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homer babbidge sitting on stone wall
UConn campus 1900s

View of campus with stone walls bordering a field in the early 1900s from the University Archives.

Robert Thorson and stone wall

During his first 20 years at UConn, Robert M. Thorson taught within the Department of Geology and Geophysics. In 2005, he joined the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Anthropology (Archaeology), with major commitments to the Center for Integrative Geosciences and the Honors Program. He is the author of five books, the best-selling Stone by Stone; Stone Wall Secrets; Exploring Stone Walls; Beyond Walden; and Walden’s Shore.

Discuss

  1. Robert E. Miller, B.A.' 52, M.A.'58, PhD '66 says:

    I had he good fortune of being on staff from 1960-68, with Dr. Babbidge at the helm during six of those years. I was Administrative Assistant in what was then the Office of Men’s Affairs (Dean of Men’s office). I recall his interest in stone walls and his emphasis on the importance of a solid foundation when building a wall. (An appropriate metaphor). He opined that the foundation needed to be deep enough to be below the frost line.

    Until recently, we owned 150 acres in Pomfret, which were crisscrossed by stone walls. (We sold the development rights to the Town of Pomfret). I am sure that few or none of them had foundations – they were the result of land clearing. But the sight of them often reminded me of Homer. He was a role model for me during my years as an administrator in higher education.

    Robert E. Miller, President Emeritus (and founding president), Quinebaug Valley Community College

  2. Homer Babbidge was a great President- a down to earth guy who steered the University through several student uprisings in the Vietnam War days. He loved stone
    walls -and blue bikes-but that’s another story about this talented and outstanding man !
    I grew up on a farm in Canton,CT and picking up rocks from our fields was a yearly spring time ritual- and necessity- when they were heaved to the surface by frost heaves- or by a plow. One vivid memory I have is flying back in to Bradley Field one warm spring day following a 6 inch snow fall. I was suddenly enthralled by mysterious dark lines spread over many Connecticut fields and hills.Then I realized I was seeing stone walls where latent heat in their stones had melted the snow off ! A beautiful sight ! While I had cussed these rocks as a boy picking them up and hauling them away on “stoneboats”, as an adult I learned to value them- the same as President Babbidge did.
    Fred Humphrey

  3. Bob Gallagher says:

    A wonderful piece, Dr Thorson! You’ve put a lot more meaning in the stone wall for me. I love our New England stone walls, too. When I see one, I wonder who built that wall and what they were like. The wall has history to it just like an old home that’s on the National Register.

    Robert J Gallagher. ’77

  4. Robert Kirsschenbaum class of '76 & '82 says:

    I never hauled a stone for a wall, but enjoyed seeing the walls among the trees, knowing that they had once surrounded famer’s fields. They bordered many off campus roads. They represented a vibrant history, especially near the colonial era house I lived in for a year just off campus. Riding on my motorcycle with a girlfriend, they invited us to pull over and park and traverse into a patch of grass and moss (and manure) they contained for a spring time picnic in the sun. I associate those stone walls and fields with the period of time at UCONN when there were few sidewalks, so walking around campus meant going across wide fields, usually following worn trails, but not always. The stone walls were a tangible reminder of the colonial history of the area and roots of the university. I mowed the lawn of old man Storrs, the last residing member of the family who lived in a house down the road from UCONN which was to be donated to the university after his passing.

  5. Sandra Babbidge Levis says:

    Dear Ms. Stiepock and Dr. Thorson,
    It was fun to come across Professor Thorson’s article on stone walls in the most recent issue of UConn Magazine, incorporating references to my late father, Homer Babbidge.
    Dad was indeed an enthusiastic builder of stone walls. In fact, in the late 1960s he and my mother purchased some old farmland in Coventry , Ct. to provide material for his hobby. (That land was eventually sold the The Hartford Times Summer Camp and has now returned to nature, so that the stone walls lining its fields are no longer clearly visible.) I believe that the attached photo was taken there. I also seem to recall that a series of photographs were taken on that day, which would be located in the Office of Public Information and Publications, Box U-94, as referenced on the reverse of the photo. Or they may be among the personal papers and records related to Dad that were donated by our family to the University in 2006.
    As I recall, the President’s Garden at Gulley Hall was constructed by my father himself, who enjoyed the challenge of selecting just the right stone to create an enduring, mortarless bond and a flat surface. I believe my mother, Marcia Babbidge, was responsible for the plantings.
    The President’s Garden is one of three locations at which we scattered Dad’s ashes following his death and cremation in 1984.
    In addition to that location, I remember watching Dad build a wall near the basement entrance to the President’s Residence on Oak Hill Road, and he taught classes in stone-wall building in the early 1970s.
    As pleasant as it was to revisit those memories, I am concerned by a significant piece of misinformation that appears in “Rock On.”
    My father was never “a student living in Ann Arbor, Michigan.” When he referred in his Monday Evening Club after-dinner speech to his return after “adolescent exile from New England,” he was heading to Yale from Amherst, New York, where he spent his high school years. I believe Prof. Thorson has confused Homer Babbidge with his brother, Eben Babbidge, who lived in Michigan (possibly near Ann Arbor) for many years.
    In the interest of any future researcher who may be interested in HDB, Jr., I hope that you will please print a correction.
    With thanks and best wishes,
    Sincerely
    Sandra Babbidge Levis

  6. Rep. Tim Jerman says:

    Mr. Thorson,
    I enjoyed your article in the alumni magazine. I was a student at UConn from 1966-70 and knew Homer as well as any other student in that time. I revered him and your kind words are much appreciated. I was student government president 1969-70 and worked with him on student-faculty issues often. He was particularly comforting and attentive when my father died in my senior year. Sadly, I have no memory of him ever mentioning stone walls, but I do remember his rather stiff and aristocratic presence; he had two beautiful dogs…boxers as I remember…which he trained meticulously to behave on long daily walks.
    As a leader of the anti-Vietnam movement on campus (which led to the semester of no-grades in 1970 when the university was shut down), I can report that Dr. Babbidge was not well-suited to the tumultuous atmosphere in Storrs at that time. He seemed slow to react to changing times, and I’m not surprised that he would retreat into a nostalgia for earlier times represented by stone walls. This is not a criticism; many faculty could not handle students exerting control and questioning authority at all levels. We had many talks during that time and he always was open to advice and counsel. I always liked that he seemed to come from an earlier era when thoughtful scholarship and discussion was it’s own reward. I can’t say he was really friends with any students, but he certainly treated us all with respect as competent young adults. I was very sad to learn of his early passing a few years later.
    Anyway, thanks again for the memory. I happen to be a superdelegate to the national democratic convention this year, and much of what is going on in the political arena now reminds me of the late sixties. Hard to believe it’s been 50 years!
    Rep. Tim Jerman
    5 Sycamore Lane
    Essex Jct., Vt 05452

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