Fall is a beautiful time to visit the lush grounds of Thoreau Farm, the birthplace of essayist and leading transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862).
Lovingly maintained and preserved by the Thoreau Farm Trust, the organization hopes visits there help people embrace its famous occupant’s beliefs. “We believe Thoreau’s extraordinary insights into life, nature, and social responsibility are as relevant today as they were during his lifetime,” says the official website. “We hope you will find his birthplace a source of inspiration for living deliberately, practicing simplicity, and exploring new ideas for positive change.”
Built in 1730 on farm land, John Wheeler was the first owner of the house and land. He sold the property to his cousin, Deacon Samuel Minot, in 1756, and the farm land was expanded to 108 acres — one of the biggest Concord farms at the time.
The property was passed down to Deacon’s son, Jonas Minot. After Jonas’ wife passed away in 1792, he married Thoreau’s grandmother, Mary Jones Dunbar, in 1978. Also widowed, Dunbar moved to the farm with her children, including Thoreau’s mother, Cynthia.
When Cynthia married John Thoreau in 1812, she moved out. But the couple returned after Jonas died at her mother’s request. It was a hardcore New England winter, though — trust us, winters here can be brutal — and the family could not make a go of the farm. So, Cynthia and John moved back to Concord center with 8-month-old Henry.
“Although he lived on the farm for only a short time, it provided both inspiration and subject matter for his writings,” the Thoreau Farm website says. “Cynthia’s memories of her childhood on the Minot farm were the subject of much family conversation in her later years, and they found their way into Henry’s journals. The picture they draw of life on Virginia Road provides a glimpse into early 19th-century Concord farm life as well as into the mind of Thoreau, who valued the simplicity of Concord’s farmers in an age increasingly dominated by progress and machine.”
Gaining Ground, a non-profit organic farm, is now located on the Thoreau Farm property, but still has items hearkening to a different era.