LOCAL COLOR/Casting the first stone
Hinesburg, Vt., cherishes its distinctive stones. And, in celebration of the area’s geology, the town completed a unique landscaping project last fall. With the aid of residents and skilled stonemasons, the community built a retaining wall with a vast array of stones collected from across the town, creating a meaningful and permanent downtown fixture.
Located in northwestern Vermont, Hinesburg is settled on the edge of the Green Mountain near Lake Champlain, a geographic blessing that has graced the town of 2,000 residents with a variety of stones. “Hinesburg has a very interesting geological history,” says Andrea Morgante, a landscaper who volunteered to help build the retaining wall. “We wanted to celebrate the fact that we do have these unique geological formations in town and also to get people to pay attention to where they live in town.”
Following a redesign of the town hall driveway and parking lot, Hinesburg acquired a lot adjacent to the town hall to facilitate access to the building, landscaping the area where a house once stood. To complete the project, the town needed a retaining wall. Rather than contract the project, town officials called on residents to bring rocks from yards, school playgrounds and other areas to be used to construct the wall. “It seemed like a good idea to involve anyone in the community who wanted to contribute and make it more meaningful,” says Rocky Martin, director of the Hinesburg department of buildings and facilities. “[The wall is] in a major section that’s the heart of beautiful downtown Hinesburg, so it’s very visible. And, we wanted to involve anyone who wanted to participate in donating some of their time and labor.”
Beginning in spring, town officials began a “call for rocks,” publicizing the project in local publications, at town meetings and even through casual encounters. “All summer long, I carried around pebbles in my pocket, and I would give two pebbles to people to remind them that they need to bring a big rock back to the town hall,” Morgante says. “Then they were supposed to give the pebble to somebody else, so we would spread the word little pebble by pebble.”
No stipulations were placed on the stones that could be used for the semi-circle-shaped wall, which stands 3.5 feet tall and 75 feet long. While some brought a single stone, others arrived with truckloads. Some rocks were just ordinary objects found on the ground, but others had special meanings, including a watermelon-shaped stone that a resident had kept for 25 years before donating it to the wall. Another rock is painted with a serene image of falling snow, trees and a covered bridge. Benches were built into the wall, which Morgante likens to “thrones from the Stone Age.”
In November, Hinesburg residents gathered at the wall to celebrate its completion, burying a time capsule with several items important to the community, including letters, stories from children and a photo of the house that once stood where the wall now stands. Residents feasted on potluck dinners and, of all things, stone soup, recalling the old fable in which a hungry traveler, whose sole possession is a stone, solicits a town for ingredients to create a hearty soup.
And, as the townspeople brought many ingredients to create soup in the old tale, Hinesburg residents contributed stones to create the retaining wall, which officials envision as a gathering site for town employees and community events, such as picnics, concerts and a farmer’s market. “Everybody, as individuals, has one rock or one potato for the soup, and it doesn’t make much, but when you put it all together, it’s a great stew for all of us to eat, and it’s a great wall for everybody to hang out on,” Morgante says. “We try to find the things that will bring people together in fun ways.”