The Wheeler-Minot Farmhouse/Henry David Thoreau Birth House is also known as the Thoreau Farm. It is the birthplace of Henry David Thoreau, famous American writer, poet, and naturalist. Thoreau was born here in 1817 and the farmhouse was depicted in his journals. The farm is now preserved as a historical site and celebrates his life and works.
The Wheeler-Minor Farm was originally owned by Sgt. Thomas Wheeler and was passed down to his son John Wheeler, who built the farm and farmhouse in 1730.1 The house was then passed down to John Wheeler’s nephew, Jonas Minot, Thoreau’s eventual step-grandfather. The farm is a 20 acre plot of land, and the house is a 2.5 story frame made of wood clapboard in the traditional architectural style of the time.2
Thoreau’s parents, Cynthia and John Thoreau, lived in town at the time of their marriage, but moved back into the farmhouse in 1813 following the death of Minot. Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, and his family resided on the farm for the next eight months. After a harsh winter, the family moved back into town, leaving the farm behind. Although Thoreau only lived on the farm as an infant, his future writings drew upon his mother’s experiences on the farm.3
Thoreau lived in the town of Concord from the time of his birth until he began his studies at Harvard University, which he graduated from in 1837. After his graduation he became a protege and friend of fellow Concord resident Ralph Waldo Emerson. Under Emerson, Thoreau studied the philosophy of Transcendentalism, an American adaptation of Romantic Idealism which proclaims that “the secret of successful living was to hold oneself above material concerns as much as possible and focus on the spiritual.”4 In 1845, Thoreau built a small house on the shore of Walden Pond and put into practice his Transcendental ideals while writing books and essays. Most of his work did not become famous until after his death in 1862 from tuberculosis. Much of his unfinished work was published posthumously, including his daily journals, in which he often examined farm life during the 19th century, citing his mother’s experiences on the Wheeler-Minot Farm.5 Today Thoreau’s legacy is one of environmental conservatism far ahead of its time, as he was one of the earliest American writers to show society the value of the pure natural world. His writings "resonated with opinion leaders and the general public alike and laid the foundation for the explosion of conservation policy that began a generation later."6
In 1878 the residents moved the house 300 yards and built a new house on the original site. There were also significant interior and exterior changes made, such as removal of the center chimney.7 In 1995 the owner of the house, James Breen, passed away and the house was purchased by the nonprofit organization Thoreau Farm. The house was registered on the National Register of Historic Places and restored by the architect Larry Sorli. The majority of the interior was salvaged and the exterior replicated according to photos, and the land was restored to an open, farm-style plot. The restored house displays “Thoreau’s extraordinary insights and ideas about life, nature and individual responsibility are as relevant today as they were during his lifetime.” The society hopes visitors “will use his birthplace as a source of inspiration for living deliberately, practicing simplicity and exploring new ideas for positive change.” The exhibits focus on “Thoreau’s ideas, stimulate discussion and debate with visitors and encourage visitors to reflect on how they can live more deliberately in accordance with their own values.”8
1 Thoreau Farm. Accessed November 07, 2017. http://thoreaufarm.org/thoreau-birth-house/.
2 Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System. Accessed November 07, 2017. http://mhc-macris.net/Details.aspx?MhcId=CON.177.
3 Thoreau Farm. Accessed November 07, 2017. http://thoreaufarm.org/thoreau-birth-house/.
4 Life and Legacy. Thoreau Society. Accessed November 07, 2017. https://www.thoreausociety.org/life-legacy.
6 Ten American Conservation Heroes. SwitchBack Travel. Accessed December 01, 2017. https://www.switchbacktravel.com/americas-top-10-conservation-heroes#Thoureau.
7 Thoreau Farm Trust. The Town of Concord, Massachusetts. Accessed November 07, 2017. http://concordma.gov/documentcenter/view/2442.