On his 200th birthday, celebrations and exhibits honor Concord’s champion of wildness
Concord, Massachusetts is a mecca for history buffs. Walking downtown among the colonial-style homes and historical landmarks feels like being transported 300 years into the past.
A center of American history since it was established in 1653, Concord was also home to four major 19th-century writers: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lousia May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.
Thoreau was born in Concord on July 12, 1817, two hundred years ago. Among many other things, he was a poet, essayist, philosopher, naturalist, pencil-maker, and an abolitionist. A leader of the transcendentalist movement, Thoreau’s most famous book, Walden, embraces the divinity of nature and living simply and economically. The book takes place on Concord’s Walden Pond, now a popular destination for beachgoers and lovers of literature.
As best stated by Thoreau himself, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Thoreau’s words stand the test of time, especially when walking quietly along Walden Pond’s blue-green waters. His legacy lives from Concord’s serene woods to its bustling downtown, and in all of the spaces he once occupied and wrote about.
Thoreau’s milestone birthday is drawing visitors from around the world to Concord, which Thoreau called his Rome. Bicentennial celebrations and exhibitions will continue through the end of the year. Here’s a list of five haunts for Thoreau’s Concord that still inspire:
Concord Free Public Library
129 Main St.
Concord, Which Is My Rome: Henry Thoreau and His Home Town exhibition explores Thoreau’s life in Concord through manuscript materials, documents, letters, photographs, maps, and more, from the library’s William Munroe Special Collections. The exhibit is free and open to the public until October 30th. Gallery tours are available to the public on certain dates throughout the opening or upon request.
200 Lexington Rd.
On view in The Concord Museum’s permanent collection is some of Thoreau’s original furniture from his cabin at Walden Pond, among other possessions and artifacts. Current temporary exhibitions include Walden: Four Views, photography inspired by Walden on view until August 20th, and The Anatomy of a Desk: Writing with Thoreau and Emerson, where visitors can write on exact recreations of Thoreau’s and Emerson’s desks. Also featured is Walden, A Game. Designed by The Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, the game allows players to Be Thoreau by exploring Thoreau’s physical and conceptual world of self-reliance at Walden Pond. On September 10th, the exhibition This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal will return Thoreau’s desk, journals, manuscripts, and more to Concord from their exhibition under the same name at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
34 Bedford St.
The Thoreau family gravesite can be found on Author’s Ridge, alongside Louisa May Alcott’s and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s graves. If you’re driving, enter at Prichard Gate and follow the markers toward Author’s Ridge, then walk up the hill on the paved path to the grave sites.
341 Virginia Rd.
“[I was] born July 12, 1817 in the Minott House, on the Virginia Road, where Father occupied Grandmother’s thirds, carrying on the farm.” The Minott House referred to by Thoreau is known as the Henry David Thoreau Birth House, or Thoreau Farm. Though Thoreau only lived on the farm for eight months, it was a great source of inspiration for his writings. Guided tours of the farm are offered at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm, and are free on weekends until October 29th.
Walden Pond State Reservation
915 Walden St.
The source of inspiration for Thoreau’s world-famous Walden, Walden Pond is now a popular daytime beach destination for families to soak up the sun or swim in the pond’s beautiful blue-green water. Visit the replica of Thoreau’s cabin near the parking lot, or the original cabin site about half a mile around the pond where the foundation still stands. Thoreau-themed programming throughout the summer will include What’s Hidden in Henry’s House?, Reading Walden’s Landscape, Thoreau’s Stay at Walden, and more.
For more information about Thoreau at 200 and more events throughout the state of Massachusetts, visit: thoreaubicentennial.org