breaking up or crushing the softer rock or stones in the cultivated lands to the depth of 12 to 15 inches and incorporating them with the soil, It is a great injury to a close, stiff soil to remove all the stones from it. Besides the loss to the soil from the gradual disintegration of the stones or rocks through the action of frost or other agencies, their mechanical influence upon the soil – especially when reduced to small size and mixed with it to the depth of 12 to 15 inches – in keeping it open, facilitating drainage, and increasing its power of absorbing air, moisture, and the gases which afford nutrition for vegetation, is, to a high degree, favorable. Many years ago an able article was published in a English periodical, stating that a turnpike road, paved with stones gathered from contiguous grounds, was made through a fertile district of the country, and in a few years the lands from which the stones had been removed on each side of the road became greatly deteriorated, while those lands subject to the same system of tillage, at a greater distance from the road, and on which the stones were permitted to remain, maintained their fertility. No stones should be removed from the soil, especially a tight one, except such as are decidedly in the way of cultivation and cannot be conveniently broken up and their parts incorporated with the soil. In preparing land for mowing, [p.7] all small sized stones should be sunk into the soil, rather than picked up. Such preparation of the entire cultivated soil must be a work of time, but the point now aimed at is to direct intelligent attention to the subject as one of no small importance to the agricultural interest.” Pp. 6-7


Holbrook, F.

1848    “Removing Stones and Bushes” The Cultivator v.5 no.4 (April, 1848) pp. 105-107.

“[Lexington,MA] [P.105] When Mr. Phinney commenced, some twenty-five years ago [1823], his farm presented a most forbidding aspect. The soil was covered up with stones and bushes, shrub oaks and pines, so as to be literally inaccessible for cultivation; the fences were in a miserable condition, and what land had been cultivated, was worn out in vegetable substance under the “skinning” system. He debated with himself, for some time, whether an investment might not be made here, in the removal of these obstructions and the improvement of the soil, that would be judicious, and in the end profitable; and although men of less agricultural skills and enterprise, would have shrunk from the undertaking, he commenced and persevered. It must now be apparent to any practiced eye, that on this farm are the elements of liberal and sure reward for all former toil and expense, let the world go as it may.

REMOVING STONES AND BUSHES. – The task of removing the stones and growth of shrub oaks, and other bushes, is immense, a ton’s weight of the former being on an average, generally taken off from 6 to 9 feet of square ground. In addition to inummerable stones of from ten to one or two hundred pounds weight, are larger stones, imbedded mostly in the soil, weighting several tons. These are taken out by digging away the earth around them and blasting; the object of the first blast being to open a seam, and then the second blast splits the whole mass into several pieces, and throws it out of its bed; the work being done generally in autumn or forepart of winter, when the stones may be loaded on a boat or ox-sleds and drawn to any place where they may be wanted.

Large quantities are laid up into massive walls from 3 to 7 or eight feet thick, and 5 to 7 feet high. The fences on this farm are already built for generations to come, with but trifling expense in occasional repairs. Hundreds of tons of these stones have been buried in ditches in the bog meadow and on the wet lands, for the purpose of drainage.” [p.105]

“My attention was directed to a field of 12 acres, which he took in hand a few years since, an old orchard, which had been in grass for a long time, the soil thin, and the field covered with stone-heaps. These were removed, the field plowed about six inches deep, and the stones brought to the surface in the operation, picked up and carted off.” [p.107]


French, H. F.

1855    “Letter from the Homestead” The New England Farmer vol. 7 no. 10 (Oct. 1855) pp. 462-463.

NOTE: The author compares his ancestral family farm in Exeter,NH which had been cleared of stone from years of labor with a newly acquired (1848) farm in Chester, NH which was extremely rocky.

“[p.462] At Exeter [NH] I have wrought, mainly on new land, till I bought my farm [in Chester,NH]…

There is hardly a stone to throw at a dog on the fifty acres. The buildings are all new there, the trees all young, and everything in order. But here, I return to a different scene [i.e. family “homestead” in Exeter, NH]. Fifty-five years ago [1800] this house was built, and the barn and sheds. All along during the century, from time to time, my father, who was one of the progressive farmers of his day, though a lawyer of large practice, was improving his farm. My first impressions of farming, are made up of laying heavy stone walls and blasting rocks. This was the great feature of the farm operations when I was a boy. To get a few acres clear of stones and well walled in, was the great thing. What was undertaken, was done in those days, and you have seen the smooth fields, and the big wall, seven feet high, round the barn-yard, built of stones many of them two tons weight each. It would make a cannon-proof fortification about Sebastopol. Then the fifty-acre cow-pasture, and several larger pastures for the young cattle, were all walled in, and everything made secure.

Stones or no stones, that is the question. I have thought of it a good deal, as every man should, especially if about to purchase a farm. “commentators differ” upon this, as most other subjects. One man says he would not take the gift of a rocky farm. He would have “easy land.” While another does not exactly see how one can get along at all, without stones in abundance, for walls and drains and divers other uses. Having had for some years a farm of each kind under my charge, perhaps a statement of the pros and cons may be useful to some of our readers.

As to fences – a stone wall is doubtless the cheapest and most durable of all fences, and where stones are constantly working up in your fields and must be removed, no doubt this is the best use to make of them. But the objections to stone fences around fields and gardens are numerous. They occupy a good deal of land, not only by covering it, but their rough points, and the fear which cattle [oxen] have of touching them in plowing, prevents working within about two feet of the wall. It is a great labor which the crop will not repay, to dig up those spaces by hand, and so it generally happens that briars and bushes occupy them, offending then good taste of al beholders. Then again stone walls furnish excellent accommodations for vermin of all descriptions. …

On the whole, I think in most localities, especially where land is valuable, the balance of argument is not greatly, if at all, in favor of stone fences for our [cultivated] fields. For a pasture, there is nothing so cheap, so convenient, so reliable as a good fence. If it falls down occasionally by the action of frost, you are pretty sure to find materials close at hand for repairs. If, therefore, one could have just stone enough to complete his walls round his pastures, and a few spare ones for drains and the like, and clean fields and gardens, it would be the prettiest farm in the world. But Providence does not so order things. While I have actually been obligated to send to a neighbor’s farm in Exeter to beg stones enough to load a field roller, I should judge from the walls and fragments about the old place here, that the surface might be covered a foot thick if the stones were carefully spread again. And by the way, you remember how one Sunday this very summer, one of my Deven cows, educated in my smooth pasture at Exeter, was caught between two stones here in the pasture [Chester farm], ignorant as the poor thing was of such traps, and how she nearly tore her foot off. … The only wonder to me was, that there was a place in [p.463] the pasture where there was room enough for a cow to get her foot between the stones! [i.e. The author means the field was so rocky, he was surprised to find a gap between the stones.] Perhaps, however, such accidents are too rare occurrence, to form a serious objection to rocky pastures.

Stones are a great nuisance in plowing, in hoeing, in mowing, and indeed all other operations on the land. On my Exeter place, we grind our shovels and hoes, and they hold their edges for weeks. We set the plow at one end of the field, and it runs without stopping or breaking the furrow to the other. We grind our scythes, and they are only dulled by cutting the grass itself. Here, although our fields are cleared, and the boys have picked stones for a hundred years, every stroke with the hoe or shovel gives back the sound of a pebble on the steel, and the implements are soon blunted.

We use nearly double the team in plowing, and the plow groans and labors constantly, as if passing through a stone heap, and every new breaking up of the sward brings to light a few loads more of the hidden rocks. Clear your field as you will in a stony region, some round pebble will rake your scythe from point heel, every swath, and occasionally the point of a fast rock will break such a gap in the edge, as will send you groaning to the grindstone. And as to mowing machines, the effect of contact with stones with one of them is too painful to be more alluded to.

In this view, decidedly, I don’t like many stones on a farm. I never felt the want of them in Exeter, except for drains. …If I could find good land free of stones, I should vastly prefer it to what is called stony land. …

After all, there is much to be said in favor of the hard hill farms of this part of New Hampshire. The world does not produce finer apples than old Chester. They constitute the leading selling crop of the town, as indeed of the county generally. On these hills, where we find a pan so hard that we use a crowbar in digging a post-hole, and often find stones enough to nearly fill it when dug, an apple tree is almost sure to live and thrive.” pp.462-463


Baigrie, John

1839    “Description of a Farm in the Western Extremity of Eastern Ross, Ross-Shire [Scotland.]” Farmers’ Register v.7 no. 12 (1839) pp.759-764.

[p. 760] Blasting Stones. – While the drainage was going on, men were employed to blast the large stones some of which lay on the surface, while other showed only a small portion above it, and many were not discovered until the field had got the first ploughing. These stones, the greater number of which would weigh several tons, were blasted with gunpowder to a size which would enable two men to lift the pieces into a cart. Such of the stones as were below ground, or had a part only buried, the contractor for the blasting was bound to clear around them, i.e. expose the whole of the stone to view, for the reason that, when the stone exploded, it might have room to fly asunder. When this operation is neglected, much labor and expense are lost. The expense of boring, blasting, and clearing the stones, including gunpowder, was fifteen pence per foot of bore, but latterly, by competition, was reduced to a shilling per foot. Many stones required thirty feet of bore to reduce them to a size fit for building stone fences, to which purpose they were to be applied.

Trenchin. – As the two fields intended for turnips and fallow contained several cares of uncultivated ground, chiefly covered with hazel, alder, and birch wood, these were trenched by the spade to the depth of sixteen inches, turning up all the stones except those required to be blasted. The draining and stone fences, going on at the same time, these stones were immediately carted off; the large for the fences, and the smaller ones to the drains. The expense of trenching varied considerably, according to the hardness of the soil, quantity of stones in it, and thickness of the brush-wood: in general, where all these prevailed the expense was fourteen pounds pre acre; when not covered with brush-wood, eleven pounds per acre.

Where ditches were not necessary for the purpose of carrying off the water, dry stone dykes or walls were built, both as being the preferable fence where cattle and sheep are pastured, and for the purpose of using the stones which were procured from the trenching and blasting. These dykes are three feet at the base, and carried to the height of four and a half feet of work tapered at the top to a breadth of ten inches and topped above all with a Galloway coping, or stones placed on edge, of about ten inches high, making the whole height five feet four inches. The expense per lineal ell [37 inches] including the driving of the stones, which the contractor for the dykes generally performs, ran from ten pence half-penny to a shilling. The stones, however, were near at hand which enabled the work to be so cheaply executed, and grass was found for the contractor’s horses on the unimproved ground. The price for building was sixpence per ell, and the different was **** for the carriage of the materials.” p.760


Encyclopedia Britannica

1823    Encyclopedia Britannica: Or, a Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature; Enlarged and Improved. 6th Edition. Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable and Company.

* A version of this entry first appeared in the 4th edition vol.1 issued in 1800 [?]

** Published in Scotland

“[vol. 1, p.357] 1. Of Removing Stones.

It is of the utmost importance to have land effectually cleared of stones, before undertaking any agricultural operations upon it; for by means of them there is frequently more expense incurred in one season, by the breaking of ploughs and the injury suffered by the cattle [oxen] and harness, than would remove the evil. It has also been observed that the soil round a large stone is commonly the best in the field. It may be considered as purchased at a low rate by removing the stone. At any rate, such stones must be removed before the ground can be properly cultivated. For whether a large stone occupy the surface or lie beneath it, but within reach of the plough, a considerable space around it cannot be stirred by that instrument, and is therefore useless. Even the rest of the field where stones abound must be laboured in a more slow and tedious manner, on account of the caution necessary to avoid the danger which they produce.

The stones which impede the improvement of the land are 1st, loose stones, or such as are thrown up to the surface by the plough, and 2dly, sitfast stones, which are either upon or immediately below the surface, but are of such a magnitude that they cannot be stirred by the plough. The first kind of stones may usually be easily removed by being gathered and carried off. When land is laid down for hay, such stones are often improperly thrown in heaps into the furrows, where they ever after continue to interrupt the plough, or dragged again by the harrows over the land. Instead of proceeding in this manner, they ought to be carried wholly off the field in carts at the driest season of the year, and placed in situations in which they may be rendered useful to the farm. In this point of view, stones are sometimes of considerable value for making concealed drains, or for making and repairing the roads through the farm, and also for the repairs of some kinds of fences.

The only writer upon agriculture who has in any case objected to the propriety of clearing land of small stones, is probably Lord Kames. In some parts of the south of Scotland, and particularly in Galloway, the soil is said to be composed in a great measure of gravel, and of stones of a smooth surface, as if worn by the running of water. After being ploughed, the whole surface of every field appears composed of loose stones lying almost in contact with each other. Some industrious farmers, with great labour, collected and removed the stones from a few of their fields with a view to their improvement: and the result is said to have been, that the succeeding crops were wholly blighted in the tender blade, and never came to maturity. The stones upon the surface were supposed to have prevent the exhalation of the moisture from the shallow and extremely porous soil which they covered: and they were also supposed to have contributed to foster the young plants, by reflecting powerfully from their smooth surfaces the sun’s rays in every direction around them: but when they were removed the soil in that bleak climate, became at once too cold and too dry for purpose of agriculture. The farmers, therefore, who had with so much toil and cost removed the stones from part of their lands, could think of on better remedy than, with equal toil, to bring them all back again, and carefully replace them upon their fields. It is added, that the soil immediately resumed its wonted fertility. The truth of this anecdote has never been contested; and there is no doubt that it has long been current in the South of Scotland, both previous to its publication by Lord Kames, and after that period, among a class of persons who are very unlikely to have been acquainted with his writings. It is possible that replacing the stones was the best remedy for the want of fertility in the soil which its cultivators had within their reach” but it is probable that they might have found it of more importance to have covered the surface of their land with a substantial coat of clay marl, or even with almost any kind of earth or clay, obtained from the bogs and swamps that usually abound in these countries, providing only they could obtain a quantity of lime to aid it. In this way, possessing land whose bottom was very pervious to moisture, they might obtain a soil suitable to every purpose of agriculture; whereas, in its present state, it must remain for ever unfit to be touched with the scythe.

With regard to large sitfast stone which cannot be removed by any ordinary effort, they usually either appear fully above the surface or are concealed immediately under it. For the sake of discovering concealed stones, it is said to be a custom of Yorkshire, when they intend to reduce land under the plough, in the first place, carefully to go over the whole surface with sharp prongs, which at the distance of every twelve or fourteen inches they thrust into the ground to the depth of above a foot, and wherever a stone meets the prong, they mark the spot with a twig, a bit of wood, or some other object. They afterwards trace all the marks, and remove every stone before they touch the land with the plough.

Concerning the modes which have been adopted for removing large stones out of the way of the plough; one of the simplest is the following: a pit or hole is dug besides the stone, 16 to 18 inches than the height or thickness of the stone. A number of men are then assembled, who tumble it into the pit. It is immediately covered up with a part of the earth that came out of the hole; and the rest of the earth scattered over the field, or employed in bringing to a level with the rest of the soil the spot where the stone formerly [p.358] lay. As the stone now remains at a greater depth than the plough can reach, it is no longer an impediment to agriculture. In performing this operation, however, the workmen attend to the nature of the soil, and take care that the weight of the stone do[es] not bring down the side of the pit, which might be attended with dangerous consequences. To obviate any hazard of this kind, it is always proper to have at hand a stout plank, which ought to be laid across the pit or hole, immediately under the nearest corner or edge of stone. With this precaution, a single man may usually perform the whole operation of burying stones or pieces of rock of very great size and weight.

By the above operation, however, the stones are utterly lost; whereas they may sometimes be of considerable value for fences or other buildings. When this is the case, they must be broken to pieces before they are removed. With this view it is to be observed, that a great variety of stones have some thin veins, which being found, wedges can be driven into them by large hammers, so that they may be easily broken. For such operation spades and pickaxes are necessary to clear away the earth, and a large and small lever to turn the stones out of the ground. Hammers and wedges are requisite, with carts to remove the fragments from the field. In the Statistical account of Scotland, vol. xix p. 565. parish of Maderty, we are told that ‘the Rev. Mr. Ramsay, the present incumbent, who occupies a piece of land full of sitfast stones, constructed a machine for the purpose of raising them. It operates on the principles of the pulley and cylinder, or wheel and axis, and has a power as one to 24; it is extremely simple, being a triangle, on two sides of which the cylinder is fixed; it can be easily wrought and carried from place to place by three men. A low four-wheeled machine of a strong construction is made to go under the arms of the triangle, to receive the stone when raised up. This machine has been already of great use in clearing several fields of large stones in this place and neighbourhood.’

It is evident, that the machine here described is only valuable for getting stones out of the way in the gross and unbroken; and, accordingly, we learn that stone fences are almost unknown in the parish of Maderty.

Where stones are valuable, therefore, and the operation of breaking them with hammers and wedges is found impracticable or too laborious, it will be necessary to blast them with gunpowder. To perform this operation properly, however, considerable experience is requisite; for it is said, that a skilful workman can in most instances, by the depth and position of the bore, contrive to rend into three equal pieces without causing their fragments to fly about. In time of war, however, the expence of gunpowder is apt to become very great. With a view to diminish the cost of that article, it has been suggested, that it is proper to perform the operation not with gunpowder alone, but with that article of a good quality, mixed up with about one-third of its bulk of quicklime in fine powder. It is said that this composition possesses as much force as an equal quantity of pure gunpowder, and it is even alleged, that the proportion of quicklime may be increased with advantage. How the strength of gunpowder should be so much augmented by the addition of quicklime, we doo not know. Perhaps it may add to the force of the explosion by undergoing a chemical decomposition of its parts, as it has of late been suspected, that this mineral is by no means a simple or uncompounded body.

Where a field is very greatly overrun with concealed stones, the most effectual method of getting quit of them, and of rendering it permanently arable, consists of trenching it wholly by spade. Nor is this always the most expensive mode of proceeding. The trenching can be done at the rate of from 3l. to 4l. per Scots acre, which is one fourth larger than an English acre, allowing at the same time the stones or their price at the quarry to the labourers. In this way, the expence of ploughing the field is saved. The soil is deepened to the utmost extent of which it is capable, and ca be laid out in the form most convenient for cultivation. In Dr. Anderson’s report of the state of agriculture in Aberdeenshire, it is said that the expence of trenching an acre to the depth of from 12 to 14 inches, where the stones are not very large and numerous, runs from 4d. to 6d. a fall, which is from 2l. 13s. to 4l. per Scots acre. Ground that has been formerly trenched, is sometimes done as low as 2d. per fall, or 1l. 6s. 6d. per acre. Hence, in consequence of the practice of trenching ground by the spade being not unfrequent in Aberdeenshire, workmen have become expert, and by competition have rendered the price extremely moderate. It is a wish that the same practice were more frequent in other parts of the country, as it would have the tendency to introduce a taste for the most correct and perfect of all modes of labouring the soil, and would also occupy a considerable part of the population of the country, in the most innocent and healthful of all employments, that of agriculture.” Pp. 357-358


Meigs, Henry

1883    “Farm of Hugh Maxwell, Esq.” The American Agriculturist vol. 2 no. 12 (Dec 15, 1883) pp. 342-343.

“[Nyack,NY] I found Mr. Maxwell’s farm of 110 acres bounded by the Hudson, well worth the visit. The whole was in excellent fence, neatly piled about 4 ½ feet high, forming fields of from 4 to 8 acres. The formation of these fences has used nearly all the stones which were on the surface of the land. And in this it would seem as if Divine Providence had caused the rocks to be distributed of the proper size for fencing. Had the pieces been much larger or smaller they would not have answered the purposes so well as they now do. If they had been planted two feet under ground, or had been piled in large masses, the labor of fencing would have been very greatly increased.” P. 342


Harper, Joseph M.

1829    “Report on Farms” American Farmer vol. 11 no. 36 (Nov. 20. 1829) pp.281-282.

“[Farm of John Kimball, Canterbury, NH] A good stone wall, from three to fifteen feet thick, is almost the only fence to be found about the farm. The wall is thick from necessity, in order to get rid of the stones. Some of it is very high, with flat stones on the top, projecting over into his pasture, from ten to fifteen inches; forming a good barrier against the intrusion of sheep, an object which every farmer knows to be very desirable, as ordinary stone wall is but a poor security against the invasions of this animal.

Mr. Kimball has about twenty-five acres of mowing, arable and orcharding, being all that his farm can afford by reason of the unevenness of the surface, ledges, fast and loose stones. This has been prepared with great labour; the stones are well cleared off, the surface, made smooth, the soil well mixed with manure, and thus made productive.” P. 281

“Farm of Amos Cogswell, Canterbury, NH] He has about twenty acres of mowing, tillage and orchard land, enclosed in two fields with stone wall. Both are well cultivated, the stones taken out, the land well manured and very productive.” P. 281

“[Farm of Col. Stephen Moore, Canterbury, NH] He has dug out the stone, laid them into good wall, and where stone was wanting, he has made a good fence of chestnut rails.” P. 281

“[Farm of Captain Moses Coffin, Boscawen, NH] His farm is mostly fenced with a good stone wall, for which he has an abundance of materials. Of this fact he appears to be well convinced, (as we had the best possible evidence,) he having drawn stone more than one mile, to fence a piece of pine land, which is destitute of this hard, valuable article for fence.” P. 282



“Culture of Stony Ground” New England Farmer vol. 7 no. 6 (June 1855) pp. 261

“Mr. Editor: - On looking into your paper, just come to hand, I find a correspondent inquiring in what manner `stony ground’ can be most advantageously tilled. My answer would be, first remove all the loose surplus stones within one foot of the surface, and then proceed in the cultivation as though they had never been there. Will it be said, that it be too much labor to do this? And, if the surface stones are once taken away, others will soon work up to take their place? Such has not been my experience. I know as fine fields for tillage, that were once as covered with a superabundance of such stones, as any other fields; and I cannot but think, that any apology for not removing them, must be the prompting of a spirit of laziness. To attempt to proscribe a form of plow or other implement, adapted to the cultivation of such land full of stones, would be a labor in vain. Better begin in the right way, and then labor will be amply rewarded. There can be no doubt that a portion of stones is beneficial to some crops; and that certain elements are added to the soil, by the dissolution and decay of stones, that improve it; but still, I do not think this improvement enough, to balance the inconvenience of having them in the way and use of the best constructed implements - such as the Michigan sod and subsoil plow – the horse hoe – and the best improved seed-planters and weeders.

An Old One                 Danvers [MA], April 10, 1855” p. 261


Yant, D.

1852    “Domestic Fish Ponds” Ohio Cultivator vol. 8 no. 10 (May 15, 1852) p.150.

“HOW TO MAKE A FISH POND, AND GET RID OF STONE. – I had on my farm a number of heaps of rough stone, not very nice to look at, and not very convenient to get around, nor very profitable. There were also several spring runs with deep gullies, across which it was desirable to have a road, so I hauled the stone into one of the gullies insufficient quantity to make a bridge, dug down the banks, and graveled the upper side and surface of the stone bridge, forming a clear pond of spring water. Into this I have put some choice varieties of fish, that are not apt to prey upon each other, so that when fully completed I shall have , instead of nasty stone heaps, and a deep gully over which I could not pass – first got rid of the stone – made a bridge – a fish pond of some eight square rods, from three to six feet in depth , and with very little additional expense can be made a convenient water place, the whole at the cost of some six or seven dollars in labor. How do you like it?

Mineral Hills, Tuscarawas Co. O. [Ohio] D. Yant.” P. 150


Holbrook, F.

1851    “Practical Husbandry” The Cultivator vol. 8 no. 1 New Series (Jan. 1851) pp. 35-38 

“[Farm of Leonard Stone, Esq., Watertown, MA] The owner has for several years been clearing his tillage-fields of stones, which were formerly so numerous as to be much in the way of the plow. They have been sunk in the construction of drains, and thus the surface of about every acre of stiff land has been relieved of both stones and surplus moisture. The ditches for the drains are dug about three feet deep, and of convenient width to work in; in them, drains are first laid, six inches wide, ten inches high, of small cobble stones, and covered with larger sizes of the same; the ditches are then filled with small stones, to within one foot of the surface of the ground. A layer of shavings or tough sods is then put on, and the work leveled with loose earth. The drains thus constructed have stood from eight to twelve years, and still work well.” p.36.


Durand, L.

1851  “Farm Fences” The Cultivator vol. 8 no. 7 New Series (July 1851) p.244-245.

