Early Collectors and Donors: Sophia Thoreau and Her Brother's Manuscripts and Books

9.  Henry David Thoreau.  Draft survey of Edward Damon factory site, [May 6, 7, 13, 14, 1859]. 

Thoreau Survey Edward Damon factory
Click on image for a larger view.

Ink and some pencil on paper.  Survey 25a in the Henry David Thoreau Papers (part of the CFPL Vault Collection).  Deposited in the library by Sophia E. Thoreau, 1874/1875; bequeathed by her, 1876/1877.

On Henry Thoreau’s death, the surveying papers among his personal effects consisted of a volume of field notes and the draft surveys he had prepared in the process of completing the final versions to be delivered to his clients.  Some parcels were represented by several sequential drafts, from rough pencil to pencil and ink to all ink.  (The finished version handed over to a paying customer was entirely in ink, with a tell-tale line border around the image.)

The draft survey shown here is of the Damon Mill property in West Concord.  (The Damon family owns the finished survey.)  The mill building depicted by Thoreau in 1859 burned in 1862 and a replacement—still standing on the site today—was constructed immediately.

The Concord Free Public Library Thoreau survey collection as a whole provides incredible documentation of the intersection of landscape and literature.  (This collection is fully accessible on the library’s website, at http://www.concordlibrary.org/scollect/Thoreau_Surveys/Thoreau_Surveys.htm).  Academic scholars have been slow to recognize that Thoreau’s manuscript surveys are something more than just maps.  Nevertheless, a more nuanced appreciation of their relation to his journal and other writings has grown in recent years.  For Thoreau, the landscape was both a literal and a metaphorical entity, and this approach was reflected in his visual as well as his textual work.  Without question, his field notes and surveys depict the physical reality of parcels of land.  At the same time, they represent an important expression of methodology and thought parallel to his journal and other writings.  Literary scholars like Patrick Chura in his Thoreau the Land Surveyor (2010) are now beginning to explore the synergy between Thoreau’s surveying and other aspects of his life. 


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