Fifteen miles northwest of Boston, just outside Concord, Massachusetts, lies Walden Pond.
With 1.7 miles (2.7 km) of shore length it is neither the largest lake in New England nor the most beautiful. But what other lake in America can claim to have been the prize of a king or the embodiment of a significant period in American literature? Walden Pond is beautiful, but its history is what makes it unique.
In the early nineteenth century, with the invention of the ice box and other preservation techniques, the demand for ice skyrocketed around the globe. Frederic Tudor, a Boston native, started up a shipping company which began harvesting ice from ten different lakes around Boston, including Walden Pond. As the Tudor Ice Company grew, he became known as Boston’s “Ice King,” and Tudor ice filled glasses and ice boxes from Boston to Bombay. After watching Tudor Company ice harvesters carve into the lake, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well … The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.”
From 1845 to 1847, while residing on the lakeside property of his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau penned Walden; or, Life in the Woods. A pillar of American literature, Walden explored simplistic living and harmony with nature. Known for his transcendentalist philosophies and support of civil disobedience, Thoreau’s writings influenced noted figures like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Ernest Hemingway, and Mohandas Gandhi, among others. In fact, Gandhi credited Thoreau’s work with galvanizing him in the fight for Indian independence, calling him “one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced.”
Walden Pond is a beautiful lake with clear, cool water perfect for swimming on a hot summer day. It is a quintessential example of New England scenery, a nature preserve home to countless local flora and fauna. But it is also a moment, suspended in time; a piece of history that continues to inspire visitors to follow in Thoreau’s famous words: “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.”