Have you ever noticed how many stone walls there are in Connecticut? Have you ever wondered who made them? And where they got all of those rocks?
Early British settlers made many of these stone walls. The settlers came here to farm. But Connecticut was covered with forests. The settlers cut down the trees to make fields and pastures. The soil was full of rocks. They piled the rocks neatly around the edges. The resulting stone walls helped keep the farm animals in a pasture and out of a field.
The cleared soil froze more deeply than the rocky soil during the winter. This led to frost heaves in the spring. The heaves lifted buried rocks toward the surface. Every year, farmers cleared more stones from their fields and added them to the walls.
Stone walls are also important because we can learn by studying the rocks that form the walls. Many of the rocks in these walls have stories!
How did these rocks get here? We find clues in the types of rock. Granite is one type of rock found in Connecticut. Granite is a hard, tight rock with small grains. It usually has dark and light flecks. Granite formed 500 million years ago. Pressure and heat deep underground melted the rock and then made it hard again. It later came up to the surface.
Gneiss and schist are the two most common types of rocks in Connecticut. Gneiss has clear dark and light bands. It also formed from pressure and heat. You can tell schist from gneiss because it is less banded and has a wood-like grain. These rocks formed 300 million years ago.
Over millions of years, wind and water changed the geography of Connecticut. Tiny bits of rock that water and wind rub off piled up in the Connecticut River Valley and created layered rocks. Layered rocks are called sedimentary rocks. Brownstone is a soft, reddish-brown type of sedimentary rock. Brownstone was later quarried in Portland to build buildings—including many in New York City.
All of these types of rocks show glaciation. The most obvious sediments are the large boulders along the shore at the east end of the beach at Meigs Point in Hammonasset State Park. Glaciation is when thick sheets of ice moved from the Arctic across Connecticut. The last ice sheet moved across the state 20,000 years ago. When the ice moved, so did rocks. The ice was heavy. It crushed rock into mud. It ground stone against stone. This created the stripes, or striations, we see today.
Rocks also tell us when Connecticut’s first people arrived. Native American activity goes back 10,190 years. Inuksuk is a manmade stone landmark from peoples of the region of North America.
These first people built a camp in northwestern Connecticut. They built a campfire. How do we know? Archaeologists found a cracked campfire stone and a charcoal hearth. They guess that fewer than 20 people lived there, and lived there for about a month. They also think the people left and didn’t return. The people moved on to hunt for food.
Native Americans developed tools from stones. They used hard rocks to carve soft rock (steatite or soapstone) into bowls. Steatite is a soft type of rock that carves easily. It also conducts heat well and can be used for cooking over a fire. Steatite was quarried in the north-central and northwest part of the state.
Rocks are an important part of Connecticut geology. After all, Connecticut’s nickname is the Brownstone State.
Throughout the years people across the state of Connecticut have been taking rocks on the side of roads and turning them into not only art, but local landmarks.
They’re fun, quick and easy to spot. You can add one of these in on a drive back from the grandparents or road trip around the state hitting as many of these spots as possible.
Just past the intersection of Buck Road in Hebron is a rock that has been shaped and painted to resemble a bald eagle. Talk about being star spangled awesome!
Nutmeggers sure seem to have a thing for rock painting! Located in Eastford, this tiny pullover park also has picnic tables.
Since the 1880s, local artists made sure that a certain boulder in Eastford is painted to look like a giant frog. The big rock sits at the edge of a roadside rest area on Route 44, where you’ll also find a small antiques shop, picnic tables, a playground, and even, if you catch it on a lucky weekend, live music. The locals take their frog very seriously. You’ll find the frog on its roadside pad roughly midway between Route 44’s intersections with Highway 198 and Highway 97.
And since Connecticut loves its painted rocks, once you’ve experienced Frog Rock and you’ve checked out Hebron’s Eagle Rock, Marlborough’s Snake Rock, Montville’s Sparky the Firehouse Dog Rock, and the two-fer in Preston: Snoopy Rock and Spotty the Rock Dog.