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July 13, 2013

Morris man making walls to last lifetimes

By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Many of the old stone walls that meander in the in the woods and fields in upstate New York have been around for 200 years or more.

These walls were built with native stone using no mortar to hold them together. They have lasted over the years because they were built to stay.

It takes a talented mason to build dry stone walls.

“It is like a three-dimensional puzzle,” said Adrian Shrodo of Morris, who has been building dry stone walls for 15 years.

Shrodo builds retaining walls, landscape accents, stairs, patios and fire pits with native stone. He has learned how the rocks fit together so they will lock into place.

“I am always looking for squares,” Shrodo said referring to stones that have a straight edge with at least two square corners, adding that “The triangles are good. They seem to fit about anywhere. 

“When I come across a really good square, I will set it aside for the face and the corners of a wall.”

Local quarries supply the stone for most of the walls Shrodo builds. Sometimes a landowner will want to repurpose an old wall.

“I harvested an old wall for a customer and didn’t find the first square,” Shrodo said. “Back then, those builders were looking for the squares too. They needed them for the foundation for their homes and barns. When you see an old wall like that and it is falling down, most likely someone has taken all the squares out.”

When building a wall, Shrodo first clears the area of vegetation and levels the ground. He selects hand-sized stones and lays them flat along the ground, building up the corners as he goes. Layer upon layer, Shrodo places the stones so the seams below are always covered by a flat surface of rock.

“Sometimes I can hear the rock as it claps and I know it has landed perfectly and most of that rock is sitting level,” Shrodo said. “A lot of times you need to shim the rock — put another underneath so it is level. The main thing is you want the rocks to lock so that the wall will last.”

About five years ago Shrodo built a retaining wall, stairs and landscaping accents for Jeff and Denise Smith of Otego.

“There isn’t anybody who comes to my house who doesn’t comment on this wall,” Denise Smith said. “It is beautiful. Before, my steps came right up from the road. He tore all that out. Now it is a nice entrance.”

Shrodo said his interest in stone walls was cultivated when he visited his grandfather’s estate in England.

“He had these fortress walls around his property,” Shrodo said. “In England, they built walls to keep people out. They also put the stones pointing upward on the top of the walls to make it harder to climb over them. My uncle builds walls in England. He has this rolling top he does where the height of the wall goes up and down. I am going to figure that out one day.”