“[p.244] The subject of farm fences is one which every farmer should be interested in. Every farmer knows well that a good fence is what he likes to see around his fields, and those of his neighbors. There are but few of us who not suffered in years past by poor fences and breachy cattle – of course. As to the kind of fence to be built, all depends upon circumstances and location. Any kind of fence looks well, when well built and in good repair. Probably the most substantial and lasting of all farm fences, are built of stone. On most farms in New-England, more or less stone fences can be made.

But the manner in which fences are often built, is another consideration. We often see single walls laid up with only one tier of stone, and where they have been built for years they often have a zigzag or worm fence appearance, and how they stand at all, is a question. Often, where such fences are made, not one half of the stone are taken from the field, which is bad economy, to say nothing of the fence. Farmers should remember that when a field is cleared thoroughly of surplus stones, and the stones laid into good substantial walls, they have gained two important points. First, they have cleared the land for good cultivation, and second, they have a good fence, which, if well laid up, will last a lifetime. Walls four and five feet wide at the bottom, and as many feet high, with cap stones on top, projecting over three or four inches on each side, will turn sheep pretty effectively.

In many parts of Connecticut, old rail fences may be seen three or four feet high, while the stones are so thick that you may travel on them from one field to another. I consider it the most miserable and shiftless economy in the way of fences and cultivation that the Connecticut farmer has yet accomplished. The most durable rail-fence, to my mind, is the old `Virginia worn fence.’  When this fence is well laid up, six or seven rails high, with long poles or riders staked on top, hardly any wind will level it to the ground. You cannot work up to this fence quite so close, as to a straight fence. But for pasturing or mowing, it takes up but little or so more ground than the post fence. The posts of the straight fence which I built ten and eleven years ago, are now rotting off, and the fence is falling down. Some farmers say that fence posts will last double the time by setting the posts top-end down, but having never tried it, or never seen it tried, I cannot say as the fact.

Post and board fence is built by many farmers, and it makes a much neater fence than rails, and is often quite as cheap, and much lighter in construction. Wire fence [p.245] is now talked of, and some fence of this kind has been built, and if it be lasting, and the weather does not affect the wire, I think it will come into general use, especially on the western prairies where timber is scarce. I have been told that a cheap composition of coal-tar laid over the wires, will prevent rust or any action of weather on the wire. Where posts can be made of stone or Iron, and the expense will admit of it, this fence must be lasting. A prairie farm fenced with wire, would make a grand appearance, as at a short distance nothing would be visible but the posts. But some time must elapse before this fence can be thoroughly tried as to durability.

L. Durand. Derby, CTMarch 12, 1851.” P. 244-245



1850    “Notes on Massachusetts Farming” The Cultivator vol. 7 No. 1 New Series (Jan. 1850) pp. 40-42

“[p.40] On the farm Mr. Harvey Dodge, Sutton [Massachusetts], we witnessed some valuable improvements. The farm lies on a large swell of land, which is naturally very rocky, and quite wet. It was originally divided into very small lots, many of them containing only two acres each, and fenced with stone walls. One object of these small [p.41] divisions was probably to get rid of the stones, which had to be removed from the soil before it could be worked. Some idea of the quantity of stones may be formed from the fact that these walls were made from four to six feet wide and four feet high. The foundations of many of them not being properly laid, and the materials not of the best kind for permanent walls, they had in several instances settled down and flattened out, till they occupied much more room than at first.

When Mr. D. took possession of the farm, a few years ago, he soon discovered that it had two radical defects, which he determined to remedy. The first was the loss of land by the numerous old walls, and the inconvenience of working the small lots; and the second, the want of drainage to the soil. In obviating the first difficulty, he adopted a plan by which he, in a great degree, obviated the second. He sunk the old walls, and the trenches where they are buried have become drains! He has in this way turned a large part of his farm into beautiful fields, of from 12 to 18 acres each. Where the walls on the lines of the present division were good, they were left, where they were not good, they were rebuilt in the most substantial manner. The walls were sunk so low that the plow passes over without disturbing them. The mode of sinking the walls was by digging deep ditches close along side of them, and then throwing the stones in. The ditches were filled to a level with the surrounding ground, with the earth taken out, and the remainder is used in filling hollows about the fields. The effect of the drainage is already apparent in the sweeter nature and more abundant growth of grass, in the better and surer crops of grain which the land produces, and in the more healthy and thrifty growth and increased productiveness of fruit trees.”


Saunders, William

1888    “Experimental Farms. Reports of the ... for 1887.” (Appendix to the Report of the Minister of Agriculture.) Sessional Papers vol. 6; Sessional Paper No. 4D. Ottawa: Maclean, Rogers & Co.

“[Township of Nepean, Carleton County, Ontario - 3 miles form Ottawa] On taking possession of this farm, which comprises a number of small holdings, the dividing fences were found to be well packed with surface stone collected from the fields; there were also many heaps at different points and large boulders scattered over the surface. While this farm is much less stoney than most of the land in the immediate neighbourhood of Ottawa, nevertheless much labour and expense was entailed in clearing the field of surface stone. These stones have been got together in piles, a part of them has already been used in improving the roads on the farm, and the remainder will all be useful for a like purpose.” p.3


Stephens, C. A.

1912    When Life Was Young: At the Old Farm in Maine. Norway, ME: The Old Squire’s Bookstore.

“There were now brakes to cut and dry for “bedding” at the barn, bushes and briars to clear up along the fences and walls, and stone-heaps to draw-off, preparatory to “breaking up” several acres more of greensward.” P. 297


Allen, Richard L.

1847    A Brief Compendium of American Agriculture. 2nd Edition. New York: Published for the Author by C. M. Saxton.

“It is a subject of frequent remark, that the soil underneath, or in immediate contact with some stone walls, which have been erected for a long period, is much richer than the adjoining parts of the same field. This difference is probably due, in some measure to the slow decomposition of important fertilizers in the stone, which are washed down by the rains and become incorporated in the soil. The removal of stones from a fertile field, has been deprecated by many an observing farmer, as materially impairing the productiveness. Beyond the shade thus afforded against an intense sun, protection from cold winds, their influence in condensing moisture, (and the beneficial effects which perhaps ensue as in fibrous covering,) the difference may be attributable to the same cause.” P. 46


James, C. C.

1893    “The Dairyman as a Manufacturer.” Sessional Papers vol. 25 pt. 5, Sessional Paper no. 16.  Toronto: Printed for Lud. K. Cameron, Queen’s Printer by Warwick & Sons. Pp.161-166.

“Capital is not all utilized when owing to lack of drainage the under-acres of the farm are contributing nothing, when the weeds are fighting with the domesticated plants for limited supply of available food, when unsightly stone piles lie in the centre of fields instead of at the bottom of good macadam roads, when crooked and unnecessary fences sprawl about in all directions …” p. 163


Brown, Simon (ed.)

1861    “Clearing Fields by Burying Stones” The New England Farmer vol. 13 no. 7 (July 1861) pp.335-336.



An exchange has the following on the above subject:

`With regard to the disposal of stones, I think there is one rule of universal application, which is this: On all land that is not so rocky underneath as to make digging expensive, never take a stone that is not wanted for wells, or for some other special purpose, but dig holes and place them in so that they shall not come nearer than eight or ten inches of the surface. This can be done as cheaply as they can be carted off and piled up in some other place. There are, at least, for advantages in this process.

1. The surface is relieved of them, so that they are out of the way of cultivating.

2. If not too far below the surface, they attract moisture, and are especially valuable where deep-rooted plants are cultivated in times of drought. Fruit trees flourish finely over them.

3. They are storehouse of heat, warming the soil about them, and the young roots that penetrate it, and acting like bottom heat in a forcinghouse.

4. So much of the land as is dug over to receive the stones is thoroughly trenched, and will feel it influences for many years, whether it is cultivated or kept in grass.’

We object to articles like the above, and believe that the writers are doing serious injury to after generations, by suggesting such wasteful painstaking. The idea of burying stones, and at eight to ten inches from the surface, so as to prevent full surface plowing and to entirely do away with the possibility of easy subsoil plowing, cannot be endorsed. The surface should be relieved of them by their removal, unless they can be placed in under-drains immediately, and at least to a depth of thirty inches below the surface. As to their attracting moisture when at proper depth, this they will do by extracting it form the soil. We do not believe that a soil full of stones is any better for fruit trees than one without them. Nor do we believe that stones should be viewed as storehouses of heat, warming the soil about them etc., they only become heated by cooling the soil. The fourth item of the above, however, we fully believe in, viz., “that the digging of the soil for the removal of stones, or for any other purposes, materially benefits it. – Working Farmer.

That portion of the above article commented upon by the Working Farmer, was written by us and published only two or three weeks since, in this paper. It was prompted by an actual experience of many years, is sound in doctrine, and an article that we have no desire to recall. If agricultural editors would spend more of their time in the field and less in the closet, their teachings would be more reliable than they now are.

In the first place, we are charged with “wasteful painstaking,” for stating that it is as cheap to [p.336] sink stones not wanted for other purposes, as to dig, cart and haul them off on a drag. On all such land, as we specially defined, there is not one operator on ten, on our knowledge, but will agree with us. It has been so decided in some of the best farmers’ clubs in New England.

Our first postulate was, that when sunk, they are out of the way on the surface. Who will deny that? The second, that rocks below the surface are especially valuable when deep-rooted plants are cultivated in times of drought. If the learned editor of the [Working] Farmer had dug as much as we have on a rocky soil, he would have learned what most boys of eighteen know, on our rough farms. Fruit trees do not flourish half as well on our soils without stones as they do on the rocky lands. That is the common opinion here. Thirdly, buried rocks are store-houses of heat. If a stone is placed upon a coal fire it becomes heated – let both remain for a time and the coals will be ashes, or black and cold, while the stone remains too hot to be touched. So the rock in the soil stores up the solar heat, and imparts it as much more slowly than the loose, surrounding soil, that it is actually a storehouse of heat. The stones below are valuable in other respects. The rains reach them, dissolve some of their mineral matter, and prepare it for use of plants. The roots themselves understand this better than theorists, as is evident by their clustering in great numbers about stones which are beneath the surface, where they not only find food, but moisture and warmth. The Professor’s idea of subsoiling on a large portion of our farms, we think erroneous. On such land as we referred to, one might as well think of subsoiling on the peak of the Grand Monadnock itself; the very difficulty of the sinking of stones is generally that of digging the holes, obstructed as the spade often is at every blow.

We always read the Working Farmer with pleasure, and we believe with profit, and quite often illumine our columns with the clearly-expressed thoughts of its editor,- but we cannot recall deliberately-expressed opinions, which have been formed upon actual manipulations extending through many years, founded upon philosophical principles, and sanctioned by the best farmers in our knowledge.” Pp. 335-33


Kimball, Isaac

1857    [Letter to Moody Hobbs, Esq. from Isaac Kimball, Temple,NH, January 6, 1857] Transactions of the New HampshireState Agricultural Society for the year 1856. Concord [NH]: Amos Hadley, State Printer.

NOTE: The farm was purchased in 1831. It is unclear from the letter as to exactly when the activities described below took place. Kimball had entered his farm for a premium contest. The committee for the Society was unable to visit the farm to inspect it for the contest. Instead they sent a list of questions as a substitute for the onsite inspection. The letter is a reply to those questions.

“[p.105] I have found it necessary to use a large per cent of muck [to make manure]; and have opened ditches for this purpose, of various dimensions, some of which were four feet wide by from two to six feet deep; these have been filled with stone to near the surface, then covered with turf and mud or other [organic] matters, and sown with grass seed. In one instance a ditch was dug ten feet wide, and some ten rods [160.5 feet] in length, for a cart-way and filled with stone. The stone[s] were brought from the fields adjacent, some were blasted, others dug from the fields. Old walls removed, and unsightly heaps, long a nuisance, all thus congregated, probably to be seen no more.

Some fields have been cleaned of stone, by removing them to the base of a hill-side and erecting a heavy upright front wall, removing the soil from the rear and filling with stone; then replacing the soil, making a level surface for cultivation. A large amount of stone has been removed to low, wet ground in an adjoining pasture, the stone covered slightly with soil and gravel, and sown down to grass. The removal of stone [p.106] by blasting and otherwise, has been among the most expensive items of improvement.” Pp. 105-106


Adams, James O., Secretary

1877    [Minutes of the Board of Agriculture meeting in Hollis NH December 27, 1877] Seventh Annual Report of the Board of Agriculture, for the Year 1877. Concord [NH]: E. A. Jenks, State Printer.

“Mr. Walker then took up Drainage, showing that much of the land now to wet for practical purposes can be brought into a fair state of cultivation by draining, and recommended farmers to clear away the rock-heap so long used for growing briars, and use them for under-draining the land.” P. 109


Walker, Joseph B.

1876    “The Hay Crop.”Sixth Annual Report of the Board of Agriculture for the Year 1875-6. Concord [NH]: E. A. Jenks, State Printer. Pp. 253-265.

“[Concord, NH] Should it be here intimated that half-buried boulders and stumps and rock-heaps often opposed the use of these implements [i.e. hay cutting machinery], it may very properly be said in answer, that it is part of their mission to bring about the removal of such impediments, and compel us to do things we ought to have done years ago.” P. 261


Walker, Joseph B.

1875    “The Soil.” Fifth Annual Report of the Board of Agriculture for the Year ending June 1, 1875. Concord [NH]: Charles C. Pearson, State Printer. Pp. 93-108.

“[ConcordNH] I suggest, therefore, as the first step to be taken in the improvement of very many of our fields, the removal from their surfaces all obstructions to a profitable vegetation. One may as well raise tame grass as wild bushes, and occupy his ground with corn or wheat or potatoes, as with carefully constructed rock heaps, belted with flourishing  growths of weeds. Those last may look very fine from an esthetic standpoint, but, in an agricultural view, they are as ugly as sin. They utter mute accusations against their owner, which would, if spoken by his neighbors, expose them to the penalties of slander. Nigh and day, year in and year out, they proclaim him indolent, wasteful, shiftless, and a firm believer in the popular doctrine that `farming don’t pay.’” p. 98.


Poore, B. P. & F. B. Eaton (Compiled by)

1885    Sketches of the life and Public Services of Frederick Smyth of New Hampshire.Manchester, NH: John B. Clarke, Printer.

“In 1827, the father of Frederick purchased the farm and house afterwards occupied by the Rev. Abraham Wheeler, a few rods east from the residence of john Lane, Esq., and removed there with his family. Whatever may have been the hardships incident to the life of a New Hampshire farmer’s boy, young Frederick accepted them without a murmur. As an instance of his industry, it is told that when he was a slender lad, he yoked up the cattle during his farmer’s absence from home, and cleared the rock-heaps from a mowing field, working so steadily that he brought on severe headaches, and had to take a week’s time to finish the job in.” p.7


Wiggins, Francis S.

1840    The American Farmer’s Instructor, or Practical Agriculturist. Philadelphia: Orrin Rogers.

“[The Common Horse Rake] When small obstructions occur, the handles are depressed thus causing the teeth to rise, and the rake passes freely over. Large obstructions, as stumps and stone heaps, require the rake to be lifted from the ground.” P. 450


Russell, Benjamin S.

1854    [Letter by Benjamin S. Russell, Towanda PA, December 12, 1853] First Annual Report of the Transactions of the PennsylvaniaState Agricultural Society. Harrisburg [PA]: A. Boyd Hamilton, State Printer.

“[p.491]About the middle of October I saw the field, for [p.492] the first time after harvest; it was then quite stony and looked rough. Since then upwards of fifty wagon loads of stone have been taken off, and a large number of stumps have been grubbed out, and are now lying in a heap in a corner of the field. After the survey had been made, I counted the stumps remaining, and found them to be three hundred and sixty-three. Mr. Mason measured the ground around several and averaged the whole, and found the waste ground to measure, as stated in his certificate, one acre and twenty-two perches. Had the stone heaps which were there in October, been three at the tenth instant, I do not hesitate in saying that, in my judgment, it would have reduced the actual land cultivated to six acres, or perhaps a trifle less.” P.491-492


Agricola, P.

1824    The New York Gardener, or Twelve Letters, from a Farmer to His Son, by which he describes the Method of Laying Out and Managing the Kitchen-Garden. Albany: Published by Daniel Steels & Son.

“Those heaps of stones piled about the fields, must be removed, and made into fences.” P. 8.


Stephens, Henry

1844    The Book of the Farm. Edinburgh & London: William Blackwood and Sons.

“On every kind of land the small stones lying on its surface should be gathered by the field workers and carted off for the use of drains, or broken into metal for roads. It may happen that the throng of other work may prevent the assistance of horses and carts being given for this purpose, in which case the stones should be gathered together in small heaps on the furor-brow of every other single ridge; but in doing this, it should be remembered that these heaps occupy so much of the ground, and, of course, prevent the growth of so much grass, that, on this account, it is much better practice to cart them away at once of practicable. When carts are used the stones are thrown directly into them; whereas in making heaps, the stones require some care to be put together, and, of course, waste time, and they have to be removed after all. Some farmers are regardless of gathering the stones from any of their fields, even from grass-fields which are in pasture; while all acknowledge that fields of grass which are to be made into hay ought to be cleared of stones to save the scythes at hay-time.” P. 807


Lane, Alfred C.

1907    Report of the State Board of Geological Survey of Michigan for the Year 1906. Lansing,MI: Wynkoop, Hallenbeck, Crawford Co., State Printers.

“The cleared fields are, in general, surrounded by piles of stones that have been gathered from their surfaces, and in part built into walls.” P. 51


Eliot, Charles W.

1904    John Gilley: Maine Farmer and Fisherman. Boston: American Unitarian Association.

“[SuttonIsland] The piles of stones which he heaped up on the bare ledges remain [p.48] to this day to testify to his industry. One of them is twenty-four feet long, fifteen feet wide, and five feet high. In after years he was proud of these piles, regarding them as monuments to his patient industry and perseverance in the redemption of this precious mowing field.” P. 47-48


N.H. Journal of Agriculture

1862    “Economy of Fences.” New England Farmer vol. 14 no. 12 (Dec 1862) pp.546-547.

“[p.546] There are very few farms that would not be benefited by the drainage effected by casting the stones regularly into ditches opened for the purpose each [p.547] year as it became necessary to haul them off. These of course are not equal to tile drains, but they serve two purposes, and they are very useful. Probably half the stone fences on many farms had better be sunk in this way. We know of scores of acres of wet swampy land, always late because wet, and of endless runs, where huge piles of stone lay in unsightly confusion on the borders and all about.” Pp. 546-547


Smith, Jonathan

1900    The Home of the Smith Family in Peterborough, New Hampshire, 1749-1842. Clinton [MA]: Press of W. J. Coulter

“[p.123] In the spring of 1808, he took his sons William and John, aged seven and five respectively, down to a field of some six acres west of the barn, which has always within memory of the writer borne the name of “The Gap,” no one knows why, and set them to [p.124] work picking stones. If their descendants can judge from the number and size of the heaps they left there as monuments of their youthful toil, their task was neither short nor an easy one. The younger boy in his old age told one of his children how his father promised them a small reward in money for a certain number of heaps…

It was during this period of Jonathan Smith’s ownership that the farm was cleared of stones and the fields and pastures inclosed by stone walls. Many of the double walls, some of them six to eight feet thick, were built by him.” Pp. 123-124


Whittier, Phinneas

1883    “Lessons from my Experience in Orcharding.” Twenty-Sixth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture, for the Year 1882. Augusta: Sprague & Son, Printers to the State. Pp. 260-267.

“[p.260] In passing through our State one cannot fail to notice a great difference in the appearance of the farming community. In sections favored with rich alluvial soils, and on upland possessing a good soil comparatively free of rocks, the farmer who does not appear to be in comfortable circumstances is an exception. In other sections with an equally fertile soil, but so encumbered with rocks that it costs more to prepare it for cultivation than the land is worth after it is prepared, the farmer who is prosperous is the exception. We can ride many miles over our hills, through the best of orchard lands, and see deserted farms turned out to pasture or left to grow up to bushes, their former owners gone west or into more profitable business. Others there are where a hard struggle is still continued but all the signs about the farm and buildings point to a failure sooner or later. On such farms, where improved machinery cannot be well used, the high price of labor bears heavily, and this with decreasing fertility, and the competition of the West growing stronger every year, farming in the old way on such soils a very discouraging business.”

“[p.261] I confess I can see but one way that such farms can be made a source of profit and comfort to the owners and that is by making fruit farms of them in connection with sheep raising, for I consider sheep the best help we can have in cheaply keeping an orchard in the best condition.  We can come nearer competing with the West in fruit raising than in any thing else. We can have good thrifty trees and luscious fruit where the rocks lie undisturbed in the soil, and the full blood merinos lie around enriching the soil and waiting to give us their valuable fleeces. If it is desired to free the soil of rocks, it will require only a small area, comparatively, for one acre of orchard well taken care of will be more profit than many whole farms of one hundred acres now are.” pp.260-261


Shaler, Nathaniel Southgate

1895    The Geology of the Road-Building Stones of Massachusetts with Some Consideration of Similar Materials from Other Parts of the United States.Washington: Government Printing Office.

“[p.310] It may be noted that there is a collateral advantage arising from the use of these erratics, which consists in the fact that, so far as the fragments occur in the form of field stones, they are at present an incumbrance to the earth – an obstruction to the tillage of the fields. A large part of the agricultural [p.311] labor which has expanded in Massachusetts has been given to the task of gathering these pebbles and bowlders from the ground to be tilled, the materials thus removed being accumulated in the stone walls and heaps which make so conspicuous feature in the farming districts of most glaciated areas. So far as this waste can be utilized in road building, the process is beneficial to the conditions of the fields and helpful to the interests of the agricultural class.  At least three-quarters of the stone walls in Massachusetts have not been built with the object of dividing the tillage areas, but to get the stones out of the way of the plow. These fences are, indeed, a very general obstruction to the economical care of the earth. If the plan is adopted of converting this obstructive glacial waste into road material, and the method is followed for a century to come, the result will be a noteworthy increase in the value of the farm lands in the Commonwealth.” Pp. 310-311

Maine Board of Agriculture

1873    Eighteenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture for the Year 1873. Augusta: Sprague, Owen & Nash, Printers to the State.

“It is a common sight to see long ricks of rocks tumbled up where it was convenient at the time to leave them, and where, perhaps, it is designed `at some convenient season’ to build a wall. They not only encumber much ground, but harbor bushes, weeds, and vermin, all of which are injurious to the farmer’s interests. It is also too common a sight to see fields dotted up with stone heaps, small and near together, with now and then a big stack, the accumulation of years from adjoining grounds. Instead of cumbering the surface with their unsightly presence, how much benefit they might confer if put into underdrains, the only proper place for cobble stones on the farm.” P. 225


Blaikir, Francis

1839    “On the Husbanding of Farm-Yard Manure, and on Other Rural Subjects.” Farmers’ Register vol. 7 no. 7 (1839) pp. 401-406.

“Mending the roads is sometimes used as a plea in extenuation of the injurious practice of picking the stones off the land; but I consider the plea inadmissible, because where there are many gravel stones on the surface, it is a sure indication that a gravel pit may be opened to an advantage at no great distance; but a still greater objection rests in the injury the land sustains from such treatment, particular light soils, the staple of which is weakened, and the intrinsic value reduced in a very material degree, by having the stones picked off; indeed I affirm, that no stones should ever be picked off sandy or gravelly soils, (and but seldom from any other description of soils,) unless when the stones are so large as to impede the progress of the implements necessary to be used in the cultivation of the soil. Clovers and grasses intended to be mown should always be rolled down at proper season, after the larger stones are picked off.

It is a disgusting practice, and cannot be too severely censured, to pick the field stones into heaps in the fields, and there allow them to lay, as frequently the case the year round. This practice is unpardonable in the highly cultivated and justly county of Norfolk, a county to which most others in the Kingdom look up to for example. Yet, notwithstanding the general proficiency of the Norfolk farmer, I may justly apply to them the adage of “use is second nature,” (let it be remembered I speak in general terms, for there are very many exceptions) in respect to the stone heaps; for the farmer rides over his fields amongst those heaps of stone with seeming unconcern , as if unconscious of the injury he has sustained by having had the stones picked off his land in the first instance, and afterwards by their being left in heaps in the fields to destroy the herbiage they lay upon.” P.406


Shull, Josiah

1870    [Remarks of Hon. Josiah Shull] Transactions of the New York Agricultural Society, with an Abstract of the Proceedings of the County Agricultural Societies. Vol. XXIX (1869). Albany: The Argus Co.

