Henry Thoreau initially surveyed and took up residence here in May 1850.

The property was surveyed and merged with adjacent parcels in June  1850 and again October  1856, property of  Daniel Shattuck.

In 1857 the three combined parcels were purchased by John Thoreau.   At that time additional property was added on the east side .

Boundaries of each of the additions after May 1850 are visible on the final John Thoreau 1857 Plan.

Thoreau lived here until his death 1862.

Much of his Journal and other writing and many survey drawings may have been created here.

The Thoreau pencils also may have been designed and manufactured here.

The property initially was surveyed on May 25 1850 when Thoreau recorded a “Plan of the Yellow House Lot, so called”, and now known as 255 Main St. Concord MA. That plan may be viewed in the CFPL collection as survey # 129 at:


On June 19, 1850 Thoreau recorded a “Plan of Daniel Shattuck’s Cottage – House Lot Concord MA. That plan may be viewed in the CFPL collection as survey # 108 at: http://www.concordlibrary.org/scollect/Thoreau_surveys/108.htm

On Oct. 6, 1850 Thoreau recorded a  “Plan of the Cottage House Lot on Main Street, and a Lot on Monroe Street Belonging to Daniel Shattuck …Oct. 6, 1856″ 

That plan may be viewed in the CFPL collection as survey # 109 at: http://www.concordlibrary.org/scollect/Thoreau_surveys/109.htm

This plan also contains the”small school house” at the southeast corner of Main and Thoreau street, so called today, formerly,  “Monroe Street”.

On March 30 1857 Thoreau recorded A Plan of John Thoreau’s House Lot and Plan of the Yellow House Lot, so called and now known as 255 Main St. Concord MA. Thoreau’s sketch says Area = 36731 SF.

A single Family Structure shown on the property was built 1815 according to the 2011 Concord GIS.

The following image of John Thoreau’s House Lot is provided courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum:


Thoreau notes that “the East part surveyed and (platted) & added to the west part.”

Upon inspection, the East part clearly is the same Yellow House Lot surveyed by Thoreau May 25 1850, above.  The West part has been added to the original Yellow House Lot, so called.

No structures are shown on the May or June 1850 surveys but a single Family Structure may be seen on Thoreau’s March 30 1857 Plan of John Thoreau’s House Lot and Plan of the Yellow House Lot, so called survey of Daniel Shattuck’s Cottage.

The west side neighboring lot is Daniel Shattuck’s Cottage – The House Lot surveyed by Thoreau June 19, 1850 and now at 267 Main St. Concord MA.

A view of the Thoreau House on 255 Main Street in Concord, MA 2011, shown below:

Note: Louisa May Alcott Negotiated the  purchase  of John Thoreau’s Property  from the Estate of Sophia Thoreau.   An agent’s letter, dated Bangor, 7 March 1877, addressed to Miss L. M. Alcott, proposed to sell the property for $5000:

“Bangor March 7, 1877

Miss Alcott, Concord, Mass.  Yours of 6th came to hand this morning.

I do not fully understand your offer.  The owners will not think it advisable to make any repairs whether sold to you or other parties.  And in my making the offer of $5000 I assumed the property would be transferred in its present condition.  I feel that the offer made you was a fair one and that the favorable change that has occurred in the state of the country since will further increase its value rather than diminish it.  Still although I have had an application from a Boston party since I saw you to whom I replied that I could not negotiate with them until after 10th’ns?? )  By consultation with the owners I am authorized to write requesting that you make a definite offer to take the property in its present condition with  the amount you will pay and the terms of payment.

If it is any object to you to pay $2000 or 2500 cash and the balance in 1 & 2 years with interest at 6% secured by mortgage one will do so.

The wish to close the affairs of the estate as soon as we can possibly and therefore made you the offer at what we deemed a low figure.

Still if you make up your mind to offer the $4500 making your repairs & will write me at once, I will give you a deeded answer pro or con on receiving your letter.


Bangor Maine agent for the Thoreau estate in Concord, MA

I answered by offering $4500 without any repairs and think we will take it.  People already congratulate us on our new house.


Louisa M. Alcott

My translation of the two letters has been taken from a copy of the original letter provided courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum.


Few studies are more useful, few more easily attained, and none more universally neglected, than that of geography. The vast importance of this branch of study is sufficiently obvious to any one who takes the least interest in the passing events of the world, or who receives any pleasure in pondering the revolutions of mighty empires, and their consequences, recorded in history.

Bacon so highly estimated the value of this science, that he dignified it with the appellation of divine. “Geography,” says he, “is a heavenly study, but an earthly subject.” . . .

“Without a knowledge of this science,” says Bennet, “our reading would be a confused mass, without order, light, or perspicuity.”

