Shenorock, New York — Rebuilding a dry wall, like the many in disrepair in the Pound Ridge, New York area, can be likened to working on a “big three dimensional puzzle” says Pound Ridge resident Dean Zarras. If his analogy sounds like something you wish you had said, he’s got a ball and chain waiting once the stonewall outlining your own property is restored.
The Town of Pound Ridge has given Mr. Zarras, his friend Josh Arnow and the slowly emerging chain gang they’ve organized, the green light to reconstruct the stonewall lying on the town hall grounds. And for that matter, any other public Pound Ridge dry wall they see fit to piece together over the course of the next…century.
Both Mr. Zarras and Mr. Arnow began reconstructing walls as teenagers. Mr. Zarras first scaled a three foot wall at his home in Trumball, CT, while his partner in crime got his start when his family purchased a farm in upstate in NY in 1968. “I became mesmerized by all these incredible walls,” says Mr. Arnow and wondered what it would have been like to construct one on his own. So he skipped summer and weekends for a year to complete a stone house up in the woods at the age of 18.
Family life and especially the arrival of children severely cut into his heavy lifting, but Mr. Arnow’s wife can claim primary responsibility for getting him back up on the wall. “My wife, knowing how much I love it, decided to push me back into it,” he says and being on the Pound Ridge master plan committee left him nicely positioned.
The committee’s responsibility is to help conserve the character of the town and since he says, “everyone was bemoaning the fact that many of the walls are deteriorating,” this gang’s shackles were now perfectly laced. And he hopes the emergence of this group can add links to the chain by just making dry wall building more accessible to anyone who might be interested.
Beginning at the town house, they took the damaged wall down to the dirt to reestablish the foundation and earmarked flat surfaced stones for the visible part of the wall. Once the back and front smoothly face the outside on each level, “you fill it in from the middle,” says Mr. Zarras and continue to work your way up.
The rocks climbing to a level of three or four feet usually consist of the lighter ones, as the heavier ones are saved for the base. Back pain can be avoided by replacing lifting with shimmying along the ground, although Mr. Arnow has on occasion gotten his fingers caught between the rock edges. Three foot long steel rock rods serve as a sort of manual lever when heavy lifting is necessitated.
The numerous rock walls in the area originally reached their heights a few hundred years ago. Farmers would clear their fields and pile up all the dredged up stones along their property lines. Eventually the stonewalls the farmers built served to keep in the cows.
As the farms faded, the forest found itself loaded up with rock walls. Over the years the visible ones have been vandalized usually when rocks were stripped off the tops. Without human interference these walls normally last longer than those filled with cement or mortar. Frost and thaw means a wall will move with the change of seasons, but if no cement is mixed, a dry wall will not crack. It will only settle back into place.
Mr Zarras finds this to be the most satisfying aspect of his efforts, “because if you do it right,” he says, “you end up with something that lasts hundreds of years.” But the rock walls aren’t the only things that span generations. Both have had their kids on the wall at various times as have other group members. At first the kids are preoccupied with big rocks and sledgehammers but eventually come around to the real task at hand.
Plus, breaking or chiseling rocks almost violates the challenge of building with the pieces you are dealt according to Mr. Zarras. Rock wall building means filing away the stones in your mind until “you see a hole or opportunity for a rock,” he says and “you remember, oh yeah, I got that one over there that has this side or that angle.”
This can become a problem, though, when too many people show up to build the same wall. With a big group, Mr. Zarras says, “everyone has a different opinion on what kind of rock should go where.” In the event that they get too large a turnout of the dozen or so members involved, he says, “It works best if people agree to do their own thing in one spot.”
Of course, Mr. Zarras doesn’t want to give the impression that there isn’t enough elbow room to go around for those who might be interested. “Theoretically,” he says, “we have years of work ahead of us,” and at some point, manpower permitting, visible walls on private property will be up for consideration.