So & So

The Quiet Islander

The stoic Gene Hall lets his stonework on Block Island do the talking

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Gene Hall doesn’t say much and that’s fine. The youngest of eight islanders, he doesn’t want attention, like the kind you get in magazines. He’s a true independent, a guy who works hard for what he has, doesn’t quit for the sweat, stopping only to fix what’s broken. He’d have been one of Hoover’s “Rugged Individualists,” a nod to self-reliance, a desire for less government and in Gene’s case, a common sense value to be your own man.

“When we were kids, I would walk to school with him, I’d be trying to catch frogs and turtles, he’d be reading a book the entire time, some Western,” said islander Russell Littlefield. The island was a different place when Gene was young. Kids had loads of freedom, like hunting pheasants on the way home from school after propping up shotguns in the principal’s office. Gene started working young, learning how to excavate land and operate heavy equipment, always working with his strong hands.

“His stone wall work, pure artistry” said island realtor Gail Ballard Hall. In 1988, Gene started Hall’s On-Shore Brush Cutting to clear tracts and hillsides of thorny brush and mow fields, pastures and Greenway paths, always carefully maintaining their walls. For dividing property and retaining livestock, the island is threaded with dry stacked stone walls built centuries ago. Some stretches protect undiscovered Native American middens of scallop and clam shells, others are washed with green moss chest high, tilting in submission to the force of erosion. Over time, many sections collapsed to lie in heaps, surrendered to a living earth. With the strength of three men, Gene has carefully restored and maintained hundreds of miles of wall, lifting dead-weight rocks, securing them on perches with balance and gravity. Gene Hall’s walls are most certainly works of art.

In his shop, perched high above The Great Salt Pond, work on his machines is endless, suspended only very briefly for visitors seeking help or perhaps longer for those offering a cold beverage. He has a passion for firearms benefited by an extensive knowledge of the mechanics and history of pistols and long guns. An avid fan of shooting sports, he practices and occasionally competes at the Peace Dale Shooting Preserve or north at Addieveille East Farm and when there’s time, he travels to Hell’s Canyon with a group of close friends to hunt chukars and fish for small mouth bass and sturgeon. But there’s not always time. A ballooning island population means more newcomers calling for his services and phones never have been Gene’s specialty. Conversations are brief; you don’t ask a question if you don’t want to hear the answer.

Gene Hall shares some resemblance to actor Clint Eastwood, with both sharing a quiet demeanor, efficiency of words and rugged good looks. His admirable work ethic is a classic Western itself; there’s always something to be done, grass to mow, fences to mend. In an Eastwood classic, Eli Wallach gives advice over the smoke of a pistol, “When you have to shoot, shoot... don’t talk.” That’s Gene Hall.