07/13/2012, 1:00-2:30 PM


1. Welcome to Workshop XI of the Thoreau Society’s 2012 Annual Conference.

“I find when I have been building a fence or surveying a farm, or even collecting samples, that these were the true paths to perception and enjoyment….

If, as a poet or naturalist, you wish to explore a given neighborhood, go and get your living in it.” —Thoreau, Journal, October 28,1857

2. Thoreau’s interest in “getting his living in it” i.e. working as a surveyor, can be seen in a broadside he published advertising his surveying services.


3. As for Thoreau’s early exposure to and use of surveying concepts, Patrick Chura noted that:

“Aside from early stints as a schoolteacher and an employee of his father’s pencil factory, working as a land surveyor was as close as Henry David Thoreau ever came to a steady means of income and “legitimate” profession.

His Harvard curriculum (between 1833 and 1837) included “mensuration of surfaces and solids as well as surveying,” so we can assume that he picked up the basics of land measurement as a student.

But the record of his experi­ence in the field began with his teaching of surveying principles at the private school he ran with his brother, John, from 1839 to 1841.

In 1840 Thoreau “obtained” a combination leveling instrument and circumferentor, probably by borrowing it from Cyrus Hubbard, and “ascertained the height of the cliff hill—and surveyed other objects.”2

With the com­pass and a graduated staff, Henry and a partner—in all likelihood his brother—spent the better part of a November day measuring the vertical slope from the surface of the Concord River to a “Top of Rock” on the Cliff Hill Peak.  

They arrive at their figure of 231.09 feet as the height of the hill as they executed a well-planned differential-leveling procedure by taking vertical readings at nineteen separate locations as they ascended from the river”3.
Source:  Thoreau The Land Surveyor by Patrick Chura 2010, Chapter 4, The Skillful Engineer, page 71

Davies, Charles (1798-1876).  Elements of surveying, and navigation; with a description of the instruments and the necessary tables.  By Charles Davies …
Revised edition (New York A.S. Barnes & Co., 1847).  188, 100 pages; folding plates.

Davies published many editions of his book on surveying, the first appearing in 1830.

Fifteenth edition 1846

Thoreau had surveyed Walden Pond in 1846 (a year before the date of the 1847 edition of Davies in Thoreau’s book collection in the CFPL)

5. One of the earliest mentions of Thoreau’s work as a surveyor was recorded on H. F. Walling’s 1852 Map of Concord where Walling notes that:

The Town lines are laid down principally from old surveys:
White Pond and Walden Pond from surveys by H D “Thoreau Civ Eng”

(Thoreau had surveyed Walden Pond in 1846 and White Pond in 1851)

6. The Thoreau Society has an ongoing project that draws upon GIS technology known as http://www.mappingthoreaucountry.org/
“This site uses historical maps to organize and display primary materials related to Thoreau’s travels throughout Massachusetts. Clicking on highlighted locations will open new pages containing explanatory notes, images, quotes, and links to additional resources that illuminate Thoreau’s remarkable contributions to American political, social, economic, and environmental thought.”
Susan Gallagher, PhD
Medford, MA

Thoreau’s Travels within Massachusetts as described above are listed chronologically in the following table:


7. Today I will be discussing “Thoreau’s Illustrated Atlas”  A publication originally suggested by Bronson Alcott and  mentioned in Marcia Moss’ “Catalog of Thoreau Surveys” published by The Thoreau Society as Booklet 28, Geneseo, New York, 1976.

Marcia Moss’ Catalog is out of print but original typewritten copies are available in the Concord Free Public Library (CFPL).
A PDF file of a CFPL copy is referenced at:

A transcribed and slightly reformatted version of Marcia Moss’ “Catalog of Thoreau Surveys” is available online as an entry in my blog at: http://aschmidt01742.wordpress.com/2010/07/.

Moss lists Thoreau’s surveys alphabetically by name and also provides a brief date index of Thoreau’s Surveys.

7.1. Marcia Moss’ in her 1976 “Catalog of Thoreau Surveys” notes that 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.

Thoreau died before he could do so but his sister Sophia Thoreau collected his surveys and donated them to the CFPL.

8. A catalog of Thoreau’s Land and Building Surveys 1846-1860 listed alphabetically by survey name and curated by the CFPL are available online at: http://www.concordlibrary.org/scollect/Thoreau_surveys/Thoreau_surveys.htm

9. The CFPL catalog of Thoreau’s surveys also can be viewed in a spreadsheet format as:


Note that I have added a column of data labeled DATE YMD.

10. By recording the catalog as a spreadsheet it is then possible to sort its contents by the date of each survey such as:


The resulting table provides a valuable date index for use in conjunction with the original CFPL name index of Thoreau’s Land and Building Surveys.

11. The CFPL also curates and provides access to microfilm copies of Thoreau’s “Survey-related notes, manuscripts, etc., they include measurements and calculations, field notes, and other material generated by Thoreau in the preparation of his surveys. Thoreau used the manuscript volume he entitled Field-Notes of Surveys Made by Henry D. Thoreau Since November 1849 (containing dated entries from 1849 to 1861, plus some material tipped or laid in) to record work done for various employers, measurements, expenses, and fees
charged.” http://www.concordlibrary.org/scollect/Fin_Aids/HDT.html

12. Thoreau’s Field Notes of Surveys may be found online at
The online file was created in January 2012 from photocopies of the CFPL microfilm images.  

