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Friday, June 07, 2013

Literary Landmarks: Henry David Thoreau's House

Literary Landmarks: Henry David Thoreau's House
(Second in the Series)

Written and photographed by Jenn Buliszak
Henry David Thoreau (pronounced “thorough”) was born on July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. He was named David Henry Thoreau but later changed his name. His birthplace is located at 341 Virginia Road and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Thoreau Farm Trust is dedicated to preserving the famous literary landmark and is responsible for maintaining and managing Thoreau Farm. Visitors are able to take a guided tour of Thoreau Farm House on Saturdays and Sundays.
Henry David Thoreau graduated from Concord Academy and Harvard College. Through the years, he worked as a teacher, gardener, pencil-maker, tutor, surveyor and most notably, an author. In fact, Thoreau surveyed the land for Bronson Alcott’s Orchard House. He published poems and essays in The Dial (Walden Woods Project). Thoreau also lived at various times with his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his family, in Concord. Both Emerson and Thoreau were transcendentalists; transcendentalists adhered to a “philosophy based on the idea that divinity pervades all nature and humanity, asserting existence of an ideal spiritual reality that transcends the empirical and scientific and is knowable through intuition” (Thoreau Gift Shop)
In 1842, Henry’s brother John died from lockjaw. This event greatly affected Henry’s life. In 1845, Emerson invited Thoreau to build a small house on the land he recently purchased on the local pond. Thoreau borrowed an axe from Bronson Alcott to build the one-room house on the northwest ”slope overlooking Walden Pond” (Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, 2013). Thoreau lived in the small home as an “experiment in simplicity” and to write his book. He resided in the small house from July 4, 1845 to September 6, 1847 (Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation).
(View of Thoreau’s Cove on Walden Pond)
The two years spent at Walden Pond were a highly productive time in Henry David Thoreau’s writing career. He chronicled the boating trip he and his brother, John Jr., took in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River and journaled daily about his keen observations of nature and living simply at Walden Pond. 
At the end of the two-year experiment, Thoreau concludes, “I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one” (Thoreau, 1854, p. 209). In his conclusion to Walden, Thoreau writes, “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours” (Thoreau, 1854, p. 209). 
When Henry David Thoreau “left the woods, to become a ‘sojourner in civilized life again,’ he turned the house over to Emerson, who soon sold it to his gardener. Two years later two farmers bought it and moved it to the other side of Concord where they used it to store grain. In 1868, they dismantled it for scrap lumber and put the roof on an outbuilding” (Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation). 
After Henry David Thoreau’s experience at Walden Pond, he lived with the Emersons and, later, his parents. During this time he concentrated on publishing A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River and editing drafts of Walden. He revised eight drafts of Walden before it was published in 1854. (Henry David Thoreau, 2008). He traveled to Cape Cod, Canada, New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire; his travels heavily influenced his writing and themes of his lectures. 
“Although Thoreau was not widely known in his lifetime, his writings have become classics, and their influence has been vast. His essay, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” (1849), written after one night he spent in jail for not paying the church tax, and other essays on civil resistance became important to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other subsequent reformers” (Henry David Thoreau, 2008). Thoreau passed away, at the age of 44, on May 6, 1862 of tuberculosis (Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation). 

The Replica

A replica of the Thoreau’s house was built in the Walden Pond
State Reservation near the Walden Pond parking lots. They were able to build a detailed replica because Thoreau had described his house in great detail in Walden, or Life in the Woods.  Thoreau writes that he chopped down trees to build the frame and purchased the boards from James Collier’s home (Thoreau, 1854, p. 27). He states that he created “ a tight shingled and plastered home, ten feet wide by fifteen feet long, and eight-feet posts, with a garret and a closet, a large window on each side, two trap doors, one door at the end, and a brick fireplace opposite” (Thoreau, 1854, p. 31).

The Interior

The interior is furnished minimally. Thoreau writes “my furniture, part of which I made myself, and the rest cost me nothing of which I have not rendered an account, consisted of a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs, a looking-glass three inches in diameter” (Thoreau, 1854, p. 42). Thoreau’s original desk, chair, bed and other wonderful artifacts are on display at the Concord Museum (Concord Museum).

The Remains

It is a fifteen-minute walk along the shore of Walden Pond to reach Thoreau’s Cove and the remains of Thoreau’s House. The location is marked with trail markers along the routes. The remains are located the upper slope and feature a plaque of Thoreau’s famous quotation.

