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Fieldstone is a building construction material. Strictly speaking, it is stone collected from the surface of fields where it occurs naturally. Collections of fieldstones which have been removed from arable land or pasture to allow for more effective agriculture are called clearance cairns.
In practice, fieldstone is any architectural stone used in its natural shape and can be applied to stones recovered from the topsoil or subsoil. Although fieldstone is generally used to describe such material when used for exterior walls, it has come to include its use in other ways including garden features and interiors. It is sometimes cut or split for use in architecture.
Fieldstone occurs extensively on the High Plains deposited during last glaciation. On or near the surface, fieldstones come in many colors, and are limited in size to about 4 feet in diameter, although larger rocks are sometimes recovered. Pretty and colorful, fieldstones are used occasionally as building materials; some of the more stately homes on the Prairies are constructed of fieldstone and are over a century old. However, fieldstone as a building material is very much underused.
Fieldstone has been abundant throughout New England and Eastern Canada since European settlers cleared the forests for timber. These logs were sent by sailing ships to England and Europe. When the virgin land was tilled the fields were littered with rocks that were moved to the edge of the fields and stacked in what has become a New England landmark called "Stone Walls". Each spring, the stone walls were added to when the fields were plowed, as more stones were brought to the surface following the winter freeze and the spring thaw.
Widely disseminated on the prairie farms, fieldstone is an old nemesis of the farmer. Removing fieldstone is a considerable effort. Early pioneers made land suitable for farming by tediously removing it, stone by stone, since land with many rocks posed a serious risk of damage to machinery. Larger rocks hindered cultivation, and even a small rock picked up by a baler or a combine can wreck intake parts, causing hundreds of dollars in repairs and costly delays at harvest time. Land with many such fieldstones was and is considered marginal and is assessed for tax purposes well below land that is considered stone-free. Washed and split, field rock is considered an attractive landscape and building material, and can be expensive at building supply stores. However, many a farmer would be glad to rid his fields of it, and it is often free for the asking.
During early decades of Prairie settlement, fieldstone was removed by hand, often with whole families participating in this physically demanding task. Today fieldstone is usually removed by a tractor attachment called a rock picker, which is fairly efficient at rock removal. A chain-driven wheel rotates a graded scoop picking surface rocks from the soil, with excess soil being shaken away and the rock remaining. A hydraulic lift then tilts and empties the rock bucket, usually along the perimeter of the farm.
Fieldstone building in Michigan, United States
Canal pumphouse in Maryland, United States
A fieldstone wall enclosing a Pennsylvania barnyard
Pavilion constructed of fieldstone in Pennsylvania, United States
Fieldstone house in León, Spain,
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