Masons’ Stone Pile

Law school cornerstone. Photo by William Cronon.

Look closely in the forest undergrowth along this part of the path, and you will be surprised to see a number of carefully carved rectilinear stones that clearly did not get moved here by the glacier. Although your own initial reaction might be annoyance that someone has thought it appropriate to use this beautiful natural area as a dumping ground, that would reflect a deep misunderstanding of the motives of those who put these stones here.

The masons and stoneworkers who have long labored to care for the university campus highly value the materials with which they work. Being stone, those materials last far longer than most other such human artifacts. A mason never knows when a particular bit of stone from a long-vanished building might come in handy for some future piece of repair on a similar structure. So it makes sense to put these precious stones somewhere out of sight where they won’t bother anyone, but where they’ll be easy to find if ever they might be needed again.

So this pile of stones isn’t a dump. It’s a place to store unneeded treasures, carefully chosen by those who know and love and work the gifts of the quarried earth.

Moss covered paving stones. Photo by Cathie Bruner.

That Picnic Point has so often been used for this kind of storage does not mean it has not been highly valued. In a very real sense, this land has been used in much the same way that farmers use certain corners of their land to store old equipment just in case there might someday be a need for it.

And how lovely it now is to see these piles of cut stone from old trolley lines and long-gone buildings being taken over by the mosses and the soil, working their way back into the earth from which our ancestors once quarried them to build the campus we now inhabit. They could have thrown these stones away, but they loved them too much to do so. Instead, they did the hard work of hauling them here to keep them safe in the forest–the forest that is now reclaiming them for quite different purposes.

Many of the stones have been recently incorporated into a retaining wall for the Eagle Heights Community Gardens, and the 1891 cornerstone has been returned to the Law School.