Next to the plaque is Thoreau’s Cairn; visitors, from around the world, have brought rocks with notes written on them about Thoreau and his importance. “The approximate site of Thoreau’s house had been known for years. His old friend…Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott) had walked out from Concord in 1872 with [Mary Newbery Adams] and placed a stone at what he remembered to be the site of Thoreau's house” (Site of Thoreau's House on Walden Pond). Visitors continue to bring stones and build the cairn. 
 Interest in Walden and Henry David Thoreau has grown through the years. “Thoreau's popularity continued: six editions of Walden were published in 1948, eleven in 1958, and twenty-three in 1968, along with many editions of his other works” (Witherell & Dubrulle).

The Excavation 

“In 1945, the centennial of Thoreau's move to Walden Pond, Roland Wells Robbins, an amateur archaeologist and Thoreau enthusiast, dug for three months before discovering and excavating the stones that formed the foundation of the chimney. In July 1947, the Thoreau Society, founded in 1941, dedicated the inscribed field stone that marks the hearth site today (Department of Conservation and Recreation). Robbins found stones from the foundation in trees that blew over in a hurricane a few years earlier. Granite pillars were placed on the site to commemorate the actual location of Thoreau’s house.

Granite pillars mark the actual location of Thoreau's House at Walden Pond.

Thoreau’s House site is a literary landmark not to be missed!

Picture Books to investigate:
·      Burleigh, Robert. If you spent the day with Thoreau at Walden Pond. Illustrated by Wendell Minor. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2012.  Book trailer available at
·      Lorbiecki, Marybeth and Dunlap, Julie. Louisa May and Mr. Thoreau’s flute. Illustrated by Mary Azarian. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. 2002.
·      McCurdy. Michael. Walden then & now: an alphabetical tour of Henry Thoreau’s pond. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. 2010.
·      Schnur, Steven. Henry David’s House. Illustrated by Peter Fiore. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. 2007.

There is a delightful picture book series written and illustrated by DB Johnson inspired by Henry Thoreau and his book Walden. Some of the titles include:

·      Johnson, DB. Henry builds a cabin. Illustrated by DB Johnson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2002.
·      Johnson, DB. Henry hikes to Fitchburg. Illustrated by DB Johnson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000.
·      Johnson, DB. Henry works. Illustrated by DB Johnson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2004.
·      Johnson, DB and Michelin, Linda. Henry’s night. Illustrated by DB Johnson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. 2009.
To preview this wonderful series, visit

Additional Thoreau Resources:
·      Thoreau Farm (WEB)
·      Department of Conversation and Recreation: It's Your Nature.  "Walden Pond State Reservation." (WEB)
The Park Interpreters offer many fun programs for visitors throughout the year. Upcoming programs include “Henry and Walden’s Former Inhabitants”, “Thoreau Ramble”, “Sunset Saunters”, “Walden’s Changing Forest” and “Literary Walk”. Literary Walk’s topics of discussion are announced a week prior to the program. The interpreter and participants discuss that selected topic as they walk along Walden Pond.  Participants are requested to bring their own copies of the selected book or essay for that program. The program schedule is available online.
·      Concord Museum is featuring an exhibit titled “Early Spring: Henry Thoreau and Climate Change” -- through September 15, 2013.
 For more information visit
·      Thoreau Society (WEB)
·      Thoreau Institute (WEB)

For educators:
·      Walden Woods Project. "Home: Walden Woods."  (WEB)
·      Walden Woods Project.  "World Wide Waldens: Putting Thoreau's Words into Action." (WEB)
·       "Mapping Thoreau Country."  Thoreau Society.  (WEB)
·      Massachusetts Government. Department of Conservation: It's Your Nature.  (WEB) Full Guided Tours with interpretive staff are available.


Concord Museum. Concord Museum: Thoreau collection. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from

Department of Conservation and Recreation. (n.d.). Thoreau at Walden Pond. Retrieved May 30, 2013 from Department of Conservation and Recreation:

Becher, Anne. "Henry David Thoreau". American Environmental Leaders: From Colonial Times to Present. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio Inc. 2000.

Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. (2013, May 30). Signage at Walden Pond. Concord, MA.

Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Walden Pond State Reservation: Henry David Thoreau. Retrieved May 27, 2013 from

Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Walden State Pond Reservation: Thoreau at Walden Pond. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from

Site of Thoreau's House on Walden Pond. Retrieved May 29, 2013 from

Thoreau, Henry David (1854). Walden; or, Life in the Woods. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.

Walden Woods Project. Library -about Thoreau: Thoureau, the man. Retrieved May 30, 2013,_the_Man

Witherell, Elizabeth & Dubrulle, Elizabeth. Writings of Henry David Thoreau. thoreau.library.ucsb. Retrieved May 30, 2013

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Such a great and thorough resource! Thanks Sharron!

    Linda Stanek