“[p.747] Where a farm contains field stone of a proper size for laying into a wall, this material can be used to a good advantage. In estimating the cost, it will be assumed that every good farmer should clear his farm from all such stones as will be a hindrance in plowing and putting in the crops. In this case he naturally places them in convenient piles. Instead of piling, he should haul them to a line of fence, which expense will cost extra from piling, say twenty-five cents per cubic yard. Making the fence two feet wide on the bottom, one foot on the top and four feet high, will require three and two-thirds cubic yards to a rod in length. The cost will be as follows:


For delivering stone for one rod of fence      ……………………………$0.82

Laying them in wall       ……………………………………………………75


Making a total cost per rod of   ………………………………………..$1.57


When ledge stone ca be obtained at not to exceed three miles of hauling distance, the dimensions of the wall being the same as above, the cost per rod, allowing for b[r]eaking from quarry, twenty-five cents per cubic yard; for hauling $1.25 per cubic yard, and for laying in wall, twenty cents per cubic yard, will be as follows:

For breaking ground per rod of fence           ……………………………….82

Hauling and delivering stone     …………………………………………$4.58

Laying in wall    ……………………………………………………………73


Making a total cost per rod of   ………………………………………..$6.13

If the ledge be on the farm the cost will be much lessened in expense of hauling as follows:

For breaking ground per rod of fence           ……………………………….82

Hauling    ………………………………………………………………$1.64

Laying in wall    ……………………………………………………………73


Making a total cost per rod of………………………………………..$3.19”


Kelsey, Jno.

1860    “Farm Improvement” The Cultivator vol. 8 no. 4 (Apr 1860) pp. 122-123.

“[Prospect Farm, Bucks Co., PA] I also laid out a new farm road, which began at my wharf on the Delaware Division of Pennsylvania canal, (the canal being the eastern boundary of the farm,) and passes by the barn and by all the fields to the west end of the farm, where said road crosses the creek. I have built a large bridge of stone side walls, and cover the aperture for the water with stone, and then continued the side walls on upward, and the space between I filled with stone which I picked from the fields. The bridge is passable thought not finished, and never will be until raised up to a level with banks on both sides of the creek, and as long as any offal stone remain on the farm and the bridge is unfinished, there is a place to dump them.” P. 122

“P.S. I find on looking over the above article, I have forgotten to say anything of the amount of stone I have removed and the manner of doing it. In plowing any other than a sod, I place a grubbing-hoe axe downward in the coulter-hole in the plow beam, and then say to the plowman, take out every stone of sufficient size to disturb the plow, and if he finds any too large, I have him mark the place, and take them out afterward. By this method I cleaned nearly all the farm of stone – in all some 300 or 400 perches, nearly all of which are first rate building stone, and many of them so large as to require blasting before they could be removed – in addition to all of which, I grubbed innumerable loads of briers and elders from along the fences.” P. 123


Rogers, William [pseudonym]

1907    Erecting and Operating: An Educational Treatise for Constructing Engineers, Machinist, Millwrights and Master Builders. New York: Theo. Audel & Company.

“Fig. 56 is a rock-lifter, by means of which one or two men “pumping” on the end of a 10 or 12 foot ash lever, can lift heavy rocks, pull tree-stumps, etc. A stirrup hanging from the end of the lever engages with the teeth of a ratchet wheel on the block axle, so that, with each stroke, the wheel is pulled around two or three teeth, and the sprocket wheel shortens the “bight” of the chain, thus exerting an accumulated force in lifting. The ratchet wheel is prevented from slipping by means of a pawl or “detent” on its opposite side.” P. 83


Platt, George F. et al

1873    “Clearing Rocky Land” Sixth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Connecticut Board of Agriculture 1872-73. Hartford: Press of Case, Lockwood & Brainard. pp. 116-148.

[NOTE: This consists of Mr. Platt’s paper on “ClearingRockyLand’ along with a question & answer / discussion which follow the presentation of the paper at the meeting.]

“[p.116] [Milford CT] My experience in clearing land of rocks and stones is confined entirely to our own farm, which consists of 100 acres, and is situated between two and three miles from Long Island Sound.

There is a belt of from one to two miles wide along the shore, the soil of which is generally light and free from stones and rocks, except as they occasionally crop out in ledges.

Our farm is back of this belt and elevated somewhat above it. The soil is a dark loam, six or eight inches, than a yellow loam three feet deep, almost free of stone, below that a hardpan eight or ten feet, then rock. All the wells in this vicinity are dug into this rock, which when blasted out makes excellent stone for building purposes. The rocks and stones on the surface are entirely different from this great underlying rock, being hard and heavy, with the corners all rounded off, looking as if they had been rolled and tumbled considerably in the early ages of the world.

There are enough rocks and stones on this and the neighboring farms to fence them into three acre fields, making single walls.

[p.117] When mowing machines first came into use, our meadows, cultivated land, and pastures were all encumbered with small stones and rocks too large to be removed easily, the intermediate size having been removed by my ancestors. We saw at once that in order to have the mower work well, it must have a smooth, unobstructed surface, and began at once to pick up by hand and cart off the small stones, and to roll out the smaller rocks with oxen, and raise the large ones with a Lyon rock lifter, which was owned in the neighborhood.

Our practice has been to lift the rocks to the surface and leave them till winter when they are easily drawn off on a stone boat, taking a time when the ground is thinly covered with ice or snow.

We have this way cleared one or two fields yearly, using the stone for walls, frequently taking up old crooked rail fences and putting walls in their place.

It is rather slow work to lift rocks with the Lyons machine, fifteen rocks being a good days works for two men; other machines may by using oxen work faster, but I have not used them. The past season I have used a simply contrivance for lifting and rolling out rocks, the idea of which was suggested to me by an illustration of a stump puller I saw in the Country Gentleman last year. It is so simple, cheap and easily made, and so efficient that it would, I feel confident, come into quite general use among farmers owning rocky farms, if they knew its value, and understood how to construct and operate it. It is difficult to describe a thing of this sort on paper so that it will be understood, but I will try to make it as plains as possible. It consists (fig.1,) of two upright pieces of light, strong wood, ten or twelve feet long, bolted strongly together at the top, in the form of the letter A, giving them a spread of four feet at the bottom; a cross piece of wood and a long bolt connecting the two, three or four feet from the top; make it strong by bracing and tying it.  On one side of the top of the A is hinged and iron rod, six feed long, on the lower end of which is a large link, the top of which is wide, and the bottom narrow, so that when a chain is put through and dropped into it, it clasps the chain. From the top of the A, drawing from the [p.118] side opposite to that on which the rod is hinged, extends a chain forty feet long, passing under the cart, and fastened to the axle or tongue. The reason for drawing from a cart is that the draft is so high that otherwise oxen could not draw much. I have used large rope which I happened to have, two inches in diameter, instead of this long chain, but I think a chain made of rods, four feet long, would be the cheapest and best to draw by. A strong chain to go around the rock completes the concern.

To operate it place the A near the rock, leaning slightly over it; put the chain around the rock, having the noose on the side of the rock opposite the machine; pass the free end of the chain through the clasp link on the lower end of the rod, and start the team. As the A assumes the perpendicular and leans from the rock, the lifting power is enormous; it not only lifts or rolls the rock but draws it sidewise, taking it one side of the hole. It is generally necessary to back up the team and set the A up again, moving it farther from the rock and giving a second pull in order to get the rock entirely out.

As will be observed it lifts the rock up, whereas in rolling out rocks by the use of oxen, with a simple chain, the rock is drawn against the earth, and much force wasted, especially if [p.119] the rock is deeply imbedded. I have used this contrivance to clear the rocks from five acres, the past autumn, and I speak from experience when I say it works quickly and well. I can commend it to my brother farmers, as a simple, cheap and efficient rock lifter, one that is not patented, and therefore free for every one to make and use.

Mr. Gold. Perhaps I am entitled to say a word from experience as well as anybody else, in regard to moving rocks. I have used almost all the machines that have been about for this purpose. The Lyon Rock Puller, to which Mr. Platt refers, with which many of you are acquainted, exerts tremendous power, but it is very slow in its operation. I tried it and discarded it, because it was too slow and tedious. The Bolles' Rock Puller, I have used with very great success and satisfaction; but it is expensive, costing, I believe, three or four hundred dollars, and is not within the reach of a common farmer. It can only be owned by a company of farmers, who employ a man to go with and operate it. We have two of them in Cornwall, which do service there and the adjoining towns. The Bolles' machine goes on wheels, and is operated by cranks, and will take up a stone weighing six or eight tons, if we can find a rock that we can get between the wheels of that weight, and travel off with it. It takes two yoke of oxen to work it economically, and fifty rocks a day is a good day's work, with a skillful man to manage it, and three other men, and two pair of cattle. It cannot be operated to advantage in the hands of common farm laborers. I should not advise any man to get one for his own use, but if it can be owned in a neighborhood, where a man will go with the machine, to keep it in order, and take care of it, it is a wonderful help in clearing our rocky lands. We have a pair of them in Cornwall; one of them lighter, with large wheels, for wall laying, that have been constructed with very great care, and no expense spared to make them strong, so that you cannot rack them or break them. This machine is very efficient in removing boulders that weigh from two to five tons, and lie considerably buried beneath the surface.

Then we have another instrument, in the shape of a cant- [p.120] hook, that is very efficient for a certain class of rocks. It is a large cant-hook, (fig. 2) that will weigh, with the necessary attachments, two hundred pounds or more. It is worked with two yoke of oxen, and it will take out stones weighing from half a ton to five tons, very rapidly. Two hundred rocks a day is about the working power of that instrument, under favorable circumstances, with one man to dig around the rocks, one man to drive, and another man to handle the cant-hook. That costs, well made, about twenty dollars. I have found this a very serviceable implement.*

For the next size smaller stones, there is a Lyon rock-hook, that has been made in Cornwall, and used to a considerable extent for pulling bushes and rocks. It has a neap that goes between the cattle, handles like a plow with a pair of hooks in place of the plowshare, and you go along with it and scratch up the small rocks and stones, taking up those that will weigh a ton or more, but more especially the small ones. That is very efficient, and with one man to drive and one to hold, it will take out as many small boulders in a day as two men would in a week, with crow-bars. You can go over a piece of rocky ground, and cover the whole surface with the small rocks and boulders.

With regard to the other method—blasting—some rocks

[footnote] * The lever of the rock hook is of white ash, with the natural crook at the root. Length five and a half feet; seven inches square at the largest part, and tapering at the ends. The iron hook is attached one and a half feet from the lower end, and is steel pointed.

[p.121] are so hard that it is almost impossible to bore them. We have these blue stone, and hard silicious rocks, that it will take a man half a day to drill a hole to get the blast in, and so tough that you can hardly blast them when you get the hole. It is very unprofitable to blast such rocks. But those that are soft and moderately firm, and so flat as not to be easily handled otherwise, the readiest way is to blast them.

With regard to burying them, if you can dig in your soil, if it is of such a nature that you can dig without the liability of meeting obstructions beneath the surface in the form of other rocks, the most ready way to dispose of them is to make a hole and turn them in. You can easily dispose of very large rocks in that way, unless you need them for fencing.

I have never used this arrangement of Mr. Platt's, but it appeared to me, as I saw him using it, that it was so simple and easily constructed, that if a farmer had only a few boulders that he wanted to get out, he could easily construct one of these and put it in operation. But if he has a large job, I should recommend him to employ the Bolles' Rock Puller.

Mr. Lawrence Mitchell, of Newtown, uses a very simple frame to which a pulley is attached, for lifting rocks on to a wall, (fig. 3,) and moving them in places difficult of access with [p.122] a team. I have constructed one but have not yet put it in use. It consists of a timber frame twelve feet square, with a sill long enough to receive outside braces. This is set upright by the side of the wall, and held in place by a long pole resting with a notch in its lower side on the top beam, the other end being chained to a sled or wagon, loaded with stone. A pulley with hooks for the stone, is attached to the upper end of this pole, and the draft is by a team by the side of the wall. By this arrangement stones weighing several tons may be drawn into place or elevated upon the wall.

Prof. Brewer. I have used sometimes for drawing stone a contrivance similar to Mr. Gold's cant-hook. I took a little piece of cable chain and put it round the back side of the stone, had a white oak lever, eight feet long, hitched two pair of cattle to the top of the lever, and went away with the stone. It operates precisely the same as the cant-hook. It will haul off a stone that a team could not pull with any simple contrivance, and without expense, except for the white oak stick.

Mr. Gold. You would hardly take out two hundred a day.

Prof. Brewer. I never had that amount of rock on my fields. I had a dozen or fifteen stones that I could not get out with any implement I had on my farm, so I extemporized this lever, and was very successful indeed with it.

Mr. Hoyt, of New Canaan. I have hauled up some rocks, but I have never employed any of these instruments. There is a Belles' machine in our town, and I went to see it operate. They charge so much a rock, or so much a day. I found it was so expensive that I thought I would take my own time and men, and get them out in the old-fashioned way. Two or three pair of cattle will haul out a pretty good stone. If they are so big that you cannot get them out with three pair of cattle, blast them. I believe, as a rule, you can do better in that way than you can with these machines. They are very cumbersome to get planted, and when you get them planted, they will not always stand firmly. All the machine we had was what we call a rock-boat, two feet long. If we can find a place where we can get it on the stone, two or three pair of cattle will take out a very large rock.

[p.123] Mr. Rockwell, of Winsted. I have cleared probably some twelve acres with the Bolles' Rock Puller, a machine owned and operated by Mr. Scovill, of West Cornwall. It is a very competent machine, does its work very thoroughly and well, and if the surface of the stone is sufficiently strong for the tongs to hold, with a powerful team, any rock within the capacity of the puller is sure to come. We have taken-out rocks that would weigh probably seven tons, and I think more, in a very limited time, and moved them to the spots where we wanted to lay them permanently for fence. Mr. Scovill has two machines, one larger and stronger than the other. We took out the larger stone and laid them at the bottom of the wall, and then with the lighter one we lifted smaller rocks, weighing from one to three tons, and placed them on top, the two stones making a solid, substantial wall. With these machines we cleared about twelve acres, at a cost of about $75 an acre for moving the stone, and then we expended about $25 an acre in filling the holes, leaving the surface in a very nice condition, and making a very fine field, and one very easy of cultivation at this time. I have never seen a machine that I think worked so well as this machine does ; for that kind of rocks I think it is very convenient to handle. You can place it at the stone, over some side of the rock, usually, and the machine, with one pair of cattle, will move the rock away when taken out of the ground. It needs a little knowledge and some knack in doing so. For instance, if you are to draw the stone on a down grade from where it is taken, it is liable to bear too heavily upon the cattle. If you are going up hill, the rock is suspended and swung forward in such a position that the weight will bear lightly on the necks of the cattle. But with proper handling, the puller is very successful indeed.

Mr. Terrill. Did I understand you that the large machine was used to draw the rocks to the wall, and the smaller machine to lift them into place?

Mr. Rockwell. Yes, sir. The smaller machine is used to move smaller rocks also.

Mr. Terrill. Could you raise the rock above the ground and put it on the wall with the machine?

[p.124] Mr. Rockwell. Yes, sir. We could lift the stone with the lighter machine, and drop it on the top of the larger stone that was drawn previously.

Mr. Terrill. My experience has been limited in removing rocks and stones, except the small stone which are ploughed out, but I had one field of about three-quarters of an acre which was full of small-sized stone, and in the same field, a little way removed, there were larger stone. These I removed by hitching three pair of oxen to the stone, just digging round them enough to get the chain fastened, and dragged them to the surface ; but in the field where I had so many dug, there were a great many that were a little below the surface, but quite large stones. I got a simple instrument that is made in Monroe, in this state, with a beam like a plough beam, and a very strong rod attached to that. With one or two pair of oxen, I could roll quite large-sized stones out of the ground. After I had removed all those in sight I could go over the ground, and if I found any indications of others, I Could dig them out. I found that a very efficient instrument, where the stone were rather small.

Mr. Hubbard, of Middletown. I wish Mr. Rockwell would complete his statement. I wish he would state what the value of his land was when he went to work at it, and what he considers its present value, in order that we may know whether this business pays. If it cost him a hundred dollars an acre to get the rocks out, was it a paying operation?

Mr. Rockwell. That is perhaps a little difficult question to answer. The land is located where it would not be, ordinarily, strictly saleable, but it was a lot that I intended permanently to retain, and I cleared it for my own special benefit and convenience in taking grass from it. I wished to keep it for that. It could probably have been sold for $25 an acre at that time, and I should assume it to be worth $150 an acre to-day ; but I doubt if it would sell for near that. The value of it has been very greatly increased for my own purpose, but it is not well located to be marketable land.

I have said something with regard to the handling of these machines. We did not use but two pairs of cattle on our [p.125] largest rocks. They would take the rock from the ground without any excavation whatever, other than to find a suitable place to put the dogs in on the sides, like slings. With one team we lifted the stone, and then hitched a team forward of the other, and moved the stone to the place where we left it permanently.

Mr. Hubbabd. I asked that question to call attention to one point in this connection, which it seems to me is of the first importance, and that is, whether the clearing of rocky land, where the whole field is rocky, or at least, where it is largely infested with rocks, is worth while, under any circumstances? My own impression, not derived from any extended experience in the matter, is, that where the field is largely occupied with rock, we had better let it alone, unless there are some peculiar circumstances, such as existed in Mr. Rockwell's case, which induce us to lay out extra expense upon it. I think that where a portion of an arable field is somewhat rocky, it may be well oftentimes to expend upon it more than that amount of land is worth to clear the obstructions from the field, just as in draining land, I have sometimes expended more in draining a small piece than the land was worth, but still I have thought the expenditure was judicious, because in so doing I removed obstructions to the culture of the whole field. But where a field is largely occupied with rocks, my own impression is that it is a waste of time and labor to attempt to remove them. I think we have in Connecticut, in almost every section, enough land that is well-nigh free from obstructions, and in a good, fair condition to cultivate, to expend one's time, fertilizers and efforts upon, and that we can expend them thereon to much better advantage than we can in attempting to clear rocky hill-sides, or swamps, perhaps. I do not know but this may be rank heresy here, but I do not believe in making any investment, ordinarily, at all events, in a strictly business point of view, without a probability that it will yield a fair return. A man may be willing to remove rocks, and make expensive improvements around his homestead, in the line of landscape gardening, for instance, for which he expects no cash return; but in farming, I do not [p.126] think we ought to expend money where it will not bring back a fair return. That is the point to consider, when we have in view the improvement of any rocky field. Now it has cost Mr. Rockwell a hundred dollars an acre to clear his field, and he seems to have had the operation performed under the most favorable circumstances, employing good machines, with men who are accustomed to handle them, and he seems satisfied with the result; but it appears doubtful, after all, whether the operation resulted in a profit. My conviction is, that it is very doubtful whether a rocky field can be cleared to a profit.

The Chairman. I will ask Mr. Rockwell what his net income is from that field. Has it paid good interest on the investment made upon it? He said that it had cost him about $100 an acre. Has he received a fair income in rent or interest on the investment?

Mr. Rockwell. I have but recently completed that work, and am only just receiving the advantages from it. I think I am receiving a benefit equal to the outlay. I should regret exceedingly to have the rocks replaced upon the ground, and have the money back in my pocket. A party told me this season that he would pay me the interest on $200 an acre for the grass on that field, and yet I think the gentleman who has last spoken is somewhat near right in his general remarks. I do not think we want to clear land " by and large," as we say, but there are on almost every farm grounds that can be suitably cleared, where the first expense is light, and if connected with laying these stone into a wall* you must bear in mind that that would pay any good thrifty farmer for clearing the ground. But there are rocky places all over Litchfield county, with which I have an acquaintance, that I would not think of even commencing to clear. I do not know of a farm- where there are not a few acres, more or less, that I think every good farmer ought to clear.

Mr. Augur, of Middlefield. It strikes me that if Mr. Rockwell were to put his land immediately into the market, situated back as it is, he might not get his pay for the improvement, but here is one important point to be looked at. We know that in Connecticut one of our heaviest taxes [p.126] is for the support of fences, and as I look at it, Mr. Rockwell has relieved himself for all future time from that tax.

At our Farmers' Club in Middlefield, last winter, we had the matter up as to the cost of supporting fences; and, taking all our farm lands together, we may safely conclude that it costs four dollars an acre to keep our fences in repair annually. At six per cent. that single point alone would add seventy-five dollars to Mr. Rockwell's land. Hereafter he will have nothing, comparatively, to do in reference to his fences. I think that point is a strong one.

Mr. Gold. In reply to Mr. Hubbard, I would say, that if we were not allowed, up in Litchfield county, to clear our rocky fields, we should have to leave. There would be no alternative, no choice.

Prof. Brewer. After all, the whole question turns just upon this. I appreciate fully what Mr. Hubbard has said about making it pay, and that question is one that is being discussed largely in New England, "Does it pay to farm in New England?" I could not help thinking, as I heard these men talking about their cant-hooks, and their various ways of getting out stone, how it would make an Illinois man snicker. I had an Illinois man call on me once who pulled a little stone, about as big as a marble, out of his pocket, and said, "that is the largest stone I ever found on my farm, and I cherish it." Now, those rich fields of the West that can be tilled in that way, are thrown in competition with ours in a great variety of ways, and I want to tell the farmers here that the whole agriculture of New England is being slowly changed, and it seems to me that it comes to just this,—Shall our hill sides be abandoned, our farming given up, to a poor and unprofitable class, or shall we go into some rather heavy expenses that western farmers do not have to go into? I verily believe, with that gentleman, that if you sit down and count the dollars and cents involved, taking into account no other consideration, the advice to a large number of our farmers would have to be that so often given by a late lamented philosopher, "Go west!" But we do not all of us want to go West. A good many of us love New [p.128] England, and there are a good many men who believe they can make money [even] if they do have to clear off the stone; and while we may not make it quite so fast, there are a good many advantages. I do not believe it is always possible to tell in one or two years whether an operation pays or not. If no one ever lost—if there was no element of uncertainty here—it would deprive us of one great stimulus to exertion. I admit that there are some farmers who lose money. There is no doubt about that. If anybody can devise, by a stroke of genius, any way by which we shall be certain to make money, it would be a good thing for some of us, those who have not farms, as well as those who have. It seems to me we want to learn how we can clear our land with the least expense, but I do not want to have it hinted that we must stop or give up, either one.

Mr. N. Hart. I have had some little experience, like Mr. Gold, and a good many farmers in Litchfield county, in clearing my land from rocks. I have, perhaps, built over one hundred rods of walls composed of the class of rocks and boulders that Mr. Gold and Mr. Rockwell have described. I have not found it as expensive in my experience as they have. There is this difference in our operations. While these gentlemen have said, " Go, boys," it has fallen to my lot to have to say, " Come, boys," and I have found it makes a great deal of difference in the expense 'of clearing rocky land.

When I commenced I had not an acre that I could mow with a mowing machine with any comfort at all. The first crop of stone had been taken off, from small stone, suitable for filling up interstices in the walls, up to stone that a single pair of oxen would draw, and lay in the bottom, and such stone as two men could handily roll to the wall. My farm was mostly fenced with stone of that size and character, and my upland was covered with boulders weighing from half a ton up to six or eight tons, with here and there rocks large enough to make a small barn. I commenced by blasting on a five-acre meadow, about one-half of which I cleared by blasting the rocks of that character, and drawing them into [p.129] the wall, making very substantial walls, that will last as long as Prof. Brewer's pine stumps. After that, our neighbor, Mr. Scovill, procured a rock-puller, and I ceased blasting, using that almost altogether. The result has been the clearing of about forty acres of very good land, so that on my farm of a little over a hundred acres, I have forty acres on which I can use the mowing machine, hay-rake, and all the improved agricultural implements very readily. I have never yet taken up an acre and made a thorough job of it without leaving the first crop pay all the expenses. My idea has been to follow with as thorough cultivation as I could possibly give it, by manure and the use of fertilizers, purchased when I did not have enough made upon the farm, and raising the largest and best crops of grass I could raise, following it with corn, oats, and frequently tobacco. I can answer the question, "Does it pay?" in the affirmative, so far as my experience goes in farming. But in considering that question, in all our circumstances, there is another question comes up—Can we afford not to do it? We are driven to the use of agricultural machinery, and can we use it without clearing our land of these obstructions? The price of labor is such that we cannot employ it to any large extent. Our farmers who have a hundred and fifty acres will keep, with their boys—if they are fortunate enough to have them—a single hired man, and by supplementing their labor with improved machinery, they succeed in making money; and many of our farmers, I believe, in Litchfield county, and in other parts of the State, are receiving their ten and twelve per cent. from the Illinois farmers. I think I know numbers of them that are doing that. As far as my observation goes, I believe there is not a state in the country where a man of small means can, by industry, and using the three elements of success—capital, muscle, and brains—succeed so well as in the State of Connecticut. I believe states like Connecticut and Massachusetts equal to any state in the Union. We are close by the markets; we do not have to give four bushels of corn to get the fifth one to market.