Lord Chesterfield used to say, “geography and chronology are the two eyes of history.”

Were I permitted to carry the allusion still further, and make a very odd figure, I would consider history an allegorical Polypheme, whose eye should be Geography. Nor would the student in history, destitute of light afforded by geography be in a much better condition than Polypheme, groping among the rocks of Sicily, with his “ingens lumen ademptum.” It is not easy to conceive how it is possible to make any valuable progress in the study of history without a previous knowledge of this science. He who attempts to study history without this knowledge, is much in the same condition as him who attempts to read an unknown language, while he is yet ignorant of the greatest part of the words of which it is composed, or the painter, who fancies he can draw a fine countenance before he has learnt to sketch the outlines of a likeness.

* This essay forms a twelve-page manuscript item in the voluminous Sparks Collection (132, Misc. Papers, Vol. I, 1808-1814) and is published with permission of the Harvard College Library. Mr. Clifford K. Shipton, custodian of Harvard University Archives, contributes the information that the Aurius Ramus Society was a college debating group. Other factual material regarding Sparks at Harvard was secured from H. B. Adams, Life and Writings of Jared Sparks (1893) and Samuel E. Morison’s Development of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1930.

Last night John Hessler discussed his work at the Concord Museum courtesy of the Boston Map Society http://www.bostonmapsociety.org/.

A copy of Mr. Hessler’s talk is attached, below, with the approval of Mr. Hessler as a pdf file. saunterer final A (1)

It will also appear in a forthcoming edition of the Thoreau Society’s The Concord Saunterer A Journal of Thoreau Studies.

In his talk Mr. Hessler makes a case for Thoreau as a geographer, interested and deeply involved in the study and creation of historic maps. In particular Mr. Hessler identifies maps created by Thoreau based upon maps Thoreau found in the Harvard Library.

Thoreau’s maps and his notes have been unknown until discovered by Mr. Hessler in the files of the Pierpont Morgan Library and the Library of Congress where Mr. Hessler currently serves as Senior Cartographic Librarian.

Thoreau’s interest in geography while student at Harvard from which he graduated in 1837 may be related to an essay that appeared in 1813 An essay forthrightly titled Geography, prepared by Jared Sparks (1789-1866) who while a student at Harvard College, provides an unambiguous early call for the inclusion of geography in the curriculum of America’s colleges. Prepared for presentation at the Aurius Ramus Society, a Harvard College debating group, Sparks begins-“Few studies are more useful, few more easily attained, and none more universally neglected, than that of geography;” proceeds to develop his argument by citing Francis Bacon and contemporary work by the English geographer John Pinkerton among others; notes geography’s importance in understanding historical events as well as contemporary commerce and political occurrences at home and abroad; and closes with points calling for the explicit inclusion of geography in the “course of liberal education” rather than leaving students to their own devices to acquire its gifts of understanding. Sparks becomes a historian, editor of North American Review (1824-31), and professor of history (1839-49) and president (1849-54) of Harvard College.
[Manuscript in Sparks Collection (132, Misc. papers, vol.1, 1808-14), Harvard University; and reproduced in Ralph H. Brown. A Plea for Geography, 1813 style. Annals of the Association of American Geography 41 (1951): 233-236.]

In September 1849 Thoreau wrote to Harvard President Jared Sparks to ask for Harvard Library borrowing privileges.  He wrote Sparks “I have chosen letters as my profession.”

Walter Harding, The Days of Henry Thoreau, enlarged and corrected edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982) p. 258: Corr, pp. 247, 249.


My sources to date include The Concord Free Public Library (CFPL) especially a publication by Marcia Moss and materials curated by Leslie Wilson, Concord Museum, American Archeological Society Worcester, MA  (AAS), Pierpont Morgan Library & Museum  at the NYPL and the Thoreau Society.

CFPL has posted survey images piecemeal online.  Readers wishing to view an original image in its entirety may need to download and reassemble the pieces using software such as Adobe Photoshop’s map merge capability.

AAS has a formal license agreement (see attached pdf)AAS agreemenThe t

Concord Museum uses watermarks or labels  on their images.

The Morgan Library & Museum uses  labels at the base of each image and rulers in English and metric units plus a graduated gray scale photo density chart.

The Thoreau Society has copyrighted Marcia Moss’ publication.

Other repositories yet to be examined include Harvard University Libraries

“MapAnalyst is software for the accuracy analysis of old maps. Its main purpose is to compute distortion grids and other types of visualizations that illustrate the geometrical accuracy and distortion of old maps.” “http://mapanalyst.cartography.ch/

“The software uses pairs of control points on an old map and on a new reference map. The control points are used to construct distortion grids, vectors of displacement, accuracy circles, and isolines of local scale and rotation.”

