In July of 2014, I became a first time homeowner at the age of 29. I recently transplanted myself from Boston to Portland’s West End. I purchased an 1875 home, whose exterior and outdoor spaces were a little worse for wear. On rainy days, I’d come home to a muddy mess of a packed dirt driveway, which loved to follow me into the house. It had to go.
I wanted to stay true to the classic appearance of the West End neighborhood. I decided to use cobblestones for a driveway makeover. When I was growing up in Boston, my father used to take my brother and I to the shores of Boston Harbor where an old cobblestone boat ramp had eroded into the sea. I distinctly remember walking out into the Boston Harbor mud to pluck cobblestones out from amongst the periwinkle-speckled rocks and flotsam at low tide. With the lifting of each stone, a cluster of baby green crabs would scurry and seek refuge in a nearby crevice. At the time, my father used the stones for his garden. Each stone had its own imprint of years past–layers of barnacles, seaweed and irregular chips and lost corners.
Twenty years later, it was time for my father to return the favor. I enrolled his help on a mission of grander proportions. We spent last summer visiting the same spot in Boston to harvest stones by hand–sometimes working by headlamp at night to catch the low tide on my days off. We scaled a 10 foot granite retaining wall with each stone one-by-one until we filled the bed of my pickup truck to near implosion. We made trip after trip from Boston to Portland until I had amassed enough granite–approximately 450 stones–to complete my project.
Comparatively, the next portion of the project seemed trivial. We hand-excavated and graded the existing packed earth driveway. A generous layer of stone dust was applied, and we set each stone by hand, filling in the gaps with stone dust as we went. While I tackled the stones, my father completely rebuilt the ratty and weathered bulkhead adjacent to the driveway. I elected to fill the end of the driveway with 1.5″ river stone from the Blue Rock Stone Center in Westbrook to frame the area by the back door as a patio. I completed a small garden alongside the house and dressed the back patio with potted bamboos unearthed from a friend’s garden.
The result was exactly what I had envisioned: a functional and classic New England outdoor space sculpted from granite pavers salvaged from Boston Harbor. Every day I leave the house and return home from work, I am reminded of my childhood days of gathering stones from the harbor with my dad and brother. As I turn to the next chapter of my life—taking me from Boston to Portland—I am pleased that I was able to take a piece of my old hometown with me.