Mr. Riggs. And don't have to burn our corn for fuel.

[p.130]Mr. Hart. Not at all. I have corresponded with gentlemen living at the West, and they say, "Sell your farm and come out here, where you can raise crops that are almost fabulous, with very little labor" I say to them, "What are your net results, after you get through ?" I believe the profits of Connecticut farming, where it is done as it may be in many instances, will exceed those of the same class of farming in Illinois.

Prof. Brewer. I guess Mr. Hart has struck the key-note, that it does not pay to clear up land and then farm it poorly afterwards. I guess he is right there.

Mr. Hubbard. If any one will take a journey with his private conveyance, avoiding manufacturing villages and trading centres, through the State, I think he will see, in my section of country, any way, plenty of abandoned homesteads and farms. The fact is, that the growth of Connecticut population and wealth is confined entirely to the manufacturing and trading centres. The strictly rural parts of the state are going back in their population, in wealth, and in value, and there are plenty of abandoned homesteads, which settles the question, so far as the farming population of those places are concerned, at all events, that agriculture in the rough, hilly, rural portions of Connecticut, is not profitable.

Mr. Hart. There is another element comes into that. When a man begins to stoop a little from digging these rocks, and has laid by a little surplus, he begins to feel that it is uphill business to undertake to farm it in his old age, with hired help, and consequently, he looks about for a purchaser, with the intention of moving to some village or town. He is not going to stay back among the hills in his old age,-and try to farm it with hired help. His boys want to see something of the world. Nine out of ten of our young men want to get into the villages, where there is a good deal of excitement, and where they find "Young America" exemplified. I have known many instances of that character. The old homesteads, in a great many instances, I regret to say, are being sold to foreigners, who can advance a little money, and give a mortgage for the rest, and eventually pay the balance [p.131] from the proceeds of the farm, which shows conclusively that Connecticut fanning can be made to pay, even on such land.

Mr. Hoyt, of New Canaan. I have always been taught to keep still; that boys should be seen rather than heard, but with your permission, and the indulgence of the audience, I will briefly give my experience in rock clearing.

It happened to be my fortune to be reared upon a farm filled with stone, like most of the farmers in Connecticut. I do not know that all in the audience are familiar with Fairfield county, but those who are, know it to be a very rugged part of the state. Our farm was-covered, not with ledges, but with stones, all the way from cobble-stones to rocks of such size as, to need blasting. The farm that we owned thirty years ago was filled with these stones, so that it was almost impossible to plough it with any comfort. I recollect when 1 was about fourteen or sixteen years old, ploughing those fields, and fretting, and almost swearing, and making up my mind that I would leave this country, and go where I could work with some pleasure, but since that time, we have commenced improving the farm. We had a field, which, in 1848, did not produce grass enough to pay for cutting. We went into that field with our Irishmen, dug round the rocks, (we used no machines, for we thought from what experience we had had that in rock pulling, as in some other things, the old way is the best), we dug around the stones, hitched in our chain, and pulled them out; and after these stones were on the surface, it was almost impossible to get around the field with a team and draw them off. We commenced on one side and hauled them into the fence, and cleared as we went along. Then we filled up the holes, digging the dirt out of the larger holes in order to use it to cover up the small stone which we picked up, and put in the bottom of the holes, within eighteen inches of the surface. In that way we got rid of a large quantity of small stone. After the field was cleared and the holes filled up in this way, it was manured in the spring and ploughed, and where we had never got enough to pay for cultivation, we got about eighty bushels of corn to the acre. Since that time it has been a hay-producing field, yielding two tons of hay to [p.132] the acre, the first crop, and a large crop of rowen. We have gone on from that time clearing our farm, which consists of about two hundred acres, woodland, swales, and cultivated fields. We have now about one hundred and forty acres of this farm cleared of these rocks, and we can go in and plough with comfort and pleasure, and we can grow our crops with profit. [25 years / 140 acres = 9.6 acres per year]

Now the question is, "Does it pay?" We are too apt to look for pay in quick returns. How are we really going to estimate whether this thing pays or not? When we clear a field of its rocks, the work is done for generations,—forever. We are to have the advantage of this cleared field for a lifetime, and if we have boys, there is some encouragement to them to stay at home. There is a pleasure in farming it on a farm where there are no stones. In extending our nursery we have found it necessary to still further improve. We found that after getting off the first crop of stone, there was another one underneath, and we have been obliged to dig out the second crop, and many times the second crop has been quite as large as the first one. Although perhaps the stone were not so large, yet there were enough more of them to make up for the difference. Our method has been to use two pair of oxen, and go through the field, ploughing as deep as we can conveniently, twelve inches, say, and every stone that the plough hits, that it is not able to take out, the men who go behind with crow-bars, dig out. We have now sixty acres on our farm that we can plough as easily as you can an Illinois prairie. As to the question whether it pays or not, we think it does, because we are not in business any where else. This is not done on any body's else money. We do it ourselves, from the profits on the farm, and if it don't pay of course we shall run in debt. We are still going on and shall go over our farm until we complete it in this way. We are well satisfied that it is profitable. We found that it certainly did not pay in its former situation, and now it does, and I do not know any better way to arrive at a conclusion than this.

Mr. Hinman. One gentleman says that our Connecticut homesteads are being abandoned. It seems that Mr. Hart [p.133] has not abandoned his, by any means, but it is growing rather better; and there are many instances of that kind. I happen to own a piece of hill-side that was abandoned fifty years ago. A gentleman bought it cheaply, and sold it to a foreigner, who said the best grass he ever cut in America, he cut on that farm. He valued it at two thousand dollars. In [the] process of time it fell into the hands of a man who took everything off of it, and allowed the pasture lands to grow up to brush. He sold it for four hundred dollars, timber and all, and the timber alone was worth three hundred dollars. I bought it for four hundred dollars, and the man said, after I had had it three years, I would give it away if I could find any body who would take it. But I have brought it up so that I cut three times the grass I did, and the pastures are worth something, that were not worth anything then. When somebody gets hold of it who does not know how to farm it, it may be abandoned again, but it will not be while I have it, if I have my health.

Mr. Hart. There is one thing to be said in relation to almost all our farmers, perhaps all of them, and that is, that they do not know what it costs to improve their farms, from the fact that they are not in the habit of keeping farm accounts. They go on in a slip-shod way. If you go by a farm that looks as though it was running down, where the bushes are growing up in the corners of the fences, and you see no fields that are under high cultivation, you may calculate that that farmer has not kept any account of what he is doing. If he kept accounts, these would show him that in the way he is farming, he is losing money, and he would go to work and cut off those bushes, and clear off the stones. I will venture the- assertion, that if any man will do that thoroughly, and keep an account of just what it cost to do it, he will find that instead of losing money, he is making money, and that will be an inducement to go into the next field and do likewise. I believe every farmer should know what all his operations cost, and be able to turn to almost every improvement that he carries on upon his farm, and tell what it cost to do it; and by closely observing, and perhaps experimenting somewhat, [p.134]he may know what the income from a particular piece of land is before he commences his improvement, and he may surely know, if he will keep accounts, what it is after these improvements, and then he can tell whether it pays or not. I know it pays, because I know just what I have done before, and just what I am doing now, to a dollar. I have talked with men who have complained of the hard work of getting a living on Connecticut farms, and have asked the question, "Do you keep any accounts? Do you know just what these operations cost?" "Oh no; I don't know about any of my crops. I sell what surplus I have, and pay my store bills, and blacksmith bills, and that is the end of it. I don't expect to do any more than that. If I get a good living, and don't run in debt much, I am satisfied. Some years, I perhaps make a little headway, and in a term of years, it comes out about even." I believe that, in a great many cases where men say they are running behindhand, if they would keep an account of their expenses, as merchants and business men do, it would turn out that they are mistaken, and if they would publish the facts, it would act as a stimulus to others to "go and do likewise."

Mr. Norris. It is very easy to say, "What a nice thing it would be to keep an account of all your expenses," but 1 find it a very hard matter. It is not an easy matter to weigh or measure our crops. The nearest place where I can weigh my hay is four miles from home. Farmers very seldom put hay scales on their farms. I have tried very hard to keep accounts, but I could never balance my books! (Laughter.) I would like to see any farm books that could be balanced.

Mr. Day. Do you feel that you have grown any poorer, even if you could not balance your books?

Mr. Norris. I wouldn't like to say. (Laughter.)

Mr. Hart. Do you think you have done any worse by keeping them, even as you have? Don't you think you have been doing a great deal better?

Mr. Norris. I go upon the plan of the man you mentioned who sold what he could not eat, and paid his store bills and blacksmith bills, and let it go. (Laughter.)

[p.135] Mr. Beard. I want to turn the current of this discussion to the other matters mentioned in the programme. I think rocks have had their share of attention. If anybody knows how to improve barren, sandy land, I would like to be instructed a little on that point. I possess more of that kind of land than I do of rocky land, and if any man can tell me how to improve that land and make it bring me good returns, he will receive my attention.

Mr. Hinman. When I first began to farm, I wanted to know whether there was anything in my land or not, and I kept an account of all the labor I put on a field, all the seed I used, and all the manure I put on to it; and when the field came into bearing I formed an estimate of the amount of returns I was receiving, and I made up my mind that it did pay to clear up my waste land, and follow it up. I clear it up now without keeping accounts, because I consider that I have proved by my farm accounts that there is money in it.

Mr. Day. The question whether anything is to be made by farming on lands that have been cleared of their rocks does not seem to have come down to the subsoil. Let a man go on to a farm and clear it of rocks, and generally improve it, and he might reckon the expense of cultivating a piece of land before it was cleared of rocks, and after, and the increased value of the crop. Take the matter of mowing that land. A man with a scythe, in the old-fashioned way, will ordinarily mow two acres in a day.

Mr. Gold. Not in these days.

Mr. Day. Perhaps not, under the eight hour system, but it was usually supposed that a man would mow two acres of ordinary grass per day. Allowing the cost of that to be $3.50, a man can go on with his mowing machine and two horses, and cut perhaps eight acres. Let us see what an item of saving there is in merely mowing the land with a mowing machine, over and above the old hand scythe. I have not heard that matter alluded to by any gentleman who has spoken in relation to this point of saving money. There is a very material item in the account. Then let us look at these farms and see what their condition was before they were [p.136] reclaimed and cleared of those rocks, and let us see the farmer, with his wife and children well clothed, well fed and cared for, supporting schools, &c; let us take all these things in the aggregate, and see whether there has not been some money, in some way or other, wrung out of mother earth. It is indisputable that there must have been a very large income. The farm is growing better, the farmer is growing a little more wealthy, and he has his support out of the farm besides. So that, it seems to me, the result shows that there is money to be made in farming, and that there is money to be made in thorough farming, and in clearing our fields of stones.

Mr. Norms. The gentleman says there is money to be made in farming. I think I can tell you how it is made by farming. I was in our bank one day, when we had but one here, and we were discussing farming, and one of my neighbors happened to go by with a load of wood and some turnips. The President of the bank said, " Norris, there is one of your neighbors who makes money by farming; he sell everything he can, and eats what he can't sell; and those are the only men who make money at farming." That is about the way that men get rich by farming. The man who lives generously on his farm, and supports his family in a generous, genteel, way, makes money enough out of his farm, perhaps, to support his family; but the way a man gets rich by farming is by eating what he cannot sell. And if I have got to get rich in that way, I would rather die poor. (Applause).

Mr. Gold. Before we leave this subject of clearing rocky land we ought to hear from the president. He has had some little experience, as well as the rest of us, in the war with. rocks.

The Chairman. I supposed that the place assigned to me would relieve the audience from being bored with any remarks that I might make.

My farm is situated in a manufacturing neighborhood, lying on both sides of the stream, and much of it rocky, stony ground. Perhaps I ought to say that I am in the poorest section of our State, if not of New England. Situated in this way, I was induced, as Mr. Rockwell was, to try to [p.137] improve my land, to make it more comfortable to get round a place where I had got to remain. So I bought a piece of interval, or meadow, lying upon the river side, and covered with brush. I call it a meadow, but I find that in different sections of the State people understand by "a meadow" very different things. In our section, when we talk about meadows, we mean land that is overflowed, not that land which can be cultivated. I find that when some other farmers talk about meadows they mean their best lands, that they can mow and cultivate with the greatest ease. A great portion of this meadow was overflowed by springs, so that it was not accessible by teams on any part of it, except as we approached the bank of the river. My first object was to get a ditch next to the bank, or high land. That ditch was somewhat larger than has been talked of here. I began to ditch at first about three feet, but I found that was quite insufficient, so that at the lower part of the ditch I dug from six to eight feet deep. I laid this ditch with stone at the bottom (and that had to be done at a time when the river was low), covered it with flat stones, and then filled the ditch to the surface with stone, upon either side of the meadow.

Perhaps the question will be asked, what it cost me? That would be a little difficult for me to say, as well as Mr. Norris. I cannot say. But all the material from the ditches was carried to the yards, and I really called the ditching nothing, because I deposited the stone more easily there than I could elsewhere. I have now about thirty acres lying upon this river, which produces perhaps two tons to the acre upon an average, and some of it three tons to the acre. When I commenced upon this, I believe I had one cow and a horse, and in a year I had succeeded so as to keep two cows and a horse, so that I believe this method of farming has been a' matter that has paid. I am now keeping upon this same land from forty-five to fifty head of cattle. (Applause).

Mr. Beard. From some remarks made by Dr. Riggs this afternoon, I judge that he has had some experience in regard to improving sandy land. I should be glad to hear from him if he can give us any information.

[p.138] Dr. Ricgs. I have had no experience in restoring those lands; I have merely looked into it as a matter relating to agricultural chemistry. I have come to the conclusion, however, that a great deal of this light and sandy land can be made fertile. My attention was first called to it from the crops of tobacco that were raised upon what were formerly sand blows in East Hartford. What is called Silver Lane in East Hartford now produces the best and finest leaf tobacco that is raised in the State.

Mr. Norris. That is pretty big—" the best."

Dr. Riggs. Well, as a general thing the prices will tell the character of the crop. They get better prices than we do on the west side of the river. It is nothing unusual for them to get fifty or sixty cents for their firsts, a proper ratio for their seconds, and no more for their fillers -than we do.

All sandy lands lack in one element, and that is—leaf mould Or vegetable matter; what is called by agricultural chemists geine. The absence of that in the soil will make any land barren, and where our lands here in Connecticut have been plowed and plowed, and rye raised upon them for years and years, and the crops taken off, this vegetable matter, or geine, has been so depleted that there is not enough of it in the soil to produce a crop. The way to restore all these lands is to plow in green crops, no matter whether it be rye, clover, or weeds. Put on lime, or even coal ashes, which are worth carting on any man's land, if he does not have to cart them too far. They contain carbonate of lime, sulphur, and a little potash, and they cause a chemical action to take place in the soil, the result of which is to make this light land heavier. It has been stated repeatedly by chemists that light lands are made heavier by liming, and heavy lands are made lighter. I find that coal ashes, so far as I have had experience, produce the same effect. I am satisfied that I could take the lands on the eastern side of our river, that are hardly cultivated at all, running clear up into Massachusetts, and raise in a few years good crops of tobacco upon them, simply by plowing in green crops. When a green crop is plowed into a field, the carbonic acid, by fermentation, [p.139] is let loose, and it operates upon the silex or silica of the soil, and releases the potash. There is a good deal of potash in soils, for all soils were formed originally from rocks, and mostly granite rocks, so that it is laid down by agricultural chemists that all soils are very much the same, only differing in their degree of fineness. A soil may overlie limestone, but it does not follow, the chemists tell us, that that soil will partake of the limestone; that soil may have come from the ends of the earth. This earth has had such motions, and has been undergoing such changes, that the soils which are cultivated here may have existed in some other parts of the world. But liming and plowing in green crops sets this chemical action going, and produces plant food from the silica, and the result is, that vegetation will flourish to a greater extent than it did before, and if you continue to plow in green crops for a few years, you will soon begin to get better crops of rye, or clover, or anything else you put upon the land. We cannot get lime very cheaply, yet it will pay to lime the light lands in Connecticut, and manure tells upon them. But we have been in the habit of taking all we could get off these lands. If we grew a sparse rye crop, as they do in a great many places in our State, let the land lie a few years, plow it, and get a sparse rye crop, we take it all off. Nothing is put on the soil; everything is taken off.

I did not propose to take up this matter, as I have had no experience in it, but I am now trying to make arrangements to get hold of a parcel of this land, for the purpose of carrying out some of these ideas and plans. Agricultural chemistry points to the mode of restoring these lands, and making them not only the most easily cultivatable, but making them some of the best lands.

There are many farmers in East Hartford who have improved those lands, and are getting remunerative crops, and lands that you could buy a few years ago for a mere song now bring high prices, merely for tobacco lands; and when the tobacco is off, and they lay the land down to grass, they get very large crops of herds-grass of the very best quality. There is no question that the grass, or corn, or any crop that [p.140]  you raise on that land has more of the nutritive qualities in it than the crops from muck swamps, or very low lands ; there is no question about that. Yet it will pay to drain swamp lands. Leached ashes, lime, and the common coal ashes of the cities are worth gathering and putting on your land. I do not care whether it is clay or sand. I used to think coal ashes were valueless, but I know they have an effect upon my tobacco land; I know they have an effect upon my clay lands.

Mr. Beard, of Danbury. We have, perhaps, as extensive an improvement in sandy lands in this town as you can find anywhere. I refer to our cemetery. When I came into this town that was known as "Pismire Hill "; it would not bear anything but pismires.

Several of the inhabitants of this place were looking for a spot for a burying-ground, and they bought that hill, at a very small price. There were some forty acres, I should think, at the commencement, and after that they bought what was called " Cripple Swamp," adjoining it, some seven or eight acres or more, that was overgrown with what we called " cripple bushes" in those days, about four feet high, and so thick that you could not get through. Nothing could get through but red-winged blackbirds, that would go in there and make their nests. Well, under the care of the late Mr. George Ives, that land has been so improved that you would be surprised to see how every thing that has been put on it has grown; and it has all been done, I think I am safe in saying, by hauling on muck from the cripple swamp, and spreading it there on the surface. I do not know any better illustration of this matter than you would find by looking at that land, and you would be able to judge something from that as to whether such improvements pay or not.

Mr. Yeomans, of Columbia. I believe our President has had some experience in the improvement of what I should term barren lands. I wish he would tell us how he succeeded in obtaining the luxuriant growth of young clover from a recent seeding which I saw upon a hill side upon his farm.

[p.141] The Chairman. That improvement was made by building the ditch in the lower lands. It was very convenient to take the rocks and stones from the sides of this meadow and put them in this ditch. This land is now very easy to cultivate, and it was not such an expensive operation to clear it as I should infer that Mr. Rockwell's improvement was, from his account. It was formerly covered with brush, and worthless, but it now yields from a ton to two tons of hay to the acre, and it has been productive in all crops. I have succeeded admirably with potatoes there, which, next to hay, is the crop that we sell the most of in our town.

I have another piece, adjacent to this, of about three acres, that was an eye-sore to me, and I desired to get it into pasture land. It was the poorest land in our neighborhood, and I believe I have already observed that we have the poorest land of any in the state. It was so poor that I once told a man in a better section of the state, in Windsor, that there was not a spear of English grass upon it. That land has been cleared by using, in the first place, the Belles' machine for removing the rocks, and placing them in the walls, and it has been made quite productive. I have upon it several acres of very good orchard, and the trees are growing very finely indeed. I think it would now produce a ton and a half to two tons of hay to the acre, and might be denominated a very good pasture for our section. It is the best we have in town. The experiment was not as remunerative to me as in the case to which our friend from Cornwall (Mr. Hart,) has referred. I don't think the first crop paid the expense, but I have succeeded in getting fair crops, and I have never failed to get a crop that paid. On the whole I should be very sorry to have the money back in my pocket that the improvement cost, especially if I am to remain there. At the same time I admit, in answer to Mr. Beard's inquiry, that this land would hardly sell for enough to cover the expense that was incurred.

Dr. Riggs. What mode of reclamation, aside from your drainage, did you follow on this land that was so barren ?

The Chairman. I did not drain that land; it was not necessary to drain it. It was very dry.

[p.142] Dr. Riggs. Did you not put any manure on when you got the stone off?

The Chairman. Certainly I did. I did not go outside except for fertilizers. I have done all of this improvement of the land from the resources of the farm, except that I have used, to a certain extent, fertilizers, which I felt at the time were absolutely necessary, and were remunerative. I think the Secretary has been upon this piece of ground. Some of it I have never plowed. The most productive portion is that part that lies so low that the river overflows it. That produces two tons to the acre. I think there are thirty acres which produced no hay before this thorough drainage and reclamation, that will produce as much hay as any land upon the Connecticut river, and that is saying considerable. I think I keep more stock than can be shown any where on the Connecticut river, on the same ground.

With regard to sandy lands, we consider, from our experience, that one load of swamp muck' on river sand is as good as two loads of manure. As to green crops, I am not so thoroughly posted; and I would like to ask Dr. Riggs if he considers rye, which is peculiarly adapted to sandy land, a first-rate crop to plow in. If so, we can get first-rate crops of rye with very little manure; and if rye will bring these sandy lands into fertility, we can get crops.

Dr. Riggs. I have been in the habit of plowing in rye to raise tobacco. As soon as my tobacco crop is off, I sow rye, and plow it in the next spring, and get another crop of tobacco. With clover, I cannot do that. I knew that clover was the best plant to plow in, but I did not know that rye was the next best plant until last year. Prof. Johnson was at the meeting of the Board last year, and he had the blackboard covered with figures showing the amount of green forage, compared with the root and stubble of the various grains and grasses, and I think, some roots, and I at once began to study that blackboard. I looked after my favorite plant, rye, the first thing, and I saw that rye stood next to clover, and it was a gratification to me, for I had made up my mind that it was a valuable crop to plow in. That table is now printed, in [p.143] connection with Prof. Johnson's lectures last winter, in the Report, and I consider it very valuable to the farmer, for it shows him just what the various crops are worth to plow in, and you will get a better idea about it from that table than from any thing I can say. But I believe that our light lands in the state of Connecticut can all be restored by simply plowing in green crops, so that they will become good grass land. There is no necessity for leaving any of this kind of land, that you can plow, barren, and growing Johnswort and lots of other weeds and brush. Those weeds are good, as far as they go, to restore this soil. But our plain lands, especially, can be made to produce good crops much easier than we can dig out the rocks and boulders upon our hill sides. The land containing boulders is naturally strong, because there is a good deal of leaf mould in the soil. But you can restore your plain lands, as we call them, to fertility much cheaper than hilly and rocky soils. I was satisfied of that from what I have seen and what I have investigated. Sandy land is barren, and muck swamp is not any better; but carry your sand or gravel, or common earth on to your muck swamps, after you get your water out, and you will restore that fertility; carry the geine, or leaf-mould, on to your sandy land, plow it in, and although the first year you will not see any very great advantage from it, because there is an acidity about it, and it takes a little time for nature to go through with her chemical operations, yet when those chemical changes take place you will see the effect.

…. P. 144-148 deals with sandy soils.


