cut into square-cornered blocks to build
flat, formal walls suited to the gothic
grandeur of its architecture. (So when you
think of Duke, think of squares.) Carolina’s
stone walls, composed of rocks as nature
made them, give the campus a casual, rustic
feel in keeping with its agrarian traditions.
Several times, students have suggested
smooth, flat caps for the walls, to make sitting easier or to save wear and tear on their
stone-washed jeans. But Coleman says caps
would spoil the rustic look of stone.
Maintaining a consistent look has gotten
tougher as Chatham stone becomes harder
A tree grows next
to one of the taller
walls, in the Forest
Theatre area; a
newer wall on the
side of Memorial
Hall has what
Coleman says is
out of step with
the tradition — too-small stones that
don’t seem to fit
with larger ones;
a low wall curves
the Memorial Grove
ashes burial ground.
continued on page 26
Rocks in My Head
Last summer, to atone for 31 years of office work, I set about building a wall. I may have overdone it a little. I read, reread and memorized Stone Masonry by Kern,
Magers and Penfield. Every day, I prowled the woods around
my house, kicking the leaf mat for half-buried chunks of
Chatham granite. When I found something promising, I pried it
away from its bed in the soil, brushed off the spiders and ants,
and lugged or rolled it to the site. By late July, I had rounded up
several hundred candidates and sorted them by shape (round,
flat, wedge). I laid out dimensions with batter boards and string,
dug below the frost line, spread gravel for drainage and began to
I wanted to build a wall like the oldest ones on campus —
dry-stacked, without mortar. It was very slow going, at first.
Each time I laid a new stone it conspired with its neighbors to
pose a geometry problem with no apparent solution. Imagine
solving a giant jigsaw puzzle in three dimensions, except the
pieces weigh as much as family members. I must have hoisted,
tested and rejected 10 stones for every one I placed. I learned
them all by heart.
The job consumed eight weeks, spanning the worst of a heat
wave. Most days, I worked from dawn till noon, took a breather
and went at it again until dark. My back held up just fine, but I
destroyed six pairs of work gloves. It was filthy, brutal toil, and I
loved it. Rocks don’t equivocate. They fit and bear weight or
they don’t. Gravity is the boss. Gravity has the final say.
What did I gain from all this? A modest but sturdy stone
wall that weathered the winter intact and now retains several
tons of soil for my rose garden. Best of all, I have a ready supply
of leftovers — misfits that never found a home. They loiter at
the foot of a hickory tree, nagging me to start another wall.
— Neil Caudle
You can find photos of Caudle’s stone wall project at
The author and his hard-earned wall.