Friday, April 29, 2016

Concord to Fitchburg

Title page image from Walden, 1854We made a cool connection this week of two seemingly unrelated pieces that speak to each other. Naturally, we have a first edition of Thoreau's Walden: or, Life in the Woods (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854). That was no surprise, but we wanted to contextualize it for a class. There are the other transcendentalists, sure, and we have a lot of material in our White Mountains collection about experiencing nature in the 1850s. But then we remembered the railroad that Thoreau "rails" on as a kind of ungodly beast of the industrial revolution.

Some quick work on Google, and we knew it was the Fitchburg Railroad Company whose line from Concord to Fitchburg defiled Walden Pond. Then we checked the collections and found we have the original proposal from 1842 to establish the line, with predictions on usage, benefits to western Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. The rail line seems like a pretty good idea from that perspective--a nice counter to Thoreau's disgust.

Fitchburg Railroad Company prospectus, 1842We also have annual reports from the Fitchburg Railroad Company from the 1840s and 1850s, so we can get a good idea of the annual traffic that rumbled by the pond and shook Thoreau's cabin. Incidentally, Thoreau objected to the train not just for disturbing the beauty of nature, but also for being a slow way to travel. He reckoned that it would take a day's work to earn the money to take the train from Concord to Fitchburg. So, you could work all day Wednesday to earn the fare, then take the train the next morning and be in Fitchburg by noon on Thursday.  Or, you could just set out walking on Wednesday morning and get to Fitchburg that evening--you would beat the train by 18 hours and have had a much better day!

To see Walden, ask for Val 816 T391 Y515. The Fitchburg Railroad Company prospectus is Chase Streeter New Eng F 5 3, and the annual reports are Chase Streeter New Eng F 5 1.

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