Map Analysis of Gleason’s 1906 and Walling’s 1852 Concord Maps produced the maps shown below.

Twelve  control points were selected including Annursnac Hill, Bateman’s Pond, Punkatasset Hill, Buttrick’s Hill, Thoreau’s Birthplace, Hawthorne Lane Bridge,   Emerson’s Home, Egg Rock, Damon’s Mill, White’s Pond, Fairhaven Bay, and Walden Pond Cove.

Gleason’s 1906 and Walling’s 1852 Concord Maps were compared to the OpenStreetMap which is a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world.

The resulting maps suggest that the accuracy of Gleason’s 1906 and Walling’s 1852 Concord Maps are fairly uniform and contain no gross geometric distortion relative to current geography.

Not surprising since Walling was a surveyor and Gleason used Walling data.

Significant distortion is more likely over a larger area such as a state or nation  rather than a town.

Note however the distortion caused by incorrect location of the Hawthorne Lane Bridge on the Gleason 1906, Walling 1852, F. W. Beers  1875 and USGS 1894 Reconnaissance maps, below.

They all show the bridge south of its correct location as shown by Thoreau on his 1853 and 1860 surveys:

“Plan of John B. Moore’s Farm, Concord, Mass. Surveyed by Henry D. Thoreau Feb. 1853”

Manuscript (pen and black ink), with annotations in red ink made in November 1886 by Albert E. Wood; 39cm x 86.5cm

Reproduced here courtesy of, the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass




Gleason’s 1906 Concord Map

Walling’s 1852 Concord Map

OpenStreetMap 2011 Concord Map used for map analysis reference

USGS 1894 Reconnaissance  Map continued the erroneous placement of the Hawthorne Lane Bridge as shown on Gleason’s 1906 and Walling’s 1852 maps.

Excerpted from the Framing ham MASS sheet surveyed in 1886,

Edition of Mar. 1894, reprinted 1929


2010 Concord GIS map

When  locating Thoreau’s surveys,  begin by  comparing the current GIS 2010 Concord  map  with Gleason’s 1906 Concord map,  F. W. Beers’  1875 Concord Map, and Walling’s 1852 Concord Map below.

current GIS 2010 Concord  map

Note the Hawthorne Lane Bridge correctly located.


Gleason’s 1906 Concord map

Walling’s 1852 Concord Map

F. W. Beers’ map of 1875 Concord continued the erroneous placement of the Hawthorne Lane Bridge as shown on Gleason’s 1906, Walling’s 1854 and USGS’s  1894 maps.

On August 11, 1852, Thoreau records in his Journal:

“Alcott says I should survey Concord and put down every house exactly as it stands with the name.”

In fact, Alcott kept talking about the proposed atlas and went so far as to suggest in his now famous Superintendent of Schools Report of 1860 and 1861, that Thoreau should make an illustrated Atlas for use in the community and the schools.

Unfortunately, Thoreau died before he could accomplish this, but his surveys and “Field Notes” book have been kept together in the Library and have often been used by people to identify ownership of Concord land.

Thoreau had various jobs as a surveyor such as the subdividing of woodlots and the  Ministerial lots for the sale of the wood and the privately owned lots into smaller ones for housing. Many times it was necessary for him to retrace boundaries as ancient as two hundred years old.

The earliest mention which we have of his woodlot surveying is a signed receipt from the Misses Hosmer for surveying of their woodlot and making a plan of the same dated Dec. 18, 1845. However, we do not have the survey itself. This plan was made before he started keeping his Field Notes in 1849 with the brief notes on the survey for Isaac Watt’s. They continue on up to December 1860. “

A CATALOG OF THOREAU’S SURVEYS IN THE Concord Free Public Library (CFPL) Edited by Marcia Moss


I have added each survey’s estimated geographic location which is  sketched and and labeled with it’s CFPL index # or Concord Museum map  # on Gleason’s 1906 Map of Concord.


All errors are mine.

Please send suggested corrections to:


The earliest map in the CFPL,  Concord Museum online collections or the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass is a Plan of the Town of Lincoln in the County of Middlesex from Survey Made in 1830 by John G. Hale Fayette Street Boston [copy; n.d.]


Next is A Plan of the Public Lands in the State of Maine Surveyed under Instructions from the Commissioners & Agents of the State of Massachusetts and Maine…, Boston, 1835 [one section (that including Mount Katahdin) of a multi-sectional map]

This map could have been used by Thoreau to plan his three trips to the backwoods of Maine in 1846, 1853 and 1857.


Thoreau’s surveys include farms with buildings, house lots, woodlots, roads, streams, ponds, machinery, etc.

