An old fixed stone wall; the group aims more – Chico Enterprise-Record


CHICO – Some of the old stone walls running through Butte County appear to have aged, sagging and crumbling as you would expect from centuries-old structures.

But there is a stretch on Humboldt Road in East Chico that looks like new. Because it is.

When a PG&E contractor buried utility lines along Bruce Road in east Chico earlier this year, the project required bulldozing a space through the wall along Humboldt Road.

The wall has since been rebuilt, in fact better than it had been, an effort that was aided by the group Respect the Walls.

The group formed to try to stop the looting of rocks from the old walls for landscaping. They mapped 40 miles of rock faces in Butte County, many of which are deteriorating as more and more rock is removed.

“I don’t think it’s happening innocently, just someone grabbing a rock for their yard,” Michael Hicks said with the group. “They are stone thieves.”

The group is particularly concerned about the wall along Humboldt Road east of Bruce Road. About half are gone. But the wall, together with the visible ruts of John Bidwell’s old Humboldt Wagon route and even the rough stretch of the adjacent causeway, preserves a unique piece of transportation history through the eastern mountains.

The group would like to restore some of these walls, in the same way that the piece near Bruce Road was rebuilt.

When properly restored, you could say that every stone wall actually begins with two walls. Two parallel rows of large stones are arranged, extending for a distance of up to three feet. The space between the two is filled with small stones up to the size of the gravel. Additional stone courses are carefully placed on top, with stones selected to fit as closely as possible to the irregularities of the lower courses.

In the case of the recently restored wall, it took about 60 hours of labor to complete the 25 feet of wall, according to Hicks. He describes watching workers place a stone, then move it or turn and move it until it is secure.

The finished wall looks like it’s not going anywhere soon. Hicks likened it to the wall along Bruce Road from Humboldt Road to Little Chico Creek, the rocks of which keep falling. On the way down he could reach out and wobble several rocks that weren’t secure.

This wall is not considered historic, he said, because it has been moved. And when it was moved, the people who were rebuilding it just stacked the rocks randomly without a base wide enough, resulting in a wall that is not very stable and looks like it.

It will have to be moved again, as there are plans and grant applications to widen the Little Chico Creek Bridge and Bruce Road to four lanes.

Respect the Walls focuses more on the Humboldt Road wall. They are working with Amy Huberland of the Northeast Information Center – the local repository for archaeological records – to get the wall and the ruts out of the city’s historic resource inventory. Debbie Meline said the nomination will be filed after the first of the year.

She and Hicks said the site could become a historic tourist destination. There really is nothing like it nearby.

Huberland said the restoration of some of the stone walls along the old road would be a good idea if done according to a treatment plan and in consultation with stonemasons to make it historically accurate.

“If it can be fixed, it should be fixed,” Huberland said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

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