A tucked-away monument in a field outside of Chapel Hill offers a place to reflect on the changing seasons.
by Emily Gajda | photography by Forrest Mason
A misty spring morning in rural North Carolina: driving northwest from Raleigh, as farms line each side of Old N.C. 86, John’s Woods Road appears seemingly out of nowhere. A grassy shoulder off a dead-end road turns into an open field, where dark shadows peek through the fog, just barely hinting at what lies beyond. It’s quiet here, a spot that’s easy to miss — unless you know what to look for.
In this field, visitors can find North Carolina’s own take on Stonehenge, called Stone Knoll. It’s just outside of Chapel Hill in a little unincorporated community known as Calvander. Here, looming stone slabs arranged around a circle mark each of the cardinal directions — north, south, east, and west — and boulders spiral out from its center, widening into the clearing.
The communities around Stone Knoll refer to the landmark as “Hartleyhenge” in honor of its creator, John Hartley. An architect and builder in nearby Carrboro, Hartley was known for marrying living spaces with nature and making room in his tucked-away subdivisions for outdoor gathering spaces. Stone Knoll was built in the mid-1990s as part of a neighborhood with the same name.
Hartley made few comments about the installation’s meaning before his passing in 2011 — but words and symbols carved into the brass plaques there offer a hint of its purpose.
Each of the immense slabs display the footprints of a “spirit keeper” — animals that some Native American cultures believe guard the directions and seasons — along with a fitting poem. The eastern slab, for example, features the footprints of an eagle and Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning.”
In the center of Stone Knoll, a raised flat slab holds the four spirit keepers together in harmony and showcases second poems about each one. As spring approaches, consider these words from a poem Hartley wrote for the season:
The air is cool, moist, and fresh as we reach out,
feel our strength,
rise above the tree tops and look upon the abundance
of the Great Mother.
Our vision, sharp and clear, illuminates all that encircles us
filled with the wisdom of knowing our true course,
Find Stone Knoll in the field north of 228 John’s Woods Road, Chapel Hill.
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of WALTER magazine