Note each page of Thoreau’s original Field Notes of Surveys 1849-1860 were numbered sequentially by Thoreau and are referenced by me in the online file and in my copy of Thoreau’s Illustrated Atlas.

Each page of Thoreau’s original Field Notes of Surveys 1849-1860  contain data for one or more surveys.  Data for some surveys extend across several pages. 

All entries appear chronologically with one or more dates per page and one or more surveys per date.  This appears to be a complete catalog of all of Thoreau’s surveys for the time period 1849-1860.

13. Surveyor’s Tools used by Thoreau including: Surveyor’s Stakes & Chains w/ links plus various drafting instrument.(curated by The Concord Museum)

(seealso  “An Observant Eye, The Thoreau Collection At The Concord Museum” by David F. Wood)


14. Thoreau’s Surveyor’s Compass, Survey Field Notes, field sketches and final drafted maps are curated by The CFPL Special Collections Leslie Perrin Wilson, Curator, and Constance Manoli-Skocay, Staff Assistant and Robert C.W. Hall, Jr., Technical Services Associate Librarian

15. Thoreau’s Illustrated Atlas is a collection of Thoreau’s Land and Building surveys based upon copies of Thoreau’s surveys curated by and with permission from the Concord Free Public Library, the Concord Museum, the American Antiquarian Society (Worcester) and the Morgan Museum & Library (NYC).  

As such it is a listing of Thoreau’s land and building surveys that I have been able to identify to date.

16. The surveys are listed in chronological order and include a sketch of each survey’s estimated geographic boundary labeled with their CFPL alphabetical ID drawn on Herbert Gleason’s 1906 Map of Concord plus a reference to its the page number as recorded in Thoreau’s “Field Notes of Surveys”.

Each survey’s outline sketch has north up ala Gleason’s 1906 Map of Concord, regardless how Thoreau originally had drawn it.  

See discussion of “viewpoint” for Walden Pond or Isaac Watt’s Woodlot, below.

17. Thoreau’s Illustrated Atlas is intended to increase ease of access to Thoreau by adding chronological and geographic frames of reference, i.e. add possibility of inquiries based on temporal and geographic context of Thoreau’s life as surveyor and writer.

   Plotting the location of each survey chronologically  provides an 1849-1860 timeline of Thoreau’s activity within the area bounded by Gleason’s 1906 Map of Concord.

My version of “Thoreau’s Illustrated Atlas” may be found online at


18. Begin at Walden Pond 1846 survey
Note (N orientation down with Thoreau’s hut as viewpoint)

versus Walden Pond from Thoreau’s Hut local viewpoint and from Gleason’s 1906 Concord Map (N orientation up, with Town of Concord as viewpoint).

19. Case studies of Thoreau’s Land and Building Surveys in Thoreau’s Chronological Atlas: Discuss

20. Thoreau’s 1849 Miscalculation of Isaac Watt’s Woodlot.

21. A chronology of John Thoreau’s Yellow House Lot, so called, including its negotiated purchase by Louisa May Alcott.

http://aschmidt01742.wordpress.com/2011/05/21/a-chronology-of-john-thoreau%E2%80%99s-yellow-house-lot-so-called-its-purchase-by-louisa-may-a            lcott/

22.  John B. Moore’s Farm
Originally surveyed by Thoreau in  April 1850, February 10, 11, 12, 18, 19, 1853, May 3, 1859, April I860.  Land on Lexington Road.  Site of the home of Dr. Samuel Prescott of Revolutionary War fame.  

Moore bought swampland and drained it to reclaim it for farming.  The February 1853 one shows land sold to E. W. Bull, Nathaniel Hawthorne, A. B. Alcott and Charles Davis.  The land stretched over the hill to Bedford Road and as far east as the Merriam land on Old Bedford Road.- The whole lot was sold at auction, May 10, 1860.

Reproduced here courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.
A draft version of  Thoreau’s plans of Moore’s property can be found on the Concord Free Public Library’s website (map 94a-c in the collection of Thoreau’s surveys and maps).

A composite of the four sections of map 94a is shown below.  Note it is dated Feb 1853, same as the above map, but clearly is an earlier  graphic representation of that map data.


The image shown was derived from CFPL images that have been and remain the property of the Library and is included here only as illustration of how a user of the Library’s data can enhance the data value and accessibility by creating composite images of the currently segmented data files.  It is my hope the Library will consider offering all their currently segmented map data in a similar composite format.  Doing so will increase the value of the images and their potential economic return from map publishers.

23. Demonstrate linkages to online files of Thoreau’s chronological Journals in the online library of the Walden Woods Project:


24. Provide an animated display of Thoreau’s land and buildings survey activity over time in order to illustrate patterns of change over time and space.

25. Today’s presentation was made possible by the assistance of The Concord Free Public Library, Technical Services/Technology, Caroline Nie, Head and her staff.

26. Thoreau’s Illustrated Atlas is a subset of Thoreau’s chronological Atlas my ongoing blog at:http://aschmidt01742.wordpress.com/.

27. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/06/science/daphne-koller-technology-as-a-passport-to-personalized-education.html?_r=2&ref=science

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