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Sightseeing in the suburbs: Thoreau-ly interesting

front of thoreau farm house

Thoreau Farm

Living in the Boston suburbs is cool because I’m close to the town of Concord—location of “the shot heard round the world” in 1775—which boasts the homes and gravesites of Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne, and Emerson.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

I plan to see all the authors’ homes while we’re here, but last weekend I visited Thoreau Farm. I had hiked around Walden Pond a couple of months ago—and visited the family gravesite last summer—so I wanted to finish the Thoreau “experience.”

walden pond

Walden Pond

Thanks to a very enthusiastic and friendly docent, I learned a lot.

Thoreau spent only eight months in the home of his birth, but Thoreau Farm is still significant because he was inspired by his mother’s stories of the place, and he returned often to walk the lands. It’s also the only Thoreau home open to the public, so there’s that. 😉

Thoreau Farm is not a typical restored homestead, but rather a place to learn more about the man, his life, his contemporaries, and why he’s important.

thoreau farm west side

Thoreau Farm-west side with kitchen gardens

You might be surprised by some of the people who were inspired by Thoreau, in person or in writing, whether with regard to the environment, or transcendentalism, or his thoughts on civil disobedience.

A few names you might recognize: Mahatma (Mohandas Karamchand) Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Muir, and Jack Kerouac. Not a bad legacy, eh?

Thoreau family portraits

Thoreau family portraits upstairs at Thoreau Farm

Some fun facts:

– Thoreau (along with his brother and two sisters) never married, though he and his brother both offered for the same woman. Her father turned them both down, deeming the family unsuitable for his daughter.

– He was born David Henry Thoreau, but switched his first and middle names after graduating from Harvard. Without a legal name change, of course.

– His careful observations about the weather and timing of various plants and crops have provided valuable historical data for the area with which to compare modern conditions.

– You can rent the upstairs room in the Thoreau house for a writing retreat.

thoreau farm writing desk

Be inspired by Thoreau


Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Walden (so far). {I’m reading in e-book, so I can’t offer page numbers, but all are from “Economy.”}

– “The great part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior.”

– “I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.”

– “And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.”

– “…the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched.”

If you travel to Boston, be sure to step off The Freedom Trail for a day or two and make your way to the suburbs!

freedom trail marker

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    I must visit Thoreau’s home some day. I get the sense that the family was well-to-do, going by the photos you posted. Your post inspires me to learn about his life.

    • Reply

      Actually, Bob, that house is interesting. Thoreau’s family only lived in 1/3 of the house (two rooms, one up and one, down because they were using the “widow’s third” his grandma was given. They swapped with her so she could be closer to town and because she couldn’t keep up with her farm share. From what I understand, his family was not wealthy, but not poor. Glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

      • Reply

        I studied a little more of Thoreau (from Wikipedia only, I’m afraid) and it looks like he is younger than Charles Darwin by a few years but they are definitely peers. I wonder if the two corresponded — I imagine mail was easily accessible to both (although, of course, slow and possibly expensive.) Perhaps the two influenced each other. It also seems likely to me that Thoreau’s daily life was very affected by the growth of various industries around him — especially jewelry. Back in those days, all sorts of trash was dumped into rivers, lakes, and streams. Including heavy metals from factory waste. Who knows what his own pencil factory dumped into the waters. The naturalist in him must have noticed the increasingly polluted state of the waterways he lived near. And likely too, drinking from those same waterways helped to cut his life short.

  2. Reply

    Nice post and excellent photos, Gwen! We travelled to Boston years ago and did Concord and Lexington, but we never made it to Walden and Thoreau’s house. We did Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables, and even our two kids found that pretty cool. Would enjoy doing Boston again down the road.:-)

    • Reply

      Thanks, Mark! I saw Seven Gables on a visit to Salem over the winter, but it was closed to visitors at the time. You should definitely come back for more of Boston! 🙂

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