Oil on canvasPurchased from the William M. Prichard Fund, 1954
Walden Pond is Concord’s best-known landscape feature, familiar to countless readers of Thoreau’s Walden, or, Life in the Woods (first published in 1854). Thoreau’s book imbued the pond with a spiritual quality that still draws a steady stream of pilgrims in addition to the swimmers, fishermen, and picknickers inevitably drawn to any clean body of water.
The shores of Walden have not always presented an idyllic face. Even in the nineteenth century, the pond was appreciated as much for its recreational possibilities as for its natural beauty. In his Concord Historic, Literary, and Picturesque (a revised, expanded version of his 1880 Concord Guide Book), Bartlett wrote of Walden as “a pellucid basin of the purest water nestling among low hills. Its rare and lovely beauty attracted alike the poet, philosopher, and naturalist.” A few pages later, however, he described in detail the picnic, swimming, and athletic areas created at Walden after the Fitchburg Railroad purchased land on the side of the pond nearest the railroad track, in 1866.
The railroad brought in sand to make a beach suitable for bathing. Bathhouses were built, a path made around the pond, and swings, see-saws, merry-go-rounds, and pavilions installed. Footpaths were cut through the woods, and fields for football and baseball as well as a racetrack added. Boats took visitors out onto the pond. A wooden footbridge—visible to the left in this painting—allowed people to cross the tracks without danger.
Lake Walden was a convenient day trip from Boston and a popular destination for thousands. Needless to say, some who remembered Walden in Thoreau’s time were disturbed by the crowds of pleasure-seekers who visited the amusement park.