ConnecticutState Agricultural Society

1858 “The Farm of Seven Hoyt and Sons”Transactions of the Conn.State Agricultural Society, for the Year 1857, with the Reports of the CountySocieties for the same Year.Hartford: Press of Case, Lockwood and Co., pp. 204-211

“[p.206] Clearing rocky lands is usually carried on at the same time with the underdraining. The larger rocks are blasted, and put into heavy stone wall for fencing, making the fields of large size. The smaller ones, so many of them as are needed, are used for filling in the drains. All the stones are removed that are large enough to interfere with cultivation. The land is plowed a little deeper every time it is taken up for cultivation. The expense of clearing land in this way is of course considerable, and would be thought entirely reckless husbandry by a man accustomed to lay out only ten dollars upon an acre of soil to fit it for a crop. It costs from forty to fifty dollars an acre to do this work, and it pays much better than the old style of farming. The surface is made smooth so that a team can plow all day without hitting a fast stone. The soil is made of looser and finer texture, so that a team can plow more in a day, and the roots of plants can do their plowing with the greatest facility; there is no impervious hard pan within six inches of the surface to obstruct their range. The fine tilth which comes of draining and subsoiling, facilitates the formation of fine fibrous roots in plants and trees, so that they grow more rapidly, and sooner reach maturity. The soil is in condition to plant earlier in spring, and the frosts are kept off later in the fall. Through [p.207] the whole season it is in much better condition for vegetation. Of course, if there were no manure applied to it, the crops would be much larger than upon uncleared land.”


Rees, Abraham (ed.)

1819    The Cyclopaedia; or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature.London: Printed for Longman, et al.

Vol. 34, “Stone, In Agriculture [entry]”

“Stone, In Agriculture. It is a point not yet determined, whether stones are hurtful or beneficial to arable lands. Examples are not wanting on both sides of this question, though, in general, it seems rather to be carried for them. However, nothing can excuse leaving a stone in any ground so large as to interrupt the plough. If they are very large, they should be blown to pieces with gunpowder, and then be carried off. Some spots, very fertile in several kinds of grain, seem to consist of nothing but stones; and instances are given of fiends being rendered barren, by taking away the stones which covered them. Theophrastus accounted for this in a hot country, where it happened to the Corinthians, by saying that the stones sheltered the earth from scorching heat of the sun, and thereby preserved its moisture. The same holds true even in our colder latitude, where the heat of the sun is less apt to hurt us. And Evelyn is clearly of opinion, that husbandmen rather impoverish than improve those grounds which are almost covered with stones, especially where corn is sown, if they pick them off too minutely; because they thereby expose the land too much to the effects of heat and cold. Certain it is, that a moderate mixture of small gravel preserves the earth both warm and loose, and prevents too sudden exhalation. But it seems highly probable that there must be some farther reason, beyond what has been yet assigned, for the benefit arising from the stones.

            However, the concealed stones should be always removed from that lands that are to be kept in a state of tillage, otherwise many accidents must happen in ploughing, by the straining and breaking of the ploughs, and the destruction of other implements. And where the lands require underdraining, it may often be proper and beneficial, as well as a cheap method, to have the stones made use of, and gathered from the ground; as, by such means, two objects may be accomplished at once.

… The refuse stones, in this [screening the soil] and other ways, are purchased at one shilling the load from the farmers, for their use in repairing the roads. The round cobble stones, picked from the land, are much used in the south of Lancashire, and probably in some other places, for paving the roads.”


Knight, Edward H.

1877    Knight’s American Mechanical Dictionary.New York: Hurd & Houghton.

“[vol. III, p.2392] Stone-boat.A flat-bottomed sled for hauling [p.2393] heavy stones for short distances, as in clearing them off the surface of tillable ground. Planks are sawn from a log having a natural crook and are united by cleats and bolts. The rise in front enables the stone-boat to ride over small obstacles.”

“[vol. III, p. 2396] Stone-gath’er-er. A Machine for picking up loose surface stones in fields.

Fig. 5862 has a rectangular frame mounted on rollers near the front end of the frame. At about the center of the frame is a cross-bar, having journals which have their bearings in the side pieces of the frame. Curved teeth are secured to this cross-bar, and run upon the ground for the purpose of gathering the stones. When the teeth are loaded, they are thrown back by means of a lever, and the stones deposited upon a platform in the rear.

[p. 2397]

“Fig. 5863 has a revolving toothed cylinder and the endless apron connected with a stone-receiving box suspended from a mounted frame and provided with a hinged tail-board and hinged bottom, with fastening operated from the driver’s seat.”



1858    “Farm-Roller – Seed-Sower – Horse-Pitchfork” The Cultivator vol. VI No. X (Oct. 1858) 3rd Series p. 801

“”The machine [farm roller with optional seed-sower & plaster-sower attachments] is by far the most useful , in consideration its expense, of all the farming implements of our vicinity, performing the labor of farm-roller, timothy seed and clover seed sower, plaster-sower, and stone gatherer. … The roller has also boxes attached for carrying off stones disturbed upon meadows by horse rake, which would interfere with the mowing machine the following season.” P. 801


Cole, Samuel W.

1849    The American Fruit Book. Boston: John P. Jewett.

“Soil And Location. The apple will flourish in almost every soil and location, under good management; but the best soil is a tolerably moist, deep loam, inclining to marl or clay, with a good portion of vegetable mould. Most tillage, suitable for grass, potatoes, cabbages, and where corn will well nourish in dryseasons, is better for the apple than dryer soils. Rocky and stony lands are preferable, and all the small stones should not be removed. A hard pan forms a good bottom, but a porous subsoil is unfavorable.” P.8


Douglas, J. J.

1878 “Stone Gatherer and Clevis.” The American Agriculturist vol. 38 No. 7 (July 1878) p. 256.

“Stone Gatherer And Clevis.—J. L. Douglas, of Belleville, N. J., sends a sketch of an implement for gathering stone and mellowing the ground (see fig. 4), which is made as follows: A plank 8 inches wide at each end, and 12 inches wide in the center, and three inches thick, is cut in the shape shown. Holes 3 inches apart are bored, and teeth, made as at figure 6, are fastened therein. The plank is secured to a tongue, and strengthened with braces bolted at each end. Handles are affixed to guide the implement when in use. The whiffle trees are provided with screw eyes and rings (fig. 5) at each end, where they are protected by broad bands of iron to prevent splitting. The implement, when drawn over the ground, gathers any stones that will not pass between the teeth, and can be made to leave them in rows so as to be easily picked up for removal. The teeth are fastened in places by means of nuts in the screws at the upper ends, a washer being placed beneath each nut to protect the wood. At figure 3 is shown a clevis suitable for a plow, harrow, or stone-boat. It is provided with a swivel hook, fastened by a nut and screw.”



Loudon, J. C.

1825    An Encyclopaedia of Agriculture. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green.


Loudon, J. C.

1831    An Encyclopaedia of Agriculture. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green.


NOTE: quoted from 1831 edition. New materials not in 1825 edition denoted by “[1831- ...]”. Different section and illustrations numbers between editions. 1825 edition #’s in brackets.

“Sect. II. Rocky or Stony Surfaces.

[4163] 4516. Rocky and stony lands are common in the valleys of a hilly or mountainous country, and sometimes, as in Aberdeenshire, they cover immense tracts of flat surface.

[4164] 4517. When rocks protrude from the surface here and there in fragments of a few tons, and it is considered desirable to render the field or scene fit for aration, the only mode is to rend them asunder by gunpowder, and then carry off the fragments for walls drains, roads, or buildings; or, if they are not wanted for these or any other purpose, to bury them so deep in the ground as to be out of the reach of the plough. But where rocks rise in considerable masses of several poles in diameter, it will generally be found preferable to enclose and plant them. Clefts and crevices are found in all rocks which have been long exposed to the air and weather, and in these may be inserted young plants, or seeds, or both. Such masses being enclosed by rough stone walls, formed from the more detached fragments, or from loose stones, will grow up and be at once highly ornamental and useful as shelter. It is true they will interrupt the progress of the plough in a straight line, but not more so than the rock if left in a state of nature. When a rocky surface is not intended to be ploughed, all that is necessary is to remove as many of the solitary rocks as possible, and either enclose and plant the rest, or cover them with earth.

[4165] 4518. The stones which impede the improvement of land are either loose, thrown up when the land is trenched, or ploughed; or fixed in the earth, and not to be removed without much labor and expense.

[4166] 4519. Loose stand may often be converted into use for the purpose of forming covered drains, of constructing walls or fences, or of making and repairing the roads on the farm or in this neighborhood; and, on these accounts, are sometimes worth the trouble of collecting. They may be removed, with the least inconvenience, when the land is fallowed. Where loose stones are of a moderate size, they are sometimes found advantageous rather than detrimental, as in the stone-brash soils of Somersetshire and other districts. They prevent evaporation, and thus preserve moisture in the soil Hence the old remark, that farmers have been induced to bring back again to their corn-fields those very stones they have been induced to carry off. (Code.)

[4167] 4520. Where stones are large and fixed in the earth, if they appear above the surface, they should be removed before the ploughing of the waste commences; but where they are concealed under the surface, various modes to get rid of them have been adopted. In some parts of Yorkshire, the whole surface is gone over with sharp prongs, which, at the distance of every twelve or fourteen Inches, are thrust into the ground to the depth of about a foot, to ascertain where stones are to be met with. The spot is marked by a twig, and the stones are removed before the land is ploughed. Sometimes the plough is used without such previous examination, and the place marked where stones are encountered, that they may be taken away; and sometimes, in order to discover and remove such stones, the land is trenched by the spade (communications to the Board of Agriculture, vol. ii. p. 253.)

[4168] 4521. Stones above the surface may be avoided by the ploughman, though not without loss of ground; but stones under the surface are often not discovered till the plough is drawn against them, and perhaps broken, by which a day's work is sometimes lost. A wooden bolt, however, to unite the horse trees to the chain of the plough, may prevent mischief by giving way. Clearing the ground from stones not only prevents such mischiefs, but is attended with actual profit. When removed, they may be used for various purposes, and are often less expensive than if dug, or purchased at a quarry. The soil round a large stone is likewise, in general, the best in the field, and is bought at a low rate by the expense of taking out the stone, as the plough has thus access to all the land around it.  In stony land the plough must proceed slowly, and cannot perform half so much work as it ought to do; but, after such impediments have been removed, the field may be ploughed with the usual facility and cheapness, and in a much more perfect manner. It frequently happens, that when working stony land, more expense is incurred in one season by the breaking of ploughs, besides the injury done to the horses and harness, than would cure the evil. Gen. Rep. of Scot. vol. ii. p. 236;  Kaimes's Gent. Farmer, p. 58.)

[4169] 4522. There are various modes of getting rid of stones. They are generally of such a size as admit of their being conveyed away in carts or other vehicles calculated for the purpose. Some ingenious artificers have constructed machines for raising them, when of a large size. [1831 version - These are generally of such a size as to admit of being conveyed away in carts or other vehicles calculated for the purpose.Some ingenious artificers have constructed machines for raising them, when large] On some occasions, pits have been dug close to large stones, and the latter have been turned into the former, at such a depth as to lie out of the reach of the plough. But it is frequently necessary to reduce their size by the force of gunpowder before they can be removed. Loose stones are commonly moved by levers, and rolled on a sledge; but sometimes they are raised by a block and tackle attached to a triangle with a pair of callipers to hold the stone [fig. 540] (fig.703.) The stone may also be raised by boring a hole in it obliquely and then inserting an iron bolt with an eye [fig.540] (fig. 704.), which though loose will yet serve to raise the stone in a perpendicular direction.


[1831 edition - 4523. Richardson's machine for raising large stones (fig.705.) consists of a frame-work supporting a five fold tackle, with blocks ten inches in diameter turned by two long iron levers. A hole is made in the stone to be raised by means of the tool well known to masons as a jumper;in this hole a simple plug may be driven tightly; or a compound plug[i.e. lewis] (fig. 706.) may be introduced; or, what is simplest, the hole may be made obliquely. (Smith's Compendium of Practical Inventions.)]

[4170] 4534. The mode of bursting or rending rocks or stones by gunpowder is a simple though dangerous operation. When a perforation or hole is to be made in a rock or stone for the purpose of blasting with gunpowder, the prudent workman considers the nature of the rock, and the inclination or dip of the strata, if it is not a detached fragment, and from these determines the calibre, and the depth and direction of the bore or recipient for the gunpowder. [1831 version -When a hole is to be made in a rock for the purpose of blasting with gunpowder, the prudent workman considers the nature of the rock, and the inclination or dip of the strata, if it is not a detached fragment, and from these determines the calibre, and the depth and direction of the bore or recipient for the gunpowder.] According to circumstances, the diameter of the hole varies from half an inch to two inches and a half, the depth from a few inches to many feet, and the direction varies to all the angles from the perpendicular to the horizontal. The implements for the performance of this operation are rude, and so extremely simple and familiar as hardly to require description; and the whole operation of boring and blasting rocks is so easily performed, that, in the space of a few weeks, an intelligent labourer may become an expert quarrier. [1831 addition - A writer in the Mechanics’ Magazine has proposed to increase the effect of the gunpowder, by widening the lower extremity of the bore, and this he thinks may be effected, after the bore is made of the proper length, by introducing an instrument with a jointed extremity which would work obliquely.]

[4171] 4525. The operation of ramming frequently gives rise to accidents, but a recent improvement, that of using a wadding of loose sand, or of any earthy matter in a dry state, answers all the purposes of the firmest ramming or wadding. It has been used for upwards of ten years at Lord Elgin's extensive mining operations at Charlestown in Fifeshire, and also in removing immense bodies of rock from the Calton hill at Edinburgh, by Stevenson, an eminent engineer, whose article on the subject of blasting, in the Supplement to the Encyc. Brit., deserves the attention of such as use the process in working quarries or clearing rocky or stony grounds.

[1831 edition - 4526. Dr. Dyce of Aberdeen has communicated to Dr. Brewster's Journal an account of a cheap and effectual method of blasting granite rock, which deserves the particular attention of the owners and workers of quarries. It is beautifully scientific, and may be summed up under the three following heads: viz. 1. To ignite the gunpowder at the bottom of the charge, by means of sulphuric acid, charcoal, and sulphur, 2. To take advantage of the propelling power of gunpowder, as is done with a cannon ball, only, instead of a spherical ball, to employ one of a conical form (fig. 707.}, by which the full effect of the wedge is given in every direction at the lower part of the charge, but particularly downwards 3. And, in the last place, to add to the effect of the whole, to insure a fourth part of the depth of the bore at the bottom (b)to be free from the gunpowder; so that, when inflamation ensues, a red heat may be communicated to the air in the lower chamber, whereby it will be expanded to such a degree as to have the power of at least one hundred times the atmospheric pressure, and thereby give this additional momentum to the explosive power of the gunpowder. (Dr. Brewster’s Edin. Journ. Oct 1826. p. 343., and Gard. Mag. vol. ii. p. 467.)]

[1831 edition - 4527. The Assanese close the mouth of the hole by driving in with a mallet a stout wooden plug some inches in length, through which a touch-hole is bored. Between the powder and the lower part of the plug, an interval of several inches is left. The communication is perfected by means of a tin tube tilled with powder, and passing through the centre of the plug. (Monthly Magazine.)]



1829    The London Encyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary of Science, Art, Literature, and Practical Mechanics Compromising a Popular View of the PresentState of Knowledge. London: Printed for Thomas Tegg.

“Stone Pickers are persons employed in picking stones from off the ground. In order to prevent the loss of time in filling and emptying the baskets, and that of having recourse to the team, the use of one horse and a light cart is advised, which attending seven or eight women, hoys, and girls, may run over forty acres in about four days. It is advised by Mr. A. Young that constantly in a dry season an opportunity should be taken to stone-pick the grass and clover fields intended for mowing. In this work, no stones are, he says, however, to be taken, but such as would impede the scythe. It is often the case, he adds, that the pickers, who generally like this work, will over-pick if they are not attended to, and propose to pick fields which are not to be mown; but this is on no account to be permitted, if the stones be not much wanted. It has been often remarked, and is a known fact, that too much stone-picking has done a very sensible mischief, in many cases where picked by authority of parliament for turnpike roads. And Mr. Macro, of Suffolk, ascertained it experimentally.” P. 249


Kames, HenryHomes

1798    The Gentleman Farmer: Being an attempt to Improve Agriculture, by Subjecting it to the Test of Rational Principles. 4th edition. Edinburg: Printed for Bell & Brafute and for G.G. & J. Robinson, London.

“[Pp.58] CHAP. IV.

Preparing Land For Cropping.

I. Obstructions To Cropping.

In preparing land for cropping, the first thing that occurs to the writer and to the husbandman, is to consider the obstructions to regular plowing. The most formidable of these, are stones lying above or under the surface, which are an impediment to a plough, as rocks are to a ship. Did not custom account for it, how strange would it appear, that few proprietors or tenants in Scotland think of clearing their land of stones. Stones above the surface may be avoided by the ploughman, though not without loss of ground ; but stones under the surface are commonly not discovered till the plough be shattered to pieces, and perhaps a day's work lost. The clearing land of stones is therefore necessary to prevent mischief. And to encourage the operation, it is attended with much actual profit. Take the following particulars. The stones are useful for fences: when large they must be blown, and commonly fall into parts proper for building. And as the blowing, when gunpowder is furnished, does not exceed a halfpenny for each inch that is bored, these stones come cheaper than to [p.59] dig as many out of the quarry. In the next place, as the soil [a]round a large stone is commonly the best in the field, it is purchased at a low rate by taking out the stone. Nor is this a trifle ; for not only is the ground lost that is occupied by a large stone, but also a considerable space round it, to which the plough has not access without danger. A third advantage is greater than all the rest ; which is, that the plowing can be carried on with much expedition, when there is no apprehension of stones : in stony land, the plough must proceed so slowly, as not to perform half of its work.

To clear land of stones, is in many instances an undertaking too expensive for a tenant who has not a very long lease. As it is profitable both to him and to his landlord, it appears reasonable that the work should be divided, where the lease exceeds not nineteen years. It falls naturally upon the landlord to be at the expence of blowing the stones, and upon the tenant to carry them off the field.

It is vain to think of drawing any considerable rent, till a farm be cleared of stones. Why then do gentlemen neglect this means of improving their land? In. a lease, let it be a proviso, that the landlord or his steward be advertised of every stone that obstructs the plough. When a number of these are marked, let an artist be employed to bore and to blow; and the landlord has [p.60] done his part. I engage that he will make twenty per cent, of the money laid out in this operation.”

[p. 81] I take liberty to introduce a new instrument, which I term a cleaning harrow. It is of one entire. piece, like the first of those mentioned above, consisting of seven bulls, four feet long each, two and one fourth inches broad, two and three fourths deep. The bulls are united together by cross bars, similar to what are mentioned above. The intervals between the bulls being three and three fourth inches, the breadth of the whole harrow [p.82] is three feet five inches. In each bull are inserted eight teeth, each nine inches free below the wood, and distant from each other six inches. The weight of each tooth is a pound, or near it. The whole is firmly bound by an iron plate from corner to corner in the line of the draught. The rest as in the harrows mentioned above. The size, however, is not invariable. The cleaning harrow ought to be larger or less according as the soil is stiff or free. See the figure annexed.

To give this instrument its full effect, stones of such a size, as not to pass freely between the teeth, ought to be carried off, and clods of that size ought to be broken. The ground ought to be dry, which it is commonly in the month of May.”


Baldwin, Robert

1851 “Shade the Greatest Fertilizer” The Plough, the Loom and the Anvil v.3 no.12 (June 1851) pp.744-747 [Philadelphia, PA]

“[page 747] 4th. Other substances, such as plank or stone, which are not decomposed, impart an equal fertility. A very respectable farmer, near Winchester, found it necessary to rebuild his mill. The roof being sound, he had it removed and placed on a knoll in the adjoining field, intending to use it for sheds. Circumstances prevented this until the fall after, (about 15 months,) when he seeded the field in wheat. He was astonished to find that the land which had been covered by the roof produced much better wheat than other portions of the field which had been well manured. Another farmer, in preparing his field for a crop four years ago, picked up the loose stone and placed them in large piles in the field. Last year he cultivated the field in corn, having previously removed the stone. He says that he made three times as much corn from those spots which had been covered by the stone piles as from any other portion of the field.

How can these facts be satisfactorily explained?

Yours, respectfully, Robt. Baldwin. [Winchester]”


Marco, William

1788    “Experiments in Agriculture” Annals of Agriculture, and Other Useful Arts. Edited by Arthur Young. Vol. 10 pp.431-436. London: Printed for the Editor.

[p.433] "Having often thought that picking the stones off my turnip lands did more hurt than good, I tried an experiment last spring, by gathering up all the stones of one square rod, after the turnips were folded off, and laying them equally over another square rod by the side of it, then sowed them with bailey, and marked them out, and, at harvest time, collected them separately, as likewise another square rod by the side of them, which had only the natural quantity of stones.


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"From this single experiment the result is in. favour of the largest quantity of stones; and I verily believe it is quite wrong, after the sheep have trod out a great quantity of stones, in feeding off turnips, to have them raked up clean, which I have known some farmers do, nor can the rake be used without taking some of the tarth, or dung, with them."


Smith, Charles

1750    The Antient and PresentState of the County and City of Cork.Dublin, A. Reilly.

“[p.192] Cahirice- Cabirkegan, in the parish of Clotidrobidjthe gan. house of Horace townthend, Esq; The soil is cold; mountainous, rocky and boggy throughout this parish, and not fitted for tillage without the greatest industry, not only in manuring the land; but also in clearing it of stones, otherways it is impossible to plough it. When the stones are removed, the soil is sufficiently deep, but this requires great labour. Upon the larger rocks, they kindle turf fires, and keep them burning till the rock grows hot, after which it easily splits, and the readier, if cold water be poured on before it cools.”


Blaikie, Provost

1837    “Report on the System of Improvement Followed in the Muirs of Drumforskie and Drumquhyle …” Prize-Essays and Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. Vol. XI pp.97-121. Edinburg: William Blackwood & Sons.

“[p.109] The completion of the operation was spread over several years, for as soon as the settler had rendered his house barely habitable, he commenced trenching in his own way a small plot for a yard (garden), in which potatoes, coleworts, cabbages, and other vegetables were planted in the proper seasons, and then he continued his labours on such part of his muir as appeared least difficult in the execution. In most cases all the large stones, which three or four men could by crowbars and levers remove from the soil and lay on the surface, were taken up, the different settlers assisting each other in this operation ; but in many instances the larger stones, which required to be blasted or split with gunpowder, were allowed to remain in the first instance, and were afterwards removed as the circumstances of the crofter improved, or after he had in a rough way gone over the whole ; or on the accession of a purchaser, the stones were taken to a very short distance from the trenched ground, which was then manured and generally sown with oats the succeeding spring, and another spot selected for acting on in the same manner. In this way the different allotments exhibited a collection of irregular half improved arable patches among hillocks of stones and shreds of heath and bent; but by-and-by there was no vacant space to treat in this fashion, and then the next step was to unite two or more of these arable patches, by removing the stones into the line of the ring-fence, or of a subdivision dike, and improving the barren ground between, and so in process of time the whole became close ground, enclosed in the manner which has already been explained, thoroughly cleared of stones, and capable of producing abundant crops of turnip, potatoes, grass, and the different varieties of grain usually raised in the district.”

“[p.110-111] By a fair calculation, the expense of the first crop could not be taken at less than L.40 the Scotch, or L.32 the imperial acre, made up of the following items:—

Trenching an acre Scotch measure,                                           L. 10 0 0

Blasting the stones, 3 10 0

Clearing the ground of large stones, and gathering the

small,                                                                                        5 0 0

Allowance for drainage,                                                            0 10 0

Enclosing by regular dikes,                                                        2 0 0

Levelling holes from which large stoneshave been taken,           1 0 0

Dragharrowing to level the whole,                                             0 5 0

Ploughing to lay off in ridges,                                                     0 10 0

Harrowing,                                                                               0 5 0

Dung 50 tons, and driving at 6s.,                                               15 0 0

Putting out dung and spreading,                                     0 10 0

Ploughing in dung,                                                                     0 10 0

Lime and putting out,                                                                2 7 6

Seed oats and grass seeds,                                                       1 5 0

Harrowing in and rolling,                                                           0 7 6


L. 43 0 0

So that, if the first crop should be worth L. 8 per acre, there will be L. 35 actually laid out on the improvement of the land. Of this sum, however, not above two-fifths are expended in money, the rest is made up of the crofter's personal labour, which, although he places little account upon it, is in truth precisely as valuable, and is to be equally calculated on as if he had paid the amount to an ordinary contractor.

