Haven Wall gate made from oak timbers from an 1860 Chatfield home, framed with posts from the 1888 Chatfield Schoolhouse. (Photos by Julie Fryer, unless otherwise noted)
Chatfield’s Haven Wall Documents a Lifetime of Travel, Community, and History
CHATFIELD — Every journey starts by putting one foot in front of the other. In 1927, George A. Haven began his adventure by stacking one rock on top of another. Today, the Haven Wall still stands in Chatfield as a monument to curiosity, ingenuity, art, and community.
Stretching 245-feet along the western edge of Old Territorial Road behind the Historic Haven House, the wall features 157 special stones, artifacts, and fossils Haven and his family and friends collected from every corner of the world.
Open to all and with easy access, this wall is a must-visit historical site for anyone wanting to see and touch a piece of history.
A 37-Year Landscape Project
Chatfield lifelong resident, and President of Root River State Bank, George A. Haven lived in his childhood home on Winona Street, a large brick Italianate house built in 1874 (with an 1892 Greek Revival annex) now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The back edge of the property meets Old Territorial Road, which was frequently used to move cattle and other animals to market.
In 1927, Haven decided the dilapidated fence in back needed replacing. As avid travelers and collectors of artifacts and stones from their travels, Haven and his wife, Rosella, knew they had more than enough material to build a stone wall.
Inspired by the Great Wall of China and Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall”, Haven set out to build his own dry-stack stone wall. While the wall would keep cattle drives off his property, it would also serve as a permanent legacy of his family and as a local, national, and even international historical record.
With that first shovelful of dirt and carefully placed stone, Haven began a decades-long project that would eventually include stones from every continent and the Seven Wonders of the World!
Stone by Stone, a Legacy is Built
Haven began the project with a two-foot underground foundation built from stones taken from a local quarry and, for the last 70 feet, from the foundation stones of the demolished 1888 Chatfield School.
Haven dug the foundation and placed each rock himself, working until dark after his days at the bank. Upon that foundation, he patiently stacked each stone by hand using no mortar or cement. The above ground portion of the wall is approximately 4-feet high, 36- to 40-inches wide at its base, and tapers up to 18-inches at the top.
With each course, Haven would intersperse special artifacts and historical pieces from his own collection including stones from: Chatfield’s original 1856 Land Office and the 1858 Chatfield Academy; Forts Snelling (MN), Sumter (SC), and Morgan (AL); historically-significant sites including Monticello, Gettysburg, and Custer’s Battlefield; and international wonders including the Colosseum in Italy, the WWII battlefield in the Marshall Islands, and the Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem.
The Community Piles On Its Own Treasures.
As the wall took shape and word of his project grew, friends and family started giving Haven artifacts and stones from their travels and would frequently stop by to lend a hand on the wall.
The collection grew to include a stone from King Tut’s pyramid; marble from an Italian Holy Water font; pieces of the Great Wall of China; brick pieces from the Parthenon, rocks from the Sea of Galilee; pieces of dinosaur bones and fossils; and much, much more.
The original Haven home still occupies the property west of the wall and many of these stones are also placed in the home’s large fireplace hearth. (Note to our readers: this collection was amassed during a time when collecting mementos from cultural and historical sites was accepted practice and there were few regulations or norms regarding their removal from their origin sites.)
Haven chose each stone carefully not only for its shape but for its pedigree, provenance, and uniqueness. He and his wife thoroughly catalogued each stone’s origin and placement, eventually creating a pamphlet for visitors (that pamphlet is available for copy at the Chatfield Public Library).
For 37 years, Mr. Haven continued adding stones to the wall, even including a “Mother’s Seat” (rock #15) where his mother could sit and watch his progress. His friend, Richard Theel, assisted in finishing the last 70-foot northwestern section, setting the final stone in place in September of 1964.
To complete the wall, Haven built a gate from oak timbers taken from an 1860 Chatfield home and embedded a series of small stones from each continent in the concrete cap to mimic a trip around the world. The cap cement also includes the historical record of the Haven family with handprints and names and dates.
About halfway through the project, Haven began to lose his eyesight and would eventually go almost completely blind.
Determined to continue his work, he could still be found long past dark hammering stones (and occasionally his own thumb) and he would often tell folks he could work longer because darkness no longer mattered to him. He fortunately was chosen to participate in experimental surgery at Mayo Clinic, which partially restored his eyesight so he could see his wall get finished.
Still Standing Strong for Future Generations
In late 2018, Deborah Gerlach-Haven, Haven’s daughter, and her husband, Fred Gerlach, graciously deeded ownership of the wall to the City of Chatfield. In addition, they made a large donation to the Chosen Valley Community Foundation to be held in escrow for maintenance and repair needs.
Today, Chatfield’s Heritage Preservation Commission is working to improve access and landscaping around the wall.
How to Visit the Wall and Find a Stone
To visit the Haven Wall, from Highway 52 (Chatfield’s Main Street), turn east at First Street SE and go three blocks until you are behind the Methodist Church. The last section of the wall borders the parking lot. While the wall now sits on public property, please be respectful of the residential neighborhood and mindful of passing traffic.
The wall is divided into 25 sections with division lines marked in the cement cap. To commemorate the completion of the wall, the Havens created a visitor’s pamphlet identifying each section. The pamphlet was mimeographed and sent to friends and family in 1964. The original is held by the Chatfield Historical Society.
In this pamphlet each section is marked with numbered stones listed in that section. Throughout each section of the wall, you’ll find handprints, footprints, and dates documenting the progress of the wall and the Haven family (the full list is also included in Haven’s pamphlet, available for copy at the Chatfield Public Library).
Harrison, Mary. “George Haven’s Stone Wall.” The Chatfield News, April 14, 2010, p. 2.
Harrison, Mary. “The Haven House.” The Chatfield News, June 17, 2015, p. 3.
Haven, George and Rosella. “Haven Wall.” Self-published pamphlet, December 1964
Julie Fryer is a marketing and writing consultant who helps small businesses navigate the world of ecommerce. She lives in Chatfield and is an avid gardener, sugarmaker, and camper with a full bookshelf of to-be-read books