|A replica of Thoreau's one-room house
at Walden Pond
Henry David Thoreau was a 27-year-old
former schoolteacher when he went to live at Walden Pond in
the summer of 1845. His friend and fellow Transcendentalist
Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had recently purchased 14 acres of
woodlot on the northwestern shore of Walden Pond, agreed to
let the young writer conduct his "experiment in simplicity" there.
Near the end of March 1845, Thoreau borrowed an axe and began
cutting and hewing the timber for a small, one-room house.
With help from friends, he raised and roofed the simple building
and, on July 4, 1845, he moved in.
When Thoreau chose a site for the one-room house in which
he would live, he decided on a slightly overgrown slope
above a cove. He had "a distant view of the railroad
where it touches the pond on the one hand, and of the fence
which skirts the woodland road on the other." Although
less than a half hour's walk along the tracks to his parents'
house, Thoreau's spot in Walden Woods was nevertheless a
solitary place in the 1840s.
For the next two years, Thoreau spent most of his time studying
the natural world around him. He kept a regular journal,
completed a draft of his first book, A Week on the Concord
and Merrimack Rivers, and made the first accurate survey
of Walden Pond. He took daily walks through Walden Woods,
often stopping to visit family and friends in Concord village;
on other occasions, he entertained visitors at his house
in the woods. Having, in his own words, "as many
trades as fingers," he took on odd jobs as a carpenter, mason,
and surveyor to earn the small amount of cash he needed to
buy what he could not "grow or make or do without."
|A 1908 postcard showing the site of
After two years, two months, and two days, Thoreau closed
up his little house and returned to live in the village. When
he 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.
Much of Concord had long since been cleared for agriculture
by the time Thoreau was growing up there, but because the
area around Walden Pond was too sandy for good farming, it
had remained forested into the 1830s. A year before Thoreau
moved to the woods, the Fitchburg Railroad reached Concord,
running along the south side of Walden Pond. In the next decade,
the wood-fired trains would create a demand for fuel that
would leave even this part of Concord nearly stripped of trees.
When Thoreau took up residence at the pond in 1845, much of
the pond's shoreline was bare. Yet he could still boast: "I
have my horizon bounded by woods all to myself."
Thoreau's timeless account of his life at Walden would not
be published until 1854. 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 fieldstone that marks the hearth site