The foregoing calculation may, no doubt, appear high, particularly the charge for trenching, clearing of stones, and inclosing ; but when the quantity of stones on the ground is kept in view, it is really moderate in these respects. Of this some estimate may be found from the fact that on two and a half acres Scotch, or three acres imperial measure, where thestones accidentally happened to be of rather superior quality, and were required for a public building about two miles distant, payment was actually drawn for 880 loads at 1s. 3d. per load, exclusive of carriage, which amounts to L. 55 0 0

And for 72 loads of carriage-way stonesat 12s.                         L. 48 4 0

Deduct workmanship at 6s. 6d.                                      23 8 0

19 16 0


Together, L. 74 16 0

Now, although no sum bearing any proportion to this was drawn from the sales of stone, on any of the other lots, yet it arose not so much from any deficiency in the quantity, as from inferiority in the quality of the material.”


Massachusetts Board of Agriculture

1866    Abstracts of Returns of the Agricultural Societies of Massachusetts 1866. Boston, MA: Wright & Potter.

“[page 3] Statement of D. P. Keyes. In connection with the farm account which I have kept for the past two seasons, and which I now furnish for your examination, I present the following statement of my proceedings. I commenced the account proper May 1st, 1864, although I charged the farm with all paid out for labor after April 1st. I planted about four and one-half acres with corn, potatoes, beans, &c Three acres of this ground were in pasturing that had not been [page 4] ploughed for about twenty-five years. Part of it was quite rocky, and there was some brush upon it. My object in ploughing and planting it was to convert it into mowing. The other acre and a half had been mowed for twenty or more years successively, without manure. On one acre and one-half I spread fifty loads of stable manure, and ploughed under the furrow, and dunged in the hill with fifteen loads of manure from a hog-pen. The rest of the planting ground was manured lightly in the hill only. In all, I used ninety-five ox-cart loads of manure. I sowed about two acres that were planted the previous year with oats and grass seed. The drought of summer injured my crops very much, especially corn and oats. Before planting, I removed the rocks from a field of about five acres that was seeded to grass the year before, and also cleared about six acres of rock heaps where they averaged about a heap of four to six bushels of small stones to the square rod. This enabled me to mow with a machine about twenty-five acres.”


Western Historical Company

1880    The History of Waukesha County, Wisconsin.Chicago: Western Historical Company.

[Page 911]

“CHARLES WOLLMAN, farmer, Sec. 1; P. O. Tess Corners; born in Hannig, German Bohemia, April 26,1839; his parents, Franz and Barbara Wollman, came to America in 1852, and located in Muskego. Charles Wollman settled on 86 acres of his farm in 1864 ; it was covered with stumps and stone-piles, and almost without buildings; during these sixteen years, Mr. W. has built a 35x60 and a 30x36 barn, and a large and tasteful brick farmhouse, the main part of which is 28x30 and two stories high; the wing is 25x28, one and a half stories; also built a stone and brick granary and hog-house; these, with the smaller buildings, make almost a village; his farmyard is inclosed by a solid stone wall five and a half feet high ; his land, in three locations, comprises 126 acres, and is well improved. He married, June 10, 1864, Miss Charlotte Schmidt, daughter of Peter Schmidt; they have seven children—-Charles, Louisa, Emma, Frank, Eda, Tilda and Sarah, all born on the homestead made so valuable by the labor and good management of the parents. No one in WaukeshaCounty has done better work in improvements, in the same time, than has Charley Wollman ; politics, Republican.”



1879    “Work for the Season. Removing Stone from Meadows.”St. Albans Daily Messenger [VT] (Aug. 11, 1879)



            Most of our Vermont farms are more or less stony. The removal of these stones costs a great deal of labor and expense. Careful farmers generally calculate to, so far as possible, remove these obstructions to the scythe or mowing machine when seeding down the grass, but unless the work has been thoroughly done, here and there a stone will remain and in just the condition to get caught between the knives of the mower and make trouble. If any are left they will be pretty apt to be found either by the mower or horse-rake. A good time to remove these obstructions is after haying, while they are in plain sight and before the matter is forgotten. It is not always the largest stone that causes the most trouble in haying time, as they are usually in sight and can be avoided, but the small stones, lying loose, and those partially in the ground rising a few inches, just enough to catch the knives of the mower and sometimes cause a breakage or harm. Get them out now and they will not trouble next year.

            Occasionly we see stones piled in heaps in a field. It may sometimes be necessary to do this when seeding down to grass, but they should be removed as soon as possible, certainly not be allowed to remain until another year. These heaps take up considerable room and always in the way, interfering with every kind of farming operation. Get them out of the way by putting in walls, underdrains or large heaps in some corner of the field.



1881    “Removing Stone From Fields.” St. Albans Daily Messenger [VT] (Oct. 3, 1881)


“Removing Stone From Fields.

On a large portion of the farms of this state there is more or less stone. On many farms they are a serious obstruction, always in the way, no matter what is being done. To clear these fields effectually costs more in many cases than the removal of the forests at first. Where the stone are near the surface and can all be removed without constantly having a new crop every time the land is plowed, there would be some encouragement in the work, but this is not often the case. On much land the sub-soil seems to be full of them, which are continually coming to the surface by the action of the frost and our methods of cultivation. Where this is the case a great amount of work is entailed in the picking and hauling of stone previous to plowing, and after plowing and when seeding down to grass. This is hard work too, and is disliked by most men and especially the boys. But there is one compensation at least, and that is where stone abound there is generally a good soil, fit for most any kind of crop. Our farmers have had these obstructions to contend with always we may say, and as a result of their earnest endeavors to free the land of them we see miles of wall, cords put in basements of barns [foundations], wharfings, etc., and in many places are innumerable heaps small and great scattered over the fields. The last is a not altogether effectual way of disposing of them and will have to be changed sometime we think.”



1886    “Some Seasonable Suggestions.” St. Albans Daily Messenger [VT] (Aug. 12, 1886)

“Some Seasonable Suggestions.

The thrifty farmer will yearly be making such improvements on his fields as his time and means will allow. He finds this necessary for the most expeditious and economical use of the improved implements and machines he finds it best to employ. In spring this work claims his attention as he puts the crops into the ground and prepares the fields for the use of the mower and horse rake. In autumn as he makes preparation for another year’s crops his first work is generally to remove such obstructions form the fields as will be in the way of the successful operation of the plow cultivators and mowing machines.

On most of our hillside farms where stone abounds this is a work that requires a long time to accomplish. The farmer who thinks that he has been pretty thorough in this work will most generally, when he comes to mow the grass on the newly seeded fields, find that here and there some stones have been left of just the kind to be caught on the knives of the mowing machine, injuring them more than a weeks’ work would do. These stones should be removed before they are forgotten and save the trouble another year. Oftentimes the smallest stones are left on the ground with the idea that they will do no hurt, but these often get caught in the knives of the mower and sometimes cause breakages to occur. It is better to remove these also and avoid the risk of injury from them.”



1886a  “Fall Work. Clearing the Fields.” St. Albans Daily Messenger [VT] (Sept. 27, 1886)


“Fall Work.

Cleaning the Fields.

As the crops are got out of the way the fall work comes in order. Before the plowing is done all the obstructions there may be on the fields, whether of stumps, roots or stones should be removed. Of the first there are not now much remaining on our fields unless on newly cleared land or where as in some places the pin stumps have yet all been removed.

These are quite difficult and expensive to move, perhaps as much so as stone, yet after the work is once done the field is clear, while on stony land if they have been removed from the surface more will on most ground work up from below form the action of the frost and plow.

The thrifty farmer who owns the land he cultivates will not be content to work around and among the rocks and stones, if any reasonable amount of labor and expense they can be removed.

Sometimes it will cost as much as the land is worth to remove the stone, but after it has been done the satisfaction of having accomplished it and got the fields in a condition in which they can be cultivated and the crops harvested easily and cheaply will repay for the needed outlay.

The smaller stone are always in the way, but there is no trouble only the needed labor required to remove them; but with large ones often weighing many tons it is quite different. These must be broken in pieces by blasting or otherwise before they can be got out of the way.

Where a stone is not so hard but it can be drilled without much difficulty, there will not be much trouble in breaking it up by blasting, but some are so hard as to render this work impossible. Sometimes such stones can be broken by heating them very hot and then pouring water on them. Occasionally they can be got out of the way by sinking them. We have heard of one man having a field cleared of the rocks in this way at a cost of 35 cents each but it would seem that it must require pretty good digging for a man to make fair wages at this price.

It does not require much experience for a man to do good work blasting, and most farmers having time can do it to advantage to themselves and their fields. There is one difficulty in removing the stone from a field, and another in disposing of them. Until a man’s fields are properly fenced, putting them into wall has been the method of disposing of them. This accomplishing two objectives at once but when no more fences are needed, then there arises the question of what to do with the stone.

On some farms the fields are already too small for the best use of machinery made so by the building of walls to get rid of the stone – and still there are more that must be disposed of in some way. Walls are costly fences at any rate, made more so form their liability on so much of our land to fall down. If they could be built as to be reasonably permanent there would then be a good argument in favor of their construction, as a tumble-down wall makes a poor and unsightly fence.

Many farmers do not want any more walls, but if they can make those they have better and more durable that would be an advantage worth securing.

It does not cost much more to build a whole wall than what is called a half-one and more stone can be used in this way. The larger the foundation stones for a wall the better it will stand. The action of the frost is what causes so much trouble with walls on much of our land, throwing them out of shape and causing them to fall down. Probably if ditches were dug under the foundations and these filled with small stone, the wall would stand much better.

There is doubt that it would be a paying investment for farmers with moist or wetland and plenty of small stone on their field to make drains and fill with these stones. Properly constructed good drains can be made this way and the stone put to a profitable use.

Few farmers will put their stone in small heaps about the fields and if it is necessary to put then in large ones they should be located as much as possibly out of the way of the plow and mowing machine.”



1875    “Removing Boulders.” Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics [NH] (Dec. 18, 1875)

“Removing Boulders.- In answer to an inquiry for the best way to remove boulders, Mr. W. F. Baggerly, of Wayne County, NY. Writes to the Country Gentleman: “I have had some experience with boulders, and have resorted to various means to get them off from my fields. I have broken them with fire, I have dug them out an drawn them off with three teams: I have buried a great many, and on one occasion came near being buried myself. But lasterly I have employed men to break them with powder, which I think cheapest and best way to get rid of the stones too large to drawn with one team. I took over one hundred of these troublesome pest from my corn-field last spring, one of which cost $6.25 to get broken into pieces of suitable size to be drawn with one team. This monster made thirty five large boat-loads of fragments, many of which were very fin face-stones for walls. The expense of breaking stones which will make three or four boat-loads, with me, has been 37 1-2 cents. Where land is worth clearing of boulders, the stones are valuable for fencing, and should not be buried. If land is occupied with stones that they will more than fence the land, it will not pay to remove them.”


Todd, S. Edwards

1859 The Young Farmers’ Manual Detailing the Manipulations of the Farm. Albany,NY: C. Van Bentuysen

Note: Author from Lake Ridge, Tompkins County,NY

[page 57]


128. The first thing in building a stone fence, usually is, to haul the stone; and they are, usually, thrown in a long row, exactly where the [page 58] fence is to stand. This is always wrong. If stones are gathered, from year to year, and hauled to a given place, for the purpose of making a stone fence, the place where it is to stand should be staked off, and no stone should be dropped within four feet of the point where the face of the wall is to be, on both sides of it. If the wall is to be made six or eight feet wide, on the bottom, no stone should be dropped nearer than six feet, especially if they are mostly large ones. It is a great fault with most farmers, who build stone fence, to get their stones too close to the wall. It is but the work of a few moments to tumble a large stone six or eight feet; and it is far better to have a stone one foot too far away, than to have it a foot too close to obstruct the progress of workmen.

129. When a stone wall is to be erected directly on the surface of the soil, the stones may all be dropped in a long pile, where the fence is to be built; and then the workmen can commence at one end, and carry the stones back, and lay them up; and if they should not be abundant enough, without carrying them too far, in some places, they can be hauled along the side of the wall, where they are needed. But, we do not advocate the practice of erecting a stone wall on the surface of the ground, because it will not settle alike unless the soil is of a uniform quality; and as the frosts of winter will raise it, whenever it freezes beneath the foundation stones, it is very liable to freeze in freezing weather on the windward side first; and perhaps it will not freeze on the leeward side at all, under the foundation stones. When this is the case, when one side of a stone wall is lifted by the frost, and the whole of it does not go up bodily, the stones will, most of them, be displaced a little. And again, supposing that it has all been lifted bodily and evenly, when the ground comes to thaw, it is not at all likely to thaw evenly, and settle uniformly. This will displace the stones a little, and a large number of such little displacements will soon produce bulges in the wall, and as soon as a wall commences bulging, here and there a little, it is very liable to fall in a few years. In order to build a wall that will stand as long as any man will need a fence, the soil where the fence is to stand should all be thrown out, to a depth which will insure safety from settling, or from heaving by frost. In some localities the necessary depth will be only four inches, while in other places, perhaps in the same field, a depth of from eight to fourteen inches will be necessary. The foundation stones should be well laid, and chocked up all round. If a large stone, for instance, has but one flat, or smooth side, and has more the appearance of half of a globe than anything else, it is best to dig a hollow in the hard ground, which will correspond well with the round side of it, and place it with the smooth or flat side up.”

[Page 64]


146. In addition to a good crowbar or two, and handspikes, a good canthook, represented by figure 59, is a very useful and convenient implement for handling holders, which two or three men could not handle with crowbars without much difficulty. But with a good canthook one man can roll along a bolder of six or eight hundred pounds with ease, and by using a couple of plank he will be able to load such a stone on a sleigh or stoneboat, in a very few minutes.

147. The handle of the canthook is, almost always, made too large and clumsey. It should be about six feet in length, and of a uniform taper, from the mortise, where the hook enters it, to the end, which end need not be [Page 65] larger than the end of a fork handle. The other end may be tapered off, as shown in the cut. At the mortise it should be about two by three inches square, or even smaller, if the timber be of the best quality, otherwise it must be larger. The hook should be made of the best iron, about inch and a half wide and three-eighths of an inch thick, with half inch holes every two inches, and from twenty to thirty inches long, according to the size of stone, or logs to be rolled with it. At the hook end it must be made much heavier and stronger than the other part of it. The curvature of the hook is a very important feature of it. If it is curved but little it will hook on a large stone or log, very readily, and will not hook on a small one. But, if the curvature of it will admit of its hooking to a small stone, it will, usually, hook on a larger one, except it is very large. The bolt which holds the hook should work easily, in and out, and be fastened with a leather key.

148. The grapple hook, figure 60, is used for hooking on to large stone with a team, in rolling them over and over, or in lifting one end of a stone, so that a chain can be passed around it, when one end of it is in the ground. It is very convenient in a quarry, for hitching a team to a corner of a large stone, when it is desirable to slide it a little. With three or four such hooks, a stone may be slung up, when it would be very inconvenient getting a chain round it.

149. The grapple hook should be made of about the same curvature of the iron part of the canthook (fig. 59), with a link and ring in one end, as shown in the figure 60, for the purpose of hitching a chain to when in use. It should be made from eighteen to twenty-four inches long, of the best iron, with the point of the hook laid with steel. The hook should be large enough to retain its shape, without bending, even when two teams may be hitched to it. At the hook end, where it is exposed to the greatest strain, it should be about three-fourths of an inch thick and two inches wide. The other parts need not be half as heavy as this.

150. Figure 61 shows a portion of a platform to a wagon or sleigh, with a windlass attached to the hind end, for the purpose of loading stone, which would weigh from one hundred to three or four hundred pounds. One man can roll a stone which three or four men cannot lift on the wagon, and by having a windlass on the hind end of the wagon, one man can raise a large stone on the wagon in one minute, with ease. In loading a stone, the fore end of the platform should be fastened down, so that it cannot tip up, without raising the forward wheels of the wagon. Hitch the chain around the stone and raise it as high as the top of the [page 66] platform, and then let a board be slid under the stone, with the two ends resting on the sills of the platform. The stone can then be rolled forward on the platform and another raised in the same manner.

151. The windlass should be about three inches in diameter, of good timber, and about thirty inches above the sills of the platform. The sticks for turning the windlass should be, at least, four feet in length, and if the timber be very tough, one inch in diameter is large enough for ordinary purposes. The ends of the sills should extend beyond the cross piece about eighteen inches, as shown by the figure. A small chain is best although a rope would subserve a good purpose for winding up on the windlass.

152. For loading stone on a wagon, which will weigh from four hundred pounds to a ton or more, a set of sheers and tackles (figure 62) is about as convenient and efficient as any thing in the line of cheap implements, which can be made use of. Almost every farmer often sees the need of such an apparatus, for many purposes, besides loading stone. It hardly needs a description, but to aid the beginner we will give the chief dimensions. The sheers should be not less than sixteen feet in length, of light timber, and should be larger in the middle of the sticks than at the ends, to keep them from bending. The single sheer, or the one to which a windlass is attached, for winding up the slack rope, should be in the middle of a size equivalent to a scantling three by four inches square. The other two sheers may be two and a half by three inches in the middle, and tapering to each end to two inches square, in order to render them as light as possible. At the upper end of the single sheer, an iron rod about seven-eighths of an inch in diameter, and twenty inches long, should be fastened by passing through it, for holding the other two sheers, which should have an inch and a quarter hole in their upper ends, for receiving the ends of this rod in the single sheer. The tackles may be made by almost any mechanic, with cast iron sheers. A rope, an inch in diameter, is large enough to hold one and a half tons, when the rope is three double, or three sheeves in the upper block of pullies.

153. Such an apparatus is very convenient in hoisting large stone on to any part of a stone wall, and especially in placing large stone on the top of a wall. It may be used also very advantageously in loading logs and timber, and such like, on a wagon. In extensive quarries a crane will be found to be more efficient and convenient than almost any other apparatus for hoisting the stone from their bed on a wagon or other vehicle. As cranes may be seen in every locality where stone quarries abound, we do not think [page 66] it advisable to give in this place a cut and description of one. When the farmer has a quarry of any kind of stone, if he has not in his employ a man who has a good share of practical experience in quarrying stone, he will find it very much to his interest and convenience to visit some extensive quarry, and spend a day or so in witnessing the manipulations of the workmen, and in making inquiries of the foreman and proprietor in relation to the business, and in examining the tools used in quarrying. A day or two spent in this manner may be worth hundreds of dollars to an individual, in enabling him to start in his operations in the most efficient manner. Scores of men have been in the possession of excellent quarries, but who, for the want of getting started right in the quarry, and not knowing exactly what they really needed, have blundered along at a very great useless expense and inconvenience for a long time, or many times have entirely abandoned the operation as a non-paying business, when a day or two spent in examining the machinery, &c, of an extensive quarry would have enabled them to start right and progress with all desirable rapidity and efficiency.


154. Many kinds of stone may be broken very readily and very expeditiously with fire. Large bo[u]lders, when a fire is built on them, will in a short time separate into small pieces, and many times these pieces will have straight edges and smooth and true faces, and may be used in a foundation for a building, or in stone fence, with no little economy. When a large bolder is mostly below the surface of the ground, let the earth be thrown away from it all around as low as the middle of it, and then pile on a lot of old rails or pieces of stumps, or even good wood, and it will soon crack into pieces, so that they may be pryed out with the crowbar. Should it not be broken clear to the bottom, apply the fire again after the broken pieces have been removed. Sometimes after the fire has been burning for a few minutes, the top of the stone will be covered with large scales of stone, which should be immediately removed in order to allow the fire to come in contact with the unbroken stone. Some kinds of stone that are taken from the quarry may be broken very square and true into almost any desired shape. In many quarries stone are often taken out ten or twenty feet in length, and from six to ten or twelve inches in thickness, and sometimes from one foot to three feet in width, with straight edges and true and smooth sides. Now in order to break them in pieces of a desirable size, let little fires be made with hard dry wood across the stone where it is desirable to break it, and in a few minutes a seam will be formed so that a crowbar will easily separate them. We have often broken large flat stone very true and straight with fire, by laying a scantling about four inches wide on the place where it is to be broken, and then shovel dirt on both sides of the scantling about an inch in depth. Take up the scantling and make a fire with short pieces of dry wood, split very fine, the whole length of the stone where it is to be broken. Small hard wood chips are the most convenient article to make a fire with in such a place. The dirt is to prevent the fire from heating the stone on each side of the line where it is [page 68] desirable to have it broken. If the fire burns uniformly entirely across the stone, it will require but ten or fifteen minutes before it will crack, when the fire should be immediately removed, lest it should injure the edges of the stone. Small thin stone may be broken very readily by heating a large bar of iron and laying it on the stone where it is to be broken.

155. Some kinds of stone will not break at all with fire, and some kinds will crumble to pieces before they will break in two parts. The beginner can soon learn, by a little observation and experience, which kinds may or may not be broken with fire.”


Flint, Charles L. (ed.)

1884    The American Farmer. Hartford,CT: Ralph H. Park & Co.

Vol.1 page 562

“Removing Fences.—We would recommend to all farmers the maintaining only of such fences on the farm as are absolutely necessary for the safety of the crops, and the confinement of the stock, and the removal of all such as are not essential. Unnecessary fences on a farm are an expensive nuisance.

In England, where hedges have been used quite extensively during the past, they have to a certain extent, during the last decade, been undergoing a process of extermination, and there are at present thousands of miles of hedges less than there were formerly. In this country, as previously stated, in those sections where needless fences have been removed, a great improvement has been effected in the general appearance of the farms, as well as the convenience of cultivation and the reduction of the expenses of the farm. In the removal of useless fences, but little labor, comparatively, will be required for those constructed of light materials, such as rails or boards. The removal of the stone-walls, however, that are found in many parts of New England, would involve much labor and expense, and in some instances it is questionable whether their removal would pay for all the expenditure of time and labor that would be required to accomplish the object. This would depend upon the locality of the wall, the improvement and convenience secured by its removal, and the use to which the stones could be appropriated, or the facility with which they might be gotten out of the way. Many of these walls have been built for a century or more, and have been kept in repair from generation to generation. They were appropriated to this use, originally, partly because the fences were considered a necessity, and partly as a means of getting rid of the stones by which the land was encumbered. What to do with the stones, in removing such fences, would be the question to be considered. The best and most practical way of disposing of them is to use them where they will be a benefit in drainage. On nearly every farm there are wet lands that require drainage, and by using these incumbrances of the land for this purpose, acres of new or virgin soil may be secured for cultivation that might otherwise be nearly worthless for agricultural purposes.

Ravines and swales may also be filled with stones, while many may be utilized for the foundation of farm buildings, and thus in one way and another they can be disposed of in a manner that will increase the value of the farm.

Mr. Starr, the former proprietor of the famous Echo Farm, settled the perplexing question of what to do with the stones in clearing his fields of them, in a manner that may be of advantage to some other farmers to imitate who have this difficulty to meet

Selecting an untillable spot in a field in which there were one or two natural mound-like hillocks, a large pile of stones was made, consisting of several hundred loads, and, as an experiment, this pile was covered with tussocks of coarse swamp-grass, which are hard of decomposition. These were inverted, covering the stones. On this foundation, a light dressing of soil was placed, and grass-seed sown.

This experiment proved a success; the grass soon grew over this artificial mound, which appeared to bear the protracted droughts even better than the natural ones, while the first showers made them conspicuously green.

From time to time these mounds have been extended and multiplied, and in all cases proved a success. The object was not to form new land, but to dispose of the stones. Whenever practicable, natural depressions may be made use of for depositing stones. By such means the surplus stones may be gotten rid of without being an encumbrance to the land, or marring its appearance, and also without being a place in which noxious weeds, briars, and shrubs will find refuge.”



Sleeper, Rev. W. T.

1860    “Dan Conner.” The Home Monthly vol.1, William M. Thayer (ed.) Boston, MA: Cyrus Stone.

Vol. 1, Page 256

(Published in Boston, story mentions State Reform School in Westboro, MA which opened in 1846)




Uncle Walter and I were passing through a field where some men were at work digging stones, preparatory to deep blowing. Some of the men had crow-bars and some had pickaxes; some had shovels and some had hoes. One man had a hammer, a drill and a powder-flask. All were busy clearing the ground for the seed-corn.