The following maps illustrate the chronological order of creation and the estimated geographic location of many of Thoreau’s surveys from 1846 to 1860 available online in the Concord Free Public Library (CFPL), The Concord Museum,  the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA.  or The  Pierpont Morgan Library & Museum  at the NYPL and used with their permission.

Thoreau mentions in his journal how in early 1846 while living at Walden Pond he surveyed the Pond through the ice to map its subsurface topography.



http://www.concordlibrary.org/scollect/Thoreau_surveys/133c.htmNote: North is down on Thoreau’s map sketch of Walden as it is on many of his surveys.

This survey can be seen as Thoreau’s view drawn from  his Hut in the cove looking toward Walden Pond.

From this point forward all maps are shown in the order they were created by Thoreau as listed in his “Field Notes of Surveys Recorded by Henry D. Thoreau (November 1849 – December 1860”

.A bold numeral preceding a comment indicates its source as a page number in Thoreau’s “Field Notes of Surveys”.

Thoreau’s Illustrated Atlas, 1849-1860, Volume 1849-1850

1. Isaac Watts Woodlot November 1849


For a description of Thoreau’s mathematical error of a quarter acre see my notes at:

Thoreau’s 1849 survey of Isaac Watts’ Woodlot

2. John Moore and John Hosmer’s Woodlots winter of 1849-50


Jesse Hosmer’s Farm Spring of 1850


3. R. W. Emerson’s Woodlot and meadow by Walden Pond (that part contained within the Lincoln bounds) the woodlot being a part of what was known in 1746 as Samuel Heywood’s pasture “and deeded by his son as such to his son Jonathan Taunier (?)” Surveyed March 1850 with unusual accuracy.


reproduced here courtesy of, the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.

7. Cyrus Stow’s Woodlot on Sawmill Brook. March 1850

Sketched as Gleason34.


8. Nehemiah Emerson’s Heirs a tract of land belonging to in Haverhill Mass Surveyed and divided into house lots May 1850

30 Plan of a Tract of Land Belonging to the Heirs of Nehemiah Emerson in Haverhill, Mass. … May 1850. [Note: Title amended from “Plan of a Part of the House Lot of the Hayes Farm … “] http://www.concordlibrary.org/scollect/Thoreau_surveys/30.htm

11. D. Shattuck’s Yellow House Lot – plan of – surveyed May 25, 1850


Later Sold to John Thoreau in 1857, scroll down to 1857 or see:https://aschmidt01742.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/thoreau%E2%80%99s-illustrated-atlas-1849-1860-volume-1857/

12. Court House & Town House Lots surveyed June 13, 1850



14. Daniel Shattuck’s Cottage – House Lot surveyed June 19, 1850


15. July 31, 1850 Squared Court House cellar.  Outside ground framing 74.5 by 74.5 yards (?)

Measured the ground excavated from the Court House Cellar Aug. 15 – 16 =606 ½ cubic yards

16.   Frances Monroe & Others Piece of land near the Depot, bought by Henry Wheeler August 17, 1850.


18. West Burying Ground at request of John Keyes – to find two sides – by measuring the lines of the old Brand place on the west.  August 30, 1850

20. Francis Monroe and others New Road To Depot through a lot described on page 16 August 1850


24.  Buildings – Academy, Little house, W’s Yellow house

25. W’s Barn, brick shop, Fay’s house, additions, barn, shop, Connant’s barn, NE barn, SW shed, Brooks hog pen, shed, Brook’s fence, hog pen, Berryman’s house shop adjacent.

26. – 27. Contd. F. Monroe & Others – Contemplated Roads, 2 alternatives


28. – 29. R. W. Emerson’s Woodlot October 28, 1850.  HT compares his survey plan to that of and an earlier plan by Hubbard and concludes his (HT) to be more accurate in Bartlett’s favor.

30. Nathan Brooks Esq. Woodlot sold by Cyrus Stow.  Found bounds November 1, 1850.

N.B. the surveys were marked without back-tracking but were tolerably accurate”.


31. Cyrus Stow Plotted off the last mentioned wood lot for. Nov. 14, 1850

31. Contd. Cyrus Hubbard, street near of Acton.  Surveyed a portion of a road between Acton Center and North Acton and made a plan of same. November 27, 1850

32. – 33. James Barrett Wood Surveyed a woodlot for, near the copper mines in the south part of Carlisle. Nov. 30, 1850

34. David Loring Drew a plan of the barn for. To the truth in Northboro. Dec. 16, 1850





34 Contd. New Court House Measured stonework of Dec. 31, 1850 Foundation and cellar wall 178.77 benches? Of 25 cubic feet each.