OK, so our friend Isaac Newton wasn't exactly talking about the Appalachian
Trail, but something much more profound . . .
I had to laugh when I
found this quote because it sums up my feelings about the AT pretty well!!
Most every culture on earth (at least where there are rocks) has a history of stacking stones to build
walls and various structures to protect themselves against predators and Mother Nature
and to define their territory. I don't know if Native Americans built many rock
structures in what is now the United States, but settlers from Europe in the
eighteenth and nineteenth century wasted no time constructing rock walls and
buildings all along the eastern part of this country.
And many of them are right next to the Appalachian Trail!
Granted, some are pretty overgrown and hard to see, but there are many fine
examples of intact and crumbling rock walls, fireplaces, and old buildings that
you can't miss. I learned about the history of some of the old settlements (such
as the Brown Mountain Creek settlement in Virginia) and
farms from the AT guides, but mostly had to just wonder about the families who
built the structures and lived there long ago.
Luckily for us, people still hand-build stone walls and other rock structures
today. The art of stacking stone is alive and well in our country, despite all
of our technology and mechanization.
I'm no landscaping professional but I've had fun building stone retaining
walls at a couple of previous homes. I just love fitting the stones together so
they not only serve their purpose but are also esthetic. It's almost as
satisfying to me as "playing in the dirt" (i.e., gardening).
Come along with me on a little tour of some of the old rock walls and other stone
(and wooden) structures I
found on the Appalachian Trail . . .
STACKED STONE FENCES
I think every state through which I ran and hiked (fourteen of 'em) had some
low rock walls in the woods that were used to define territory and/or contain
livestock in years past. Sure, there were plenty of trees to make wooden fences
but there were also plenty of ROCKS that needed to be moved so fields could be
cultivated. Why not use them to make fences?
In the intervening decades new trees have taken over abandoned fields.
Hence, there are lots of old stone fences in the middle of the woods from Georgia to
Virginia, with its many farms and one-quarter of the length of the AT, sports
many old stone fences. Some are barely discernable in the summer when the
vegetation takes over (below, on
Others are just plain attractive and close enough to touch without moving off the Trail
(Day 30, at the top of this page).
Some rock fences look almost thrown together (Day 50, below, in
while others (second below, from
Day 69 in
Pennsylvania) have more symmetry
There are numerous rock walls in New Jersey's beautiful High Point State
Park. Some still have quite elegant stacked stones, as in the next photo below.
Others have seen better days, as shown in the jumble of rocks below that. Both
photos were taken on
In most places along the AT the rocks have been removed for easier passage where the
Trail goes through old fences,
as in this photo (Day
91 again). There
were also a few times I had to climb OVER a rock fence, though.
There were also numerous low rock walls in New York's stately Harriman State Park
In New England we saw more rock fences around existing houses and fields than
along the Trail, especially in Connecticut and Vermont. They were very
OTHER KINDS OF ROCK WALLS
When some parts of the Trail were built in the 1930s the Civilian
Conservation Corps (CCC) and volunteer groups did an amazing job
constructing rock retaining walls that remain fully functional today.
This is an example of rock work done by the CCC in Shenandoah National Park
in Virginia in the late 1930s:
There are many places in the section I ran on
56 where rock walls were built at the
cliff edge to keep the Trail from eroding away. In some places the walls are
six or eight feet tall (all below the trail surface, not sticking up). Some look
very ancient with all the moss and lichens growing on them.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a good camera angle on any of the tallest
walls in the Shennies. The one above is only a couple feet tall. This one on an
old railroad bed in New York shows the rock work better (Day
ROCK RUINS OF OLD BUILDINGS
There are several interesting ruins of old buildings and settlements along
the Appalachian Trail.
One of the larger remnants is this wall of a huge barn that was on the old
Camp Michaux property between Michaux and Pine Grove Furnace State Parks in
Pennsylvania. The AT guide doesn't pinpoint when it was built, only that it
dates "from the early days." This old church camp was also used as a CCC camp in
the 1930s and held captured German submarine personnel in World War II.
this photo of the ruins on
I saw a number of free-standing fireplace remains along the AT where there
was no sign of the houses that used to be there (they were probably constructed
The first fireplace below is near the summit of Roan Mountain in
27). The second, more dilapidated one is north of Upper Goose Pond in
The finest example of an abandoned stone house is this one at
the Torreytown Road crossing in New York from
The other abandoned buildings I noticed were wooden structures,
such as this old cabin or barn in Tennessee on
25 and the old Tilson's Mill in Virginia (below that). There is another view
of the mill and the North Fork of the Holston River on
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
One more interesting example of rock work is this newer stone
bench in Pennsylvania on
Day 65, overlooking an expansive view of the farms
valley below. This was a good place to stop and contemplate all the beauty along
the Trail and the people who used to live and work there.
The bench is a nice gesture by volunteers - and there are that
many fewer rocks on the Trail!!
Next up: the large variety of fences and
stiles along the Appalachian Trail (most come with nice pastoral