Those who carried crow-bars struck them into the ground wherever there was any likeihood of finding a stone. If a stone was hit, we heard from it. A ring was heard, and a jar felt. Then others followed with their pick-axes, spades and hoes, and the hidden rocks were laid bare. When they could not be handled without blasting, the drill and powder were used, and thus the soil was cleared of ugly rocks and hidden stones.

Then said I to uncle Walter, "You were just now in your conversation comparing a wicked heart to the uncleared and unproductive ground, and a Christian heart to the fruitful field. What is there in the human heart like these hidden stones?” “


Emery, M. G.

1855    “Improving Wasteland and Pasture.” Transactions of the Essex Agricultural Society for 1855. Newburyport: Morss, Brewster & Huse.

[Page 113]


In the opinion of the committee, the premiums offered for the improvement of pasture and waste land, stand in importance at the head of all the premiums offered by this society. The pastures in Essex county have by neglect become about one-quarter waste land, and something should be done to stimulate their owners to see to it that they do not become almost or entirely valueless. In riding over the county, it may be noticed that many pastures are gradually becoming covered with juniper, savin, birches, and other bushes and trees. It is to be regretted that a line of distinction could not be drawn between the pasture and forest; whereas now it is with difficulty that they can be distinguished. The stony parts of pasture land may advantageously be covered with a growth of pines or locusts, but lands adapted to pasturage, and appropriated for that use, should be kept free of bushes and moss. By ploughing and improving such land, we have better cows and fatter cattle; more milk, and stronger oxen.

The experiments entered for premium this year, seem to be rather in the renovating of waste land to a State of cultivation, than in the improvement of run-out pastures, so as to make them more productive and valuable for summer feed. The statements of the claimants are so full, that they tell their own story.

The committee award to Jesse Smith, of Haverhill, for improving about two acres of waste land, the 1st premium, of $15.00.

To Jonathan Berry, of Middleton, the 2d premium, of $10.00, for improving one acre or more of waste land.

The committee have also examined a piece of waste swampy land offered by James Manning, of Hamilton. They consider him a very energetic and industrious man, but were of opinion that the experiment he had undertaken, would take one more year before a premium could be given.

M. G. J. EMERY, Chairman.

JESSE SMITH'S STATEMENT. I offer for inspection and premium two acres of land, which, before I commenced working on it, was of little or no value, it being covered [page 114] with blueberry, wortleberry, lambkill and brakes, with no small quantity of stones. We commenced in September, 1849, to cut bushes, which were burned on the ground; directly after began a ditch, which we dug 190 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 3 2-3 [2/3] feet deep. This part of the lot being low, what we took from the ditch was loam and vegetable mud, and I think was worth twice the expense of throwing out. We then dug a trench 5 feet wide, where we afterwards set a wall, which I think paid the expense of piling up. We then dug the stones that could be easily removed, and filled the ditch three feet high, which took over 17 cords.

The amount of labor expended in removing stones and filling the ditch, was three days' work for two men and one yoke of oxen, amounting to $4.50 (I then hired cheap by the month). We then ploughed it; and the amount of labor expended, together with turning over turfs and digging stones, was $10.50. In May, 1850, we began digging and hauling rocks to the trench we had dug for the wall; then ploughed and harrowed it, except one-fourth of an acre which was covered with rocks, roots and water, it being a kind of basin. We then planted it with corn and potatoes, hoed the corn twice and the potatoes once. The potatoes grew finely, but in the fall were an entire failure by the rot. The corn was very good; harvested in September. We then dug a ditch south of what I called the basin, running from west to east, 150 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 3 1-2 [1/2] feet deep; also two other ditches, running north from the one last mentioned, 4 feet wide, 3 1-2 [1/2] feet deep, and 45 feet long, and one at the end of the two, which carried it through the field. We also dug one from the first to the second, uniting them all together, and making in the whole 36 rods.

The committee will see two advantages from these ditches; one to drain the land and save the loam, and the other to receive the stones. In May, 1851, we ploughed twice and harrowed it, carried on a little manure, and carried off all the loose roots and sods. We planted it with corn and potatoes, hoed twice, and had an excellent crop. In 1852, sowed it with barley and grass seed. The barley produced 30 bushels to the acre, leaving a large crop of rowen on the land.

I think the crops of corn, potatoes and barley, have well paid the expense of labor in improving the land. We have since taken off three crops [page 115] of hay, which has been estimated at five tons each year. If I reckon this hay at $12.50 per ton standing, it will leave me $187.50 profit. The land when I began on it would not pay the interest of $15 per acre, and I now have been offered $100 per acre. Haverhill, August 24, 1855.'


I present for examination one and three-fourths acres of waste land. In 1841, when I purchased my farm, this piece was covered with alders, blueberry bushes, brakes, &c, and it was entirely worthless for any purpose. It being my object to subdue it at as little expense as possible, I gave a near neighbor—on the condition that he would cut them—all he alders that were suitable for fuel, and the remainder was mowed as I had leisure. In 1848 the stones were taken out, and many of them sold for enough to pay the expense of removing them. In 1851 it was ploughed with four oxen and three men, one man using an axe to cut away the roots. The exact time of ploughing it cannot be ascertained, as it was done as I found leisure. In 1852, '58 and '54, it was cross ploughed and harrowed, the roots being piled and burned. In '54 about three-fourths of an acre was planted with potatoes, which yielded about eighty bushels. In '55 about half an acre was plan-1 ted with corn, which yielded 48 bushels of ears good corn, and 6 of green; beans were also planted in every hill, 2 bushels were received from it, which were sold for $8.94; pumpkin seeds were also dropped in the hills occasionally, which yielded 2 1-2 [1/2] cart bodies' full. The remainder was planted with carrots, which yielded 65 bushels, weight 54 lbs. per bushel; also 23 bushels of potatoes. The manure put on the three-fourths of an acre was a compost of night-soil, and soil from the road side, and 5 loads of horse manure—10 loads spread and 8 put in the holes. Twenty three loads of the same kind of manure were spread on the other acre, and it was sowed down to grass and millet; the yield of millet being from 30 to 40 cwt.; it was cut before it had done growing, as it lodged in many places; if it could have stood longer it would have yielded a much larger amount.

Middleton, Nov. 8th, 1855.”


NY State Agricultural Society

1854    Transactions of the NY State Agricultural Society. Vol.13 (1853) Albany: C. Van Benthuysen.

[pages 288-289]


The soil is various, some gravelly, some loam and some black muck with a clayey subsoil and all more or less stony; side hill sloping gradually to the east. The crops for four years previous, have been one of potatoes, two of wheat, and the last year pasture. The ground was plowed and subsoiled the 11th, 12th and 13th of May; the plow used Eagle No. 20, with two teams, and No. 2, subsoil, of Ruggles, Nourse & Mason's make; plowed from 8 to 10 inches, and subsoiled 4 or 5 more, and had a man follow the subsoil, to throw out and dig stones. The 17th of May rolled with a heavy iron roller. The lot was well manured before plowing, 25 loads per acre, and after rolling, 20 loads more per acre put on top and cultivated in the 24th of May; furrowed with a plow, both ways, about 3 feet apart, 30th and 31st of May; corn planted 31st May and first of June, with the 12 rowed Canada improved; 5 or 6 kernels in a hill and 4 or 5 allowed to stand; in 4 or 5 days the corn began to appear in sight; June 15th commenced cultivating and cultivated it both ways; 22d commenced hoeing; cultivated 2nd time both ways, 1st and 2d week in July, and hoed 2d time 2d week;  cut it up at the roots Sept'r 12, 13 and 14; bound in bundles and set 8 or 10 bundles together, and let it stand 2 or 3 weeks and hauled it off and reset in bunches, and husked it in November.

The crop of corn which I offer for a premium, is a part of a field of six acres. Most of the manure put on three acres, and the remaining three without any manure. The corn was equally sound on the whole piece, and the part manured yielding not more than 10 or 11 bushels corn more per acre than the remainder. The weather was very dry, part of the season, and the corn suffered much from the effects of the drought. The manure did not do the good, in my opinion, that it would had the season been wetter; the severest time was about earing time, which made the ears less in number and shorter, and it did not fill as well as it ought. I have charged a good deal of extra work to the crop, which was done to fit the ground for a succeeding crop. The stalks were very tall and heavy, some of them measuring 9 feet. My .expense of cultivating the crop is large; my corn costing on this piece 27 cts. per bushel of ears. After deducting all expenses of cultivating, and fourteen dollars per acre for the use of the land, there is a profit of nearly 20 dollars per acre, and, what is still better, the soil is in fine condition for two or three crops more.

Expense of raising corn crop:


Hauling manure,                                                            $6 81

Plowing, spreading manure and digging stones, 6 00

Hauling stones off the ground,                           1 50

Boiling, harrowing aud cultivating,                                  1 50

Furrowing,                                                                    1 00

Cultivating, one horse, 1st time,                                     1 25

Hoeing, 1st time,                                                           3 75

do. 2d time,                                                                  2 50

Cultivating, 2d time,                                                      1 25

Planting,                                                                       1 50

Seed 12 qr.,                                                                    25

Manure, 112 loads at 2 s                                              8 00

Interest on land,                                                          35 00

Husking, shelling and marketing, at 6 cts.,                    11 16

Cutting and binding,                                                     2 00


                                                                              $103 47”


Mann, Chas. W.

1887    “Essay on Reclaiming Rocky Pastures.” Transactions for the Year 1887 of the Essex Agricultural SocietySalem, MA: Salem Observer Book and Job Print.

Pages 133-141



We have in EssexCounty, many rough and rocky pieces of pasture and woodland that are within easy reach of markets, and when, reclaimed would become very profitable fields for cultivation. Many of these relics of the wilderness are of small area, and are often so situated in the midst of smiling fields, or upon the borders of fine farms, as to be a much greater damage to the appearance and selling value of the property than what the income of the same land when cleared would seem to justify, but they are such an eyesore as perhaps to add two or three times the cost of reclaiming to the value of their surroundings, and yet, in many cases the owners are so appalled at the apparent magnitude of the work of making these "rough places plain," that they put it off from year to year, until they finally lose the little courage that they had at first, and settle down to the idea that the works of nature had better not be disturbed too much, especially when it calls for money and hard work to accomplish the object desired.

In many places that are within three miles of some lively village or growing city, the stoneremoved from these rough pieces of pasture land can be sold and teamed for the building of house cellars, bank walls, and other similar uses, while, if the stones are large and heavy, they may be used in the building of bridges and the laying of heavy foundations for large blocks or factories, and the price is generally from seventy-five cents a perch for the poorest quality, to $1.50 for the large and heavy stone, of good shape, for building purposes, the average price in our county being probably from $1 to $1.25 a perch, for stone suitable for ordinary house cellars. A perch of stone is, exactly measured, 24 ¾ cubic feet, but is generally reckoned as 25 cubic feet, and will weigh, in squared granite, or large, solid stone, about two tons while the ordinary stone as dug from the ground and laid up, will weigh about 1 ½ tons to [page 134] the perch ; and of the latter, 1 ¼ to l ½  perch will make a fair load for a common pair of farm horses, while, if the horses are very heavy and the road not too hard, a load of two perch will not be too much, and if the distance is but two miles from the field to the cellar, four trips will be a day's work; if the distance be three miles, three trips will be sufficient, and to do this, the loading and unloading must be done quickly, and though the team need not be hurried in doing it, yet there will be no time for the driver to stop and tell stories.

There are two kinds of stone known as field stone, the round cobbles, such as are found in gravelly soil, and have no face, bed, or build to them, and are almost worthless, save for paving gutters and drives, or grading, filling trenches, and the like, and the square-faced, solid, good shaped stone,such as are to be found in a heavy, clayey soil. It is of the latter that I have written, and, although in places where ledge stoneis easily obtained, there will be encountered a strong prejudice againstfield stone, growing out of the idea that they are all like those first described, while stone from heavy soil will make as strong and substantial a wall as any ledge stone, and can often be split so as to make a good finish for exposed portions, or faced with granite for a finish, either way making the cost much less than by the use of ledge stone, which costs from $2.25 to $3 a perch; and beside this strong reason for the use of our field stone, is another, that every perch of stone taken from the field helps to improve the property, and the scenery of the vicinity of its former location, as well as to add to the ease and profit of cultivation, while the use of ledge stone only encourages the digging of an unsightly hole in the ground.

The best team to use in the clearing of rocky places, is, undoubtedly, a pair of heavy cattle, either oxen or bulls; they are slower, steadier, and stronger than an ordinary horse team, and there is less danger of loss by accident, overpulling, or straining; yet, a heavy pair of horses, [page 135] weighing from 2400 pounds to 2800 pounds will do very good work, if not too high-lived to take to it kindly, and, perhaps the average farm horse is not given to that fault, but with a pair of light horses there is altogether too much jerking and jumping, twitching and backing, to be either pleasant or profitable for the men who work with them, unless it be a very light and easy job.

Strong chains are needed in this work, and can be obtained at lowest cost, at some ship supply store, or rigging loft in Boston, where heavy, short-linked, second-hand ship chains can be bought at very low prices, and cut up and fitted with hooks and rings as may be desired.

A very serviceable stone and bush hook can be made in a short time, at an expense of seven or eight dollars, by any handy blacksmith. Take a piece of bar-iron, four feet long, three inches wide, and one-half inch thick, bend one and one-half feet at one end into a long, sharp-pointed hook, not turned under too much, and work the other end down a little, and put on a four-inch, heavy, iron ring to hitch to. Then make two similar hooks, with about half the length of beam, put one of these on each side of the one first described, and bolt them all together with two one-half inch bolts, spreading the points five or six inches from the middle one, thus making a heavy, three-pronged hook. To complete it, put on a good stout pair of swivel plough handles, and support them with iron braces from the back of the centre beam.

The best team to use on this hook is a pair of heavy cattle. Horses will do good work with it, but are generally too quick for comfort, snapping and twitching about too much, few of them having the weight required for the slow, steady pulling needed in this kind of work. Rocks as large as the team can drag off can usually be taken out of the ground without digging around them; just shove the hook down behind the rock, or under a ragged corner of it, start the team gently, and up she comes. If the first hitch does not fetch, try again. I have tipped a rock weighing [page 136] 760 pounds out of its bed, on to a drag, with this hook, though it took three pair of cattle to do it. I afterwards loaded the rock on to a wagon, and teamed it to market with two horses, having it weighed so as to know just what we had done.

I once worked steadily for two hours with a pair of 2400 pound mares and a driver, and then stood and counted eighty stones, as large, and larger, than two men could roll, besides many smaller ones, and no digging around any of them, though they were all fast when we started in. It is quick, exciting, and hard work to hold the hook pulling out large stones, and I would not advise a man to work at it more than one or two hours a day, but in that time he could dig out enough to keep the team busy dragging them off all the rest of the day. Junipers, alders, huckleberry, and all such bushes can be turned bottom up with the utmost promptness and dispatch, and it would make you laugh to see it done, it seems so quick and easy, and you wonder why you never thought of such a thing yourself.

The best time for doing this work is when the ground is wet and soft, it can be done so much easier than in a dry time when the land is dry and hard. We generally have the most time for it in early spring, just as the frost gets out, or after harvest in the fall, when the weather is cool, and we have time to leave the regular work and make some improvement in our surroundings.

I have been at work at odd times for the past three years, on a pasture as rough and stony as most any in our county, save the ledges of the coast, though fortunately very few of the stone are larger than a team can handle without blasting. Some parts of the piece, and in fact a good share of it, yielded more than 300 perch of stone to the acre, and though I have a market for them I should hardly have attempted the job without the hook that I have described, for I believe it has saved more than $100 worth of work in these three years, and is now as good as when made; the only repairing necessary being to sharpen the points  [page 137] occasionally and renew the handles when some big stone happens to roll on to them and break them.

A good drag or stone boat is also very necessary in the work of reclaiming stony ground, and, after wearing out, and pulling to pieces a number of the common wooden ones, I made up my mind to have something better, and here are directions for making it: Take two pieces of oak 3x4, and thirty inches long for end pieces, and two pieces of 2 x 3, five feet long for sides; these are to be bolted to the bottom with flat-headed, one-half inch bolts, and the heads counter-sunk. For the bottom, go to the boiler shop, in the city, and get a piece of second-hand, 1-4 inch boiler plate, 2 x 7 feet; have a foot at each end turned up in the rollers; cut out a half round notch in the middle of each end, to allow an easy chance to hitch; punch all the needed bolt holes for the side and end pieces, and four more about an inch from the edge of the ends, to fasten on some small strips of wood, to prevent the sharp edge of the iron cutting the heels of the team; bolt a ring to the end piece at both ends to draw by, and you have a double ender that is but little heavier than wood, will run as easy, better in most places, and will last for years. I made such a drag two years ago, and have pulled, perhaps, 500 perch of stone on it, some of them weighing nearly or quite four tons each, and, instead of wearing it out, as it would a wooden one, it rather seemed to do it good; it got the bottom well polished.

If I were to use this drag on snow, or down hill work, I should put a pole to it, for no matter how heavily it is loaded it will slide round like a hen on ice, and there seems to be hardly any limit to what a team can pull on it; mine cost about $8, and is one of the best investments I have ever made. Four to six good steel bars of varied sizes, will be required if doing a big job of clearing, and if many of the stone are larger than the teams can easily handle, an assortment of steel drills will be necessary, and blasting must be done; striking hammers will be needed, and a [page 138] heavy breaking hammer of sixteen pounds weight will be very useful, even on a small job, for many a shaky or brittle rock can be broken and handled much easier than while whole, and a few blows of the hammer may often save drilling. In undertaking any very extensive piece of reclaiming we shall have to call in the aid of dynamite, which seems to be the cheapest and most powerful explosive material that we can employ.

Dynamite is a mixture of nitro-glycerine with some more solid material to give body, and varies in strength from thirty-five to sixty-five per cent., according to the amount of nitro-glycerine used in the mixture. Five years ago, it cost from forty cents to sixty cents per pound, but can now be bought for twenty-four cents or less, for the thirty-five to forty per cent., which is the quality generally used, and these figures show it to be the cheapest explosive that the farmer can use. Caps cost one and one-half cents each; waterproof fuse one cent per foot, and common fuse about twenty-five cents a hundred feet. It is put up in one-half pound cartridges, from one inch to one and one-half inches in diameter, and eight or nine inches long. It is exploded by percussion, and will only burn if set on fire, making a very bright light. A heavy percussion cap is used for exploding the charge, and the cap is attached to a common fuse, care being taken to have the end of the fuse reach to the fulminate or white powder in the cap, so that the connection may be good. It can be exploded under water, and generally gives the best of satisfaction when so used, as water makes the best of tamping, only it is necessary to keep the water out of the cap, and to do this, put the cap on to the end of the fuse, open one end of the cartridge, make a hole with a small stick, insert the cap and fuse, and tie the paper lightly round the fuse; sometimes it may be well to smear the joint with wheel grease, hard soap, or something of the kind. One cap in a cartridge will explode as many cartridges as are placed near it, perhaps within a foot or two.

[page 139] Dynamite is dangerous, but less so than gun-powder, for if a charge refuses to explode, on account of a poor cap or a slip of the fuse from the cap, it is easy to run down another fuse and cap, and so explode it; but to drill out an old charge of powder is very dangerous, and should seldom be undertaken. When used in a drill hole, it is not necessary to tamp it, as with powder, but just fill the hole with water, moist sand, or even dirt that is damp enough to pack and exclude the air.

For ordinary field rocks of one or two tons weight, a one inch hole, from six to eight inches deep, under charge of one-quarter to one-half pound, will generally be all that is required to break it enough for easy removal, and if the rock is a little soft or shakey, or has a seam through it, a cartridge or two underneath will do the work without drilling, and if you have use for such stone without breaking, no matter how solid they are, they can be thrown out whole without drilling. Run a bar under the middle of the rock and close up to it so that there shall be no cushion of mud between it and the charge, put in one or more cartridges, according to the size of the rock, run in the fuse, fill in with dirt, unless it be under water, and fire it, taking care to put a good distance between yourself and the charge, as the mud and small stone will fly from one hundred to four hundred feet. Nine times out of ten the desired work will be well, quickly, and cheaply done.

Five or six years ago I was the only one in my vicinity who used dynamite, but now there are many who have found it useful in clearing mowing fields, or reclaiming rough pastures. At first I thought it necessary to drill almost every rock that I wished to remove, but I have since done a great deal of blasting with no drilling, thus saving both time and labor. One cartridge will throw out a small stump if placed under the centre and close to the wood, while larger ones will require more, though one cartridge at a time will often do better than two or three at once. I had one boulder that lay buried about level with the surface [page 140] of the ground, and mostly under water, which I removed very easily with three cartridges tied "to a stick and pushed down beside it in a hole made with a bar; it was kicked out high and dry, more than a rod from its hole, although it weighed all of three tons. Another blast of six cartridges, or three pounds, threw out three tons or more of solid rock from one corner of a very large boulder, and scattered it in pieces of all sizes, for a distance of a hundred feet or more, and throwing one piece of a ton in weight sixty feet from its hole.

Dynamite is like many other things, "A good servant, but a poor master;" it is altogether too quick tempered to be allowed to have its own way, and if you have to keep it on hand, store it away from house or barn, for, though it may be perfectly sale, if it should explode from any cause, you could probably get no insurance, even if you were left to try for it, and do not leave the caps where the children can find them to play with, as they explode with the noise of a rifle, and often do severe damage.

One of my neighbor's little children got a cap one evening and a pair of scissors, and went under the table to investigate its composition, by trying to dig out the fulminate; the result was a loud explosion, an extinguished lamp, a badly frightened family, and a burnt hand. The man of the house now keeps his explosives in an overturned barrel beside the pasture wall, and doesn't allow his children to play in that vicinity.

If there is a good market for stone removed, and the land is more stony than stumpy, the sales will about pay for cost of clearing the land, and the improvement of the property will do very well for profit, and beside, there will be the constant pleasure of owning and daily viewing a smooth and productive field where once was a rough and almost valueless bit of pasture or scrub land; and again, the annual returns from the reclaimed lot will be very acceptable.

Let the members of our grand old Essex County [page 141] Agricultural Society take hold of this work of reclaiming the odd corners of our farms with renewed vigor, using our odd time and surplus money, if we are fortunate enough to have any, in making improvements in our own surroundings and adding to our own incomes, rather than to speculate in outside matters, that the farmer had far better let alone.”


Butler, Benjamin

1833 “Profitable Cultivation, Use of Roots in Farm, etc.” [Letter to Editor December 26, 1832] New England Farmer v.11 no.27 (Jan. 16, 1833) p.209

[Page 209]

 [Benjamin Butler, Oxford, Chenango County, NY]

“If I have been more successful in my crops than my neighbors, it is owing partly to diligence, and adopting the maxim that what is done shall be well done, and also to adopting the practice of my friend Earl Stimpson, of Saratoga, of depositing my manure on the top rather than the bottom of the furrow. I begun my improvements by ploughing deep with six oxen and a strong plough. This is done as well to level the ground as to bring up the stonesbelow any future ploughing, which are carefully picked and carted off the ground, and after the land is perfectly cleaned, worked into a fine garden mould; the manure is then applied to the amount of 10 to 25 loads of 26 bushels to the load.”


Board of Trustees

1868    Twelfth Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Reform School of the State of New Hampshire. Manchester, NH: John B. Clarke, State Printer.

[Page 360]

"We cultivated some sixteen acres the last season, raising a variety of crops. The value of the crop raised, at a moderate estimate, was nearly one hundred dollars per acre. Our labors, beside the regular farm-work, have been largely directed to subduing the rough land on the Stark hill, near Union Street. About twenty acres have been cleared of bushes the last two seasons; and fourteen or fifteen acres of it are now ploughed, and are to be planted this season. A large amount of work has been done on this land, in digging and piling stones, removing roots, &c. The land is good, and will make a large addition to the income of the farm when fully brought under cultivation. Much remains to be done, but a large part of the rougher and heavier portions of the work is already accomplished.

A faced wall about fifty rods in length has been built on the east side of the river road, and substantial stone gateposts have been set; and a bridge across the brook at the north end has been built, which will give ready access to the field and hill beyond. About forty maple and elm trees have been set out, most of which are doing well. The vacancies in the arbor-vitae hedges were filled, and seemed to flourish the last summer; but the intense cold of the last winter has apparently injured the plants much. A drain has been laid from the middle of the boys' play-yard, which removes the surface-water which sometimes accumulates there ; rendering the ground dryer, and more comfortable and healthy.”


