Roanoke is a city whose denizens often and justifiably praise its lovely, varied and mature landscaping. However, its lavish surroundings have a prevailing feature that is often overlooked. Roanoke is distinguished by its abundance of stone walls — unique walls, enduring walls, ornamental walls — born as the product of topographical necessity and artisanal skill.
Frequently changing elevations of streets and building lots invoke the presence of stalwart barriers to remove slopes in favor of level sites for foundations, lawns, patios, driveways, sidewalks and gardens. Areas have been made high or low as building arrangements demanded. Where once only precarious slopes existed, adroit stonemasons have carved out functional space, and the result is three-dimensional art worthy of contemplation.
The wide variation in style, color, form and construction technique creates a townscape of enduring charm. Early preference in wall material was given to limestone, chiseled by stonemasons into linear blocks of uniform size, and laid with practiced precision. Some walls flaunted embellishment by different shapes arrayed on top. Later designers employed stacked fieldstone, either dry or mortared. A few used river rocks rounded by eons of caressing water.
The majority of retaining walls today appear to be made of surface stones shaped by the vagaries of time and circumstance, hauled from the mountains, and assembled by the discerning eye of the mason.
These walls, proliferating across most neighborhoods, provide a visual feast for the observant. Whether they are leaning outward against time, hosting lichen and moss, trailing Boston ivy or Virginia creeper, or simply shouting their profuseness of color and shape, they stand as an enduring tribute to the creativity and workmanship displayed by legions of unknown artists. They deserve to be acclaimed as a rich source of individual and community pride.