Robert Frost, in one of his most beloved poems, wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” He may have had in mind the Stamford, Conn., highway crew that crushed the city’s stone walls and made roads out of them.
Leon Abdalian took this photo in 1930 of The Old Manse in Concord, Mass., where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived. but we’re sharing it to celebrate the birthday of Robert Frost. The stone wall brings to mind one of Frost’s most beloved poems, Mending Wall.
Robert Frost was born on March 26, 1874 in San Francisco, but the landscape of New England inspired him. He moved to Lawrence, Mass., at 11 years old, married his high school sweetheart and tried farming in Derry, N.H. He also taught school and wrote poetry; by the 1920s, he was one of the best known poets in America.
The critic Randall Jarrell called Frost one of the greatest twentieth-century American poets. “No other living poet has written so well about the actions of ordinary men,” wrote Jarrell. “His wonderful dramatic monologues or dramatic scenes come out of a knowledge of people that few poets have had, and they are written in a verse that uses, sometimes with absolute mastery, the rhythms of actual speech.”
Ode to Stone Walls
Frost wrote Mending Wall in 1914, considered one of his most masterful. It begins:
SOMETHING there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing: 5
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs.
The photo above shows a Stamford, Conn., road crew in the process of crushing old stone walls to make them into roads. The city bought a rock crusher in 1909 for $2,011 to save money on road building.
The Guide to Nature magazine explains the rationale.
Everywhere in New England there are plenty of stone walls but in many places there are not good roads. So, as the old-fashioned saying goes, why not let one hand wash the other; that is grind up a few of the stone walls and improve some of the roads? Far be it from us to advocate banishing all the picturesque stone walls, but there is no danger of doing that, for a few stone walls go a long way in making enduring roads.
The photo was taken sometime between 1909 and 1914. At the time of the article, Stamford road crews had built eight miles of roads. The Stamford Historical Society reports the following streets were made from stonewalls: Hope Street, from North Springdale to the Glenbrook trolley junction, and Crescent Street and Courtland Avenue, Glenbrook, Newfield Avenue, Belltown Road and Oaklawn Road.
Read the whole poem, Mending Wall, here.
This story last updated in 2022.