the Concord Magazine May/June 2000
The Ezine for and about Concord, Massachusetts

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Amusements at Lake Walden


Lake Walden train stop and amusement parkBy Ginger Allison, who likes a walk around Walden during the twilight hours.

"Perhaps on that spring morning when Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden Walden Pond was already in existence, and even then breaking up in a gentle spring rain accompanied with mist and a southerly wind, and covered with myriads of ducks and geese, which had not heard of the fall, when still such pure lakes sufficed them...It is a gem of the first water which Concord wears in her coronet."

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Many visitors to Walden Pond today are shocked that the place is not the lonely, isolated, pristine beauty they believed it would be from Henry David Thoreau's writings. They are appalled to find there is a busy roadway not far from its edge, a small trailer park across the street, parking for a fee, a giftshop, and -- especially on summer and fall weekend days -- throngs of people sunbathing, swimming, fishing, picnicking, running and walking.

Where is the silence they had expected, broken only by birdsong and wind? That perfect solitude for reflection and contemplation, where the lessons of Nature are the only teachers?

Romantic notions, these. Though Walden and its surrounding woods still retain great natural beauty, there are far fewer lonely times there than many would wish. However, the pond is in some ways now comparatively more "natural" than it was in the late 19th century, a feat which required years of restoration and conservation.

First Came the Thoreauvians
Though without wide acclaim during Thoreau's lifetime, Walden Pond grew in popularity soon after his death in 1862. At first, this was due to the growing fame of his Walden, Or, Life in the Woods, with Thoreau devotees beating a path to its shores in growing numbers to admire its natural beauty and reflect upon his works and ideals.

These philosophical pilgrims soon had other Walden visitors to contend with. In 1866, the Fitchburg Railroad, which had for years ran the railway along the edge of the pond, bought beachfront land a quarter mile from Thoreau's cove. It was located nearest their tracks and developed for tourist bathing and other amusements. Pavillions were added for picnic tables, dancing, a race track, swings, and public speaking. Fields were cleared for football and baseball.

The pond's water was a cyclical low point, making a larger-than-usual bathing area. The railroad enhanced the beach for bathers' tender feet by covering the rough, rocky soil with sand. Current Concord historian Tom Blanding notes this was the very beach on which Nathaniel Hawthorne had previously declared "none but angels should bathe."

Lake Walden Most Popular Boston-Area Destination
Easily reached by the train between Boston and Fitchburg, the place was renamed "Lake Walden" (photo top left). It became the most popular summer resort in the area, hosting endless clubs, associations, Sunday school outings, encampments, and excursions. George Bartlett noted in his 1985 edition of The Concord Guide Book that "[t]housands of people [were] attracted to Walden Pond by the athletic games and other contests of skill and many city churches bring their children of all ages to enjoy a quiet day among its sylvan solitudes."

Ice fishing on Walden Pond In 1867, Thoreau's sister Sophia noted following a stop at Walden that she had shared the place with several hundred other visitors. "Since arrangements for picnic parties have been made, the pond seldom enjoys a quiet day during the summer months. Associations have rendered the spot so entirely sacred to me, that the music and dancing, swinging and tilting, seemed like profanity almost. An overwhelming sense of my great loss saddened me and I felt that only the waters sympathized in my bereavement..."

Today, the game and speaking pavilions are gone, as are the dance platforms, race track and the railroad stop itself. Walden is different than it was in Thoreau's time, but it still boasts a famously large and healthy diversity of plant and animal life. Though far from the unspoiled perfection which possibly only ever resided in the minds of some tourists and pilgrims, the pond to a large extent manages to absorb the many visitors who come to its shores yearly.

During the winter, poor weather, and very early or late in the day during the summer, a visitor can at times imagine that they are alone there with the water, sky, and forest.

"[Walden] has not acquired one permanent wrinkle after all its ripples. It is perennially young, and I may stand and see a swallow dip apparently to pick an insect from its surface as of yore." (Walden)


Text: ©2000 The Concord, MA Homepage
Walden Train Station (circa 1880's [?]), used courtesy of the Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library.
Ice Fishing at Walden ©2000 Richard Stevenson.
Leaf Background: The Mars Hotel (a Website gone with no forwarding address).
Gold Background: ABC Giant.


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