O. F. G.

1837    “Stone Walls. Manner of Constructing Them.”  Genesee Farmer v.2 no.1 (Jan.2, 1837) p.8


[page 8]




Mr.Tucker—Of all the different kinds of writings, none are to me more interesting and instructing than those of travelers. The manner in which they relate the various incidents with which they meet—the interest they take in the arts, agriculture, and curiosities of a country, indicate with great accuracy the bent of their minds Thus in the travels of Prof. Silliman, we see the philosopher, the geologist—in those of Carter, the statesman, the admirer of grand and beautiful scenery—of Prof. Humphrey, the accurate observer of men and things. While many men travel over a country without imbibing a single new idea, and can tell of nothing worthy of notice, save of the good things they may have eaten by the way; others, as a Colman or an Ulmus, will tell of the various improvements in agriculture, state of the crops, beautiful farms, orchards of rare fruit, &c. Farmers usually remark upon the quality of the soil, farm buildings, cattle, and whatsoever is new in farm implements, or admirable in the tillage or crops of the country.

During my excursions, which have extended but little farther than to mill and to meeting, my attention has been particularly directed to fences, the different materials of which they were composed, and their comparative durability. I design, agreeable to my caption, to make a short article on the different kinds of stone wall, and the manner of building them.

The best, of course, is a full height real Now England wall, hut as we have no stone for building such walls in Western Now York, it is needless to remark further upon it. Half wall, built three feet high of stone, and surmounted with posts and boards, rails or poles, is becoming quite common; but as there is so great dissimilarity in the manner of building it, it may he profitable to describe some of the different ways, and remark upon their relative advantages.

The handsomest wall I over saw was made of cobble stone, three feet high, three feet wide at bottom, one and a half at top—laid in regular courses, the largest at bottom —having strips of cedar running through the wall every few feet to act as hinders. Posts sawed six inches square at bottom, tapering to two by six at top, were inlaid once in seven feet. To these were nailed two boards six inches wide, with six inches of space between them. Wall made in this manner is very durable, except when exposed to high winds. In exposed situations, the wall is very liable to be thrown down, by the posts acting with a great purchase upon it.

Another way of making half wall, and I think more durable, is of common field stone, the thickness of which is governed somewhat by the quality of the stone—three feet high, and surmounted by a pole of black ash or cedar, sometimes laid on blocks raising them three or four inches above the stone, and at other times small stones are laid so as to nearly cover the pole. Across this pole stakes are driven once in twelve feet, and then another pole laid in such a manner as to break joints with the lower one. A fence made in this manner, if the stone are well laid, will not blow down, and I think far more durable than the former. Stakes standing out from the wall are objected to as unsightly, and perhaps they may be sometimes in the way in ploughing.

To prevent frost throwing the fence, flat stones are laid slanting so that the water may run off from them. This I think important.

Another method I have seen practiced, is to lay turf between each layer of stone. This adds to the appearance of a wall, and I think when proper turf can be obtained, tends to strengthen it, the moisture of the stone keeping the turf from decaying.

In conclusion I would remark, that the materials for making half wall are much more common than these who have never made any wall would suppose. Let a farmer who has a field which he designs to plough, draw off all the stone to one side of the field before he commences. After the field is ploughed, harrowed and sown, and before he goes on with the roller, let him go over it again with his stone boat and follow this practice for two or three years, and if he does not have atone enough to make a half wall on one side of his field, he will have at least very much improved the appearance of it.



Commissioner of Prisons

1887    Sixteenth Annual Report of the Commissioners of Prisons of Massachusetts. Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co.

[page 163]

“Three years ago the Board made a contract with John L. Mayers for the construction of six double-tenement dwelling houses for officers of the State Prison (then) at Concord. A short time before the completion of the work a member of the Board was informed, verbally, by the Hon. George Heywood of Concord that Mr. Mayers had used in the cellar walls some field stone which he (Mayers) had purchased from one of Mr. Heywood’s tenants. Upon this information the Board withheld from Mr. Mayers the last $100 due on his contract, and it has never been paid. It is conceded that Mr. Mayers bought the stone in good faith from Mr. Heywood’s tenant, who represented that he had the right to sell it. The tenant has never presented a bill to Mr. Mayersfor the stone. Mr. Mayershas vainly endeavored to obtain a bill from Mr. Heywood.The Board, in view of the possibility that if they settled with Mr. Mayers, as they desired to do, they might involve the State in a controversy with Mr. Heywood, who may have a claim against the State for the stone used in the walls of its houses, have refused to pay Mr. Mayers. The bill should be paid at once, and as we desire the decision of the Legislature as to the rights of the several parties, we bring the matter to your attention.”


Chaplin, William

1890 “Removing Obstacles” Eleventh Vermont Agricultural Reportby the State Board of Agriculture for the Years 1889-90.Montpelier: Argus and Patriot Print, pp.301-309

Note: This was done as both a presentation and a paper. Presentation appears on pages 111-113 and the paper on pages 301-309


[page 110] The next number on the programme was an address on "Obstacles in Farming," by Wm. Chapin :—

“[page 110] Why is it that Vermont, the land of the Green Mountains and Green Mountain boys, stands still and relatively falls behind her sister States in the grand race of progress that is going on throughout the whole Yankee nation? Why is it the last census shows in Vermont a gain of but ½ of one per cent. on population while New York, on our western border, gains 16 per cent., Massachusetts on the south 18 per cent., and rocky New Hampshire on the east 9 per cent.? Something is wrong. What is it, and how shall it be remedied? Let us candidly consider what our hindrances are and try to study out the remedy. The world does move, and we must keep up or be lost sight of in the procession of progression. Vermont is an agricultural State without a mile of seacoast and with little lake or river navigation. Until the rates of transportation of raw materials and manufactured products are greatly reduced Vermont can never be a manufacturing State. The same thing may be a help or a hindrance according to where it is placed. A lot of loose stones or boulders in a plowed field are obstacles to successful farming, while the same stones laid into the foundations of buildings, drains in swamps, or walls to protect the banks of brooks, serve a most useful purpose. Remove the stones as fast as possible. The smaller ones can be readily picked up, and a good dump cart is the handiest conveyance. Dispose of these in walls, low places or dump them as a monument upon larger rocks. For larger rocks than two tons' weight a pair of oxen, a drag rake, and three men, will accomplish much. Again, scattering trees in cultivated fields should be removed. Have you groves or shade trees on the rocky hills, but in the field they are an obstruction and a damage. It is better to take up a tree, roots and all, than to be bothered with the stump for years, and this can be done easier than [when] the stump can be pulled. Unnecessary fence is another obstacle to Vermont farmers. The old walls that cover land and shelter vermin should be cleared away. Then more time could be given to line and pasture fences and there would be less trouble among neighbors about straying stock. On most Vermont farms swamps, sloughs and mud holes are obstacles. Drain them properly and they will pay you well. Tile draining I know nothing about, but stone drains have done good duty on my farm for [page 111] thirty years and have never failed where properly made. No doubt tile is better and cheaper to use where stone is not handy. Another good point is to straighten and deepen the channels of crooked and sprawling brooks.”


“Now the same thing may be a hindrance or a help, according to where it is placed. A lot of loose stones or boulders in a plowed field or mowing, are a serious obstacle, while the same stones and rocks laid into foundations of buildings, drains in the swamps, or walls to protect the banks of streams would serve a useful purpose. And so we say, remove the stones as fast as you can, without neglecting your stock and crops. For the smaller ones that can be readily picked up by hand, a good dump cart is the handiest conveyance. If you do not need them for drains or filling up some gully or ravine, then select some corner where the big rocks are thickest, and build an everlasting monument to your own industry. For moving large rocks a good heavy pair of oxen with stout cable chains and a drag made of 2 ½ inch maple or birch plank is the best ordinary arrangement; with such a rig and three good men, one to drive and two to handle the pries and rollers, etc., all rocks weighing less than two or three tons ought to be got out quite easily. Above that size you will have to resort to blasting or sinking, or to some of the many patent machines for rocklifting and moving; some of these are good and powerful, but generally cost too much for the common farmer. A rock of almost any size can be sunk out of the way if you have the patience to dig deep enough beside and under it, looking out sharp for yourself when it tips in. I have tried all these methods and handled many thousand tons of rocks, and have millions yet unmoved.

Since the advent of modern machinery for sowing, planting, cultivating and harvesting our crops, cleaner and larger fields are almost a necessity. All scattering trees in the cultivated fields should be removed. Have your groves and shade trees on the rocky or steep hills, or by the road-side. There a tree may be "a thing of beauty and a joy forever, from storm a shelter and from heat a shade," but in the field it is an obstruction and a damage. You do not need trees to shade the cows in the meadows, for no cattle ought ever to be allowed to run there. It is often easier to take up a tree by the roots than to be bothered with the stump for years. A few hours' work rightly applied will dig up the largest tree, while to take up the stump of the same tree will be a much longer and harder job. Another serious obstacle and expense on Vermont farms is the vast amount of unnecessary fence; the old walls built by our forefathers out of cobble stone or stone of all sizes that came handy, might have been useful in their day, but now, sunken into the ground, warped and twisted by the frosts, spread apart to twice their original width, bordered by weeds and infested with mice, woodchucks, snakes and other vermin, they are a nuisance in many places that ought to be cleaned up and moved away. Most of the interior field and roadside fences might be dispensed with; then more time could be given to line and pasture fences and there would be less trouble among neighbors [page 304] about straying stock. This fence tax is one of the heaviest we pay, the repairs costing over $600,000 a year in Vermont.

On most farms in this State there are more or less obstacles in the way of swamps, sloughs, mud-holes or land where surplus water stands, rendering the land unfit for cultivation and often nearly worthless for a grass crop. Now these same moist lands are apt to contain the most natural fertility of any part of the farm, and only need draining to be permanently valuable. My own experience in draining has been mainly with stone, not strictly on scientific principles, perhaps, but of practical value for all that; the general plan is to dig a ditch 1 1/2feet wide by 3 ½ deep, in the direction of the greatest fall, then lay along the sides at the bottom stones about six inches square, as near as you can get them, then cover with flat stones that will reach nearly or quite across the ditch, then pack the covering closely with smaller flattish stones to prevent the dirt from working in, then level up to within a foot of the surface with any cobble stones, and fill on the dirt—such drains have been doing good service on my farm for twenty to thirty years, and hardly ever fail where the work is thoroughly done. I should be glad to tell you about tile draining, but the trouble is I do not know much about it, only from books, and would rather spend what time I have in telling things I do know from actual practice. No doubt tile is better and cheaper to use when stone are not handy. Another way in which much good land can be saved on some farms is by straightening and deepening the channels of the crooked and sprawling brooks.”


Warren, G. F.

1918    Farm Management. New York: MacMillan Co.


“[page 378] Nearly always some improvement can be made in the arrangement of fields. Such changes can be made

gradually, and the necessary work done at odd times, so that the expense will not be felt.

In Figure 84 is seen the field arrangement on a New York farm as it was when the present owner bought the place in 1902.1The farm had been rented for some time, and some of the fence lines had been allowed to grow up to brush. Between fields 6 and 10, there was a brush line about 8 feet wide, and about 65 loads of stone. There was also about 1 acre of brush in field 10. Between fields 7

1 Maps and data on this farm were furnished by C. E. Ladd.

[PAGE 379] and 12, there was a brush line about 25 feet wide and about 120 loads of stone. Between fields 11 and 12, there was an open ditch that could not be crossed; along this was the usual thicket of trees, brush, and weeds. All these lines of trees ran diagonally across the fields, so as to make short rows on both sides. In fields 6 and 10, there were 15 short rows when planted to potatoes. Between fields

1 and 2, there was a tumbled down stone wall. This also ran diagonally across the fields, so as to make short rows. When the owner fixed over his barn, the stone wall between fields 1 and 2 was sorted over and the best stones taken for foundation. The balance was hauled to the stone pile. The owner estimated that there were three good two-horse loads to the rod, or 114 loads in the 38 rods. Stones were hauled to the barn by two men and a team at the rate of about 3 loads per hour, and were hauled to the stone pile at the rate of about 2 loads per hour. To remove the entire stone wall required about 91 hours of man time and 91 hours of horse time. At 20 cents per hour for a man and 30 cents for a team, the work would have cost $32. About 23 square rods of land were added to the farm worth $60 per acre, or $9. Much of the stone was used for a useful purpose. All was hauled at odd times when there was no important work for teams and men, so that the net charge of $23 is too high. But this is a small amount to pay for changing two small fields to one large one, getting rid of short rows, and saving the work of mowing the stone line every summer.

The farmer has gradually cleared out the hedgerows at odd times, and brought this land into cultivation. In 1910, he laid a stone drain in the open ditch and filled it. He now has three good-sized and good-shaped fields where there were 7 small, irregular fields. Figure 85 shows the present condition. He plans to extend field 6 into the pasture so that it will be as long as 5, as there is some good land in the pasture. Fields 7 and 8 are still in bad shape. It will take a number of years yet before the farm is all straightened up.

This rate of development may sound slow, but this is the way to do such work. It should be done at odd times. The owner started on the farm with only money enough to make a small payment. During the ten years he has paid for the place and incidentally made these and many other improvements.”



1840    “Building Stone Wall.” New England Farmer v.18 no.30 (Jan. 29, 1840) p.254

[North BrookfieldMA]

“[page 254] There are many advantages in this course aside from the durability of the wall; you will remove from the farm a great incumbrance. On many farms there are vastly more small stones than can be worked into a wall above the surface, and to what better use can they be put than to bury them beneath? I have seen farms, where in the corners of the plough-fields there were heaps of from one to two hundred loads, at the same time all the occupants’ walls laid right upon the surface, reeling this way and that.”


Myers, W. I.

1922    “How to Plan the Farm Layout.” Cornell Extension Bulletin no.55 pp.346-380.

Pages 357-358

“Obstructions in fields

The difficulties in farming the small, irregular fields found on many farms are often further increased by obstructions of various kinds, such as swampy spots, open ditches, streams, stone piles, and trees. Not only do these obstructions waste land, but, what is usually more important, they waste labor in farming around them. Swampy spots, open ditches, and streams often divide the crop land into fields of irregular shape.


[page 359]


Breck, Joseph (ed.)

1845    “Agricultural Visits by the Editor.” New England Farmer New Series v.24 no.3 (July 16, 1845) p.19

[Page 19]

“Farm of Peter Fay Esq. of Southboro’.

…His farm is a large one, embracing 240 acres, over 200 of which is in a body, divided into two nearly equal parts by a county road. The soil is naturally strong and good: most of it was bushy and full of rocks and stone. During the last 15 years, a great portion of it has been subdued—the bushes killed and cleared of stone—the latter no trifling job, if we might judge from the numerous monumental stone heaps and walls which are to be found on the premises. We ascended one of these heaps, which measured 16 rods in circumference and 12 feet high-all composed of small stones and in various directions we noticed other deposits of the same material. The whole farm is enclosed with substantial stone walls of massive structure, some of the thick, double walls, measuring 7 feet through: in one place, the wall and the stones piled up beside it, measured a rod in width. Mr Fay seems to have devised various ways to get rid of the stones: we observed he had taken out the loam by the road-side, to a considerable depth, and filled in with small stones, thereby draining and improving the road, procuring materials for his compost heap, and getting rid of the stones.

We think Mr Fay must not only have been a very industrious man, but also a very patient and persevering one. If any one should doubt it, it is only necessary for him to point to his stone walls and stone heaps, and no further proof will be required. Originally a very rough and stony farm, a great proportion of it has been converted into beautiful, smooth and fertile fields, and a stranger would hardly believe that so great a change could have been effected in so short a space of time as it has been done by the indefatigable efforts of Mr Fay. By looking into an adjoining pasture, where the ground had been plowed, and the stones not removed, we could judge of the immense labor that had been performed. To accomplish so much, a system has been pursued. By taking hold of a piece every year in good earnest, removing the bushes, digging and carting off the surface stones, then plowing, cultivating, carrying off the stones again, and seeding down to grass. His course is, cultivation with potatoes, Indian corn and English grain three years; then pasture as many years more; tillage again ; and by this process, his pastures are always good.”


Deanne, Samuel

1790    The New-England Farmer or Georgical Dictionary: Containing an Compendious Account of the Ways and Methods in which the Most Important Art of Husbandry, in all its Various Branches, is, or may be Practised to the Greatest advantage in this Country. Worcester, MA: Isaiah Thomas.

Pages 268-269

“STONES, well known hard and brittle bodies, which abound in some lands. Those of the slaty kind, or which are flat or square cornered, are fit for building wall fences, and' should be applied to that use. And many of the pebble kind may go into walls among others of a better shape; especially if the wall is built double, as it always should be where stones are plenty. Where there are more stones than are needed, the walls may be made thicker and higher than is needful on other accounts; and lots should be made the smaller; for there are certain conveniences in having small sized lots, though they may not be thought necessary, in any other view than for disposing of the stones.

Pebbles are a greater annoyance on a farm, as they need removing, but are not very good for any kind of building. Picking them off very minutely, for common field tillage, is not needful. But the largest pebbles should be taken away.

Stones that are very large, and which cannot with ease be removed whole, may be blown to pieces with gunpowder. They will be not only more handy for removing, but far better to put into walls. For the blowing of round stones will make some square and regular faces. They will often come cheaper in this way than if they were dug out of quarries. As the soil that is occupied by a large stone is better than the rest of the field, it is purchased at an easy rate by removing the stone.

But another method of breaking rocks, which ought to be generally known, and which sometimes turns out cheaper, is this : Drill two holes in a stone, ranging with the grain, when that can be discovered by the eye. Then filling each hole with two semi cylindrical pieces of iron, drive a long steel wedge between them. The stone will thus be split open. And, commonly, very regular shaped pieces for building may be thus obtained.

Another method is, to burn an inflammable piece of dry wood, laid on the part where you wish a flat rock to open. Thus the rock is heated in a straight line, and may be made to open in that part, by a smart blow of a maul. This method often answers well when the stones are flat shaped, and not too thick.

That stones which are so large as to obstruct the operations of husbandry, ought to be removed from land in tillage, all will agree. But it has been long a disputed point, whether the smaller stones should be taken away. Some have contended that they add fertility to the soil.

That the moisture of the soil is as much greater, as the proportion of room the stones take up in the soil is undeniable ; unless the stones occasion some evaporation. But many fields need not any increase of moisture, but would rather be improved, by being made as much drier as they can be, by removing the stones from the surface.

M. Duhamel is of opinion, that no stones increase fruitfulness, unless they be lime stones, marie, or those that are of a calcareous nature. These, by rubbing against each other, &c. in the operations of tillage, do probably yield a dust that increases the richness of land.

But all stones in tillage land are so troublesome, and so much increase the labour of tillage, that, when they are not calcareous, they should be taken away, or at least so much thinned, that ploughing and hoeing may be comfortably performed, and without much injury to the tools used by the farmer. Fixed stones under the surface should be removed, or so sunk by diging under them as to put them out of the plough's way, that ploughing may be performed without danger of destroying the plough.

To know whether stones are calcareous or not, they should be tried with aqua fortis, or spirit of sea salt. For stones on which the spirit does not effervesce, can be of no advantage to the soil. By the way, I do not expect that calcareous stones will be found in many fields in this country.

Ground that is laid down for mowing must have even the small stones taken out of the way of the scythe. But, instead of picking them up, some recommend driving them down into the soil, when the ground is so soft in the spring that it can be easily done. In this case a field will not be disfigured with the heaps, nor any of the surface lost.”


Hempstead, Joshua

1901    Diary of Joshua Hempstead of New London,Connecticut. New London, CT: The New LondonCounty Historical Society.  Available online



Some farmers did plow around stumps and other obstructions like stone piles in their fields. These obstructions reduced the amount of cultivatable land, increased the risk of equipment damage, and increased the labor, time and effort necessary to plow. Mr. Oliver of Edna California offers a first hand perspective on farming around stumps:

Olive, Jas. M

1899    “Farming Among Stumps” The Agricultural Epitomist (Oct. 1899) p.4

“Farming Among Stumps.

(Written for the EPitomist. )

For six years I have farmed among stumps,and I do not agree with G. M. R., who. in a recent issue, favored leaving the stumps in the ground. If I had grubbed out all my stumps, I am satisfied that I should have had better crops. The ground that the stumps occupy is just so much waste. The breakage of tools and implements in working stumpy land is considerable of an item. The stumps on my land have been rotting for ten years, and although the tops are rotted off, under the surface is a hard piece. There is no way to tell just where the subsurface stumps are until you strike them, when you will likely break something. Another objection to stumpsis, you must go slow when working among them, and finally the team contracts the habit of such slow walking that you feel as the man who was working with a lazy team felt. He wanted to quit, and was asked his reason. "I get weary holding up my foot while waiting for the horses to step," he replied. It is possible that G. M. R.'s stumps rot more quickly than mine. Mine are oak. The best plan is to bore a hole in the stump and fill it nearly full of saltpeter. In six months you can burn up your stump, even to the smallest roots, and the ashes will make a good fertilizer.

Edna, Cal. Jas. M. Olive.”


Finding Aids

Rationale for Stone Removal


Sources: US



Obstruction to Cultivation


100, 131, 137, 141, 153, 154, 155, 156, 171

139,146, 149

Equipment Damage


102, 153, 155

133, 144 a/b

Increased Labor / Time Difficulty


102, 109, 134

104, 146

Livestock Injury



Cost-Benefit Analysis


101, 134, 137, 138, 156, 161, 162, 163

104, 146, 150

Social Expectations


107, 110

Field Type


Sources: US





100, 102, 106, 107, 109, 110, 118, 120, 131, 137, 138, 139, 154, 157

149, 150



102, 106, 119, 121, 122, 127, 131, 137, 153, 154

125, 145



106, 174



Wood Lot


Removal Technique



Sources: US



Gather from surface (hand picking)


102, 129, 137, 154

104, 125, 133, 145, 150

Digging out of ground


117, 154, 157, 162, 163, 165




101, 102, 135, 154, 162, 164, 172

104, 144



103, 144, 150 (Scotland)




103, 144, 150



101, 102, 117, 135, 137, 138, 154, 156, 157, 160, 163, 173

103, 104, 139, 144, 146, 150

Wedges, Plug & Feather




Fire Splitting Methods


156, 157, 158, 173


Time of Year (Removal)


Sources: US





129, 157, 163



101, 123, 137, 153, 155, 156

Early Winter



Dry Season



* See also Hempstead’s Diary which notes others times in addition to those listed above





Sources: US





101, 137, 140, 143, 157, 158, 163, 166, 174



101, 116, 137, 164, 172

103, 104, 125, 144, 145






123, 158, 163




Chain Dragging

Time of Year (Transportation)


Sources: US





101, 123



101, 137

Dry Season



* See also Hempstead’s Diary which notes others times in addition to those listed above


Disposal Location



Sources: US



Stone Wall


101, 102, 105, 110, 111, 124, 126, 131, 134, 137, 153, 154, 156, 157, 158, 159, 166, 170, 173

103, 104, 144, 150

Disposal Wall


106, 129



116, 137, 155, 157, 174

104, 144

Farm Road


112, 172

104, 144

Public Road


115, 131


Bridge / dam / causeway


108, 117, 135




Building Construction


135, 137, 154, 163, 167, 168, 174





Fill hole, swale, ravine


159, 168



161, 163

Stone Pile References


101, 108, 113, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 124, 126, 127, 128, 129, 131, 132, 134, 151, 152, 153, 154, 147, 158, 159, 165, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174


112, 115


104, 133

Rationale for Removing Stone Piles



Sources: US





108, 119, 128


Socially unacceptable / Social expectations


108, 120




Obstruction to Equipment


119, 153

Not Given


121, 124, 154, 171

Source Locations


Location not given

100,114, 122, 136, 140, 141


101, 107, 109, 111, 131, 151, 160, 161, 163, 167, 170, 172


102, 106, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 129,165


105, 124, 134, 157, 158, 164, 166, 169, 171


153, 154, 155, 156, 168


110, 137, 138, 174


113, 127, 130, 132

New England in general

116, 128, 142, 159, 173


123, 135, 147









Outside of US


112, 115


103, 146, 150


104, 125, 133, 129, 144, 145, 148







Copyright (c) 2005-2008, James E. Gage & Mary E. Gage. All Rights Reserved.