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Stonemasons to dismantle and then rebuild a dry stone wall

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KINGSTON – A small team of stonemasons are dismantling a 16-meter section of a 40-meter-long dry limestone wall that is older than Canada on the property of the Pittsburgh branch of the Kingston Public Library Frontenac.

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The wall, just over a meter high, is moved to make room for the widening of Gore Road on the east side of the new bridge over the Cataraqui River.

The wall currently runs north to south, parallel to the river, and the 16-meter portion will eventually be rebuilt and facing east.

Several large mature trees were felled last fall to make way for the widening of the road.

John Scott, a consultant stonemason from Perth, is working on the project with Craig Beattie, owner of Edgewater Stonemasons in Kingston and apprentice stonemason Alex Cappon.

Scott has stated that the farm which forms part of the library was built in 1863, and he assumes that the wall was built soon after.

He said there was an orchard on the property and the wall was likely built to keep farm animals out.

A dry stone wall is made without mortar and remains united by leaning on itself. It also tapers, the bottom of the fence being wider than the top.

Scott said the wall was built the same way the walls were built in Ireland.

“Which makes sense because in 1860 many Irish and Scottish farmers emigrated to this area and have the capacity to build farm walls,” Scott said.

“Twenty years ago, the common thought was to just turn this around because it’s a bunch of rocks, but the city of Kingston is smart enough; they realize the heritage value.

“It’s a very unique wall. Many of them have been pushed back and they are no longer there.

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Scott said they are in communication with the city and are communicating with Kiewit, the bridge builder.

The cost of $ 40,000 for dismantling the wall is part of the $ 180 million budget for the bridge.

While the three-person team dismantles the 16-meter-long wall, they catalog and store the stone in sealed bags which will be stored on the library property.

One meter from each wall goes in a bag on a pallet and will be reassembled.

The crew is currently in the middle of the three-phase project. The research part is complete, teardown and registration is in progress and should take about eight more working days, and the third and final part will be reassembly.

“We’re learning as we go to find out how it was built, why it stays put and some of its flaws,” Scott said. “One of the rules of heritage is that it has to be rebuilt in kind using the same stone, but we’re going to make some improvements to the bond to make it stronger than it was.”

The link, Scott said, refers to the pattern of placement of the stones and not the mortar used to glue the stones together.

Scott said the artisans built a strong wall over 155 years ago.

“Absolutely, there are different branches of masonry, and building dry stone walls is kind of a lost craft,” he said.

Craig Beattie, left, owner of Edgewater Stonemasons of Kingston, and apprentice stonemason Alex Cappon work on a drystone wall being dismantled on the property of the Pittsburgh branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library for make way for the widening of Gore Road.
Craig Beattie, left, owner of Edgewater Stonemasons of Kingston, and apprentice stonemason Alex Cappon work on a drystone wall being dismantled on the property of the Pittsburgh branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library for make way for the widening of Gore Road. Photo by Ian MacAlpine /The Whig-Standard

The wall will be put back in place once the bridge and road widening are completed in late 2022 or early 2023.

The bid to carry out the work of reassembling the wall has not been decided, but since the stones are being saved and cataloged, any stonemasonry company would be able to reassemble it.

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Beattie said he admired the drystone wall for a long time.

“I was always aware that it was here, and when the city needed help with it, it seemed like it was something I was really interested in getting involved in,” he said. he declares.

“Everything is documented. There is a record. John reports on the conditions here and everything is organized, labeled and identified so that someone else can come in and understand what was going on here.

“The value of heritage assets like this is only realized once it is gone, and the City of Kingston realizes it,” said Scott.

According to a historical plaque outside the library, Hawthorn Cottage was built by the Hay brothers in 1866, and its first owners were John Canniff and Sarah (Baillie) Ruttan.

The homemade wall and surrounding land were purchased by the former Township of Pittsburgh prior to the 1998 amalgamation with the city. It was chosen in 1997 to be the site of the Pittsburgh branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library.

A February 10 view of the drystone wall being dismantled on the property of the Pittsburgh branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library to make way for the widening of Gore Road.
A February 10 view of the drystone wall being dismantled on the property of the Pittsburgh branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library to make way for the widening of Gore Road. Photo by Ian MacAlpine /The Whig-Standard

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Charles T. Gallegos

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