Wheeler - Thoreau Shanty Site Discovery

Discovered by Jeff Craig on May 21, 2013. Archaeologists from five major universities have contributed advice and technical assistance to the continuing evaluation of this site. If confirmed, the site will be historic, as it served as the "genesis" of Thoreau's Walden cabin plans.



Many people are familiar with Henry David Thoreau, and his famous cabin experiment at Walden Pond from 1845 - 1847. What is not well known is that Walden was not Thoreau's first experience living in a cabin. Eight years earlier, when he was 20 years old, Thoreau spent 6 weeks living in a Shanty at Flint's Pond, which was built by his close friend Charles Stearns Wheeler. Thoreau enjoyed staying at Wheeler's Shanty so much that he decided he wanted to build a cabin of his own. While Wheeler's Shanty was important historically, the actual Shanty site became "lost" in modern times. After an exhaustive search, it appears likely that Jeff Craig has found the historic site. Now, the exciting details of what was found there can be revealed, and why there is strong evidence it is the actual Shanty site. The location also has many similarities with Thoreau's cabin setting at Walden. Thoreau's experiences living at this Shanty undoubtedly influenced him, and help to explain why he pursued his Walden cabin experiment the way he did.








THE KEY INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED WITH THE SHANTY


Charles Stearns Wheeler

He was Thoreau's roommate and close friend during their four years at Harvard University. Under Emerson's influence, he built a Shanty in 1836 on the shore of Flint's Pond, serving as the Transcendentalist's first outdoor living experiment. He used the Shanty for 6 years, from 1836 - 1842. Served as the Greek Tutor and a History Instructor at Harvard for four years (from 1838 to 1842). Traveled to Europe in Sept. 1842 (to conduct research for Emerson and others), dying nine months later in Germany from gastric fever.


Henry David Thoreau

He was Wheeler's close friend and roommate when they attended Harvard from 1833 to 1837. He stayed at Wheeler's Shanty for 6 weeks during the summer of 1837, where he got the idea to build his own cabin. His experiences at Wheeler's Shanty contributed to his decision to try and build a cabin at Flint's Pond (where he could not get a landowner's permission). He eventually built his cabin at Walden Pond, conducting his own outdoor living experiment from 1845 - 1847.

Emerson's important influence with Wheeler (regarding Transcendentalism) contributed to Wheeler's decision to build the Shanty in 1836. Wheeler definitely had help from his family to build the Shanty, and perhaps Thoreau helped to build it as well.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

- Graduated from Harvard in 1821. He then attended the Harvard Divinity School, becoming a licensed minister in 1826.

- Wheeler became an “Emerson disciple” in 1835, after Wheeler heard his Sermons in church. Wheeler assisted him edit works by Carlyle and Tennyson for their first publication in America.

- Published his famous essay "Nature" in 1836, the basis of the early Transcendentalism movement.

- Emerson encouraged Wheeler to find divinity in nature, helping to inspire his Shanty experiment at Flint’s Pond that began in 1836.

- Began friendship with Thoreau in the Fall of 1837, serving as a mentor and supporter of Thoreau’s early writing in the "Dial" and later essays & books.

- Provided Thoreau the land he needed to build his cabin at Walden Pond in 1845.


The Chronology of Events that led to the Shanty site Discovery


- Jeff Craig begins research about the lost site in Dec. 2012, reviewing numerous Wheeler family papers for possible clues about the Shanty's location.

- Begins Shanty search at Flint’s Pond in early Feb. 2013.

- Explores seven (7) possible sites (with stone foundations) over the next 3 months.

- Finds the possible Shanty site on May 21, 2013.

- Several archaeologists get involved in providing recommendations to evaluate the site. Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is conducted at the site in July 2015.

- Jeff Craig discovers important evidence at the site in May 2017, and the subsequent evaluation of this evidence over the next three months leads to his conclusion that the Wheeler - Thoreau Shanty site has been found.

- Archaeologists from five major universities have contributed advice and technical assistance (at various times) to advance the scientific evaluation of this site. None of these archaeologists have been working on this project continuously, and their involvement with the project is greatly appreciated. Their participation was primarily in an advisory role, to assist Jeff Craig, who is an amateur archaeologist. An Archaeology Department at a major university has offered to fund an excavation of this possible Shanty site. Whether this excavation is eventually completed is not certain, due to the complexity of securing formal permission from required government agencies.


The likely Wheeler - Thoreau Shanty site area


The likely Site of the Wheeler - Thoreau Shanty:

- No remains of the Shanty structure are visible above ground today.

- The site contains a "Dry Stone" foundation underground.

- Many general details about this likely Shanty site have already been discovered, and they will be explained in detail in Jeff Craig's book (to be published in 2020).

- The site awaits additional scientific evaluation, to learn the specific details of how the Shanty structure was built, and other important information that may be ascertained.

- To protect the site for future scientific evaluation, the exact location of the site will be kept Confidential for the foreseeable future.


An artifact found at the site, a large chiseled piece of granite. Some of the fragments from this granite were probably used in the Shanty's stone foundation.


Another chiseled artifact found at the site, with lime mortar clearly visible on portions of the stone. Lime mortar was definitely used in the construction of this Shanty.




Wheeler used his Shanty from 1836 through 1842, primarily during the summers while he was on vacation from Harvard. Besides Thoreau, he also hosted other Harvard friends at the Shanty, including Samuel Hildreth and Charles Hayward.

Wheeler used the Shanty not only as a retreat to relax, but as a place to study, similar to how Thoreau used his Walden retreat to study nature, and write the drafts of two books while he lived there.

Ellery Channing wrote a letter to Frank Sanborn (in 1883) describing Wheeler's Shanty experiment, and Thoreau's 6 week stay there. Channing wrote "Stearns Wheeler built a 'shanty' on Flint's Pond for the purpose of economy, for purchasing Greek books and going abroad to study. Whether Mr. Thoreau assisted him to build this shanty I cannot say, but I think he may have; also that he spent six weeks with him there. As Mr. Thoreau was not too original and inventive to follow the example of others, if good to him, it is very probable this undertaking of Stearns Wheeler, whom he regarded (as I think I have heard him say) a heroic character, suggested his own experiment at Walden.....It seems to me highly probable that Mr. Wheeler's experiment suggested Mr. Thoreau's, as he was a man he almost worshipped."

Prior to the discovery of this Shanty site, there was very little known about the physical details of the Shanty. With Jeff Craig's discovery, the historical void will be lifted, many unanswered questions about the Shanty will probably become known. The scientific evaluation of the site will take time, and thus the Public's understanding of why the site's location must remain Confidential is appreciated.




Two of many access points Wheeler and Thoreau may have used for the pond




Look for Jeff Craig's book in 2020!


Jeff Craig has written a book about his Shanty Site search, and why it was such a difficult project. During his initial research, he encountered historical information about the Shanty's location that turned out to be completely false, including one source that stated Wheeler's Shanty was located on a reedy island in the middle of Flint's Pond.

Spending over five years on this project, Jeff Craig explains all the challenges he faced in finding the site, how he overcame them, and a few of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that almost stopped the project. Jeff also explains in great detail how he found the site, the strong evidence he's encountered to show it's the probable site, and all the exciting details about what the Shanty would have been like when Wheeler and Thoreau lived there over 180 years ago.

Scheduled to be published in 2020, Jeff Craig has pledged to donate a significant portion of the book's profits for the benefit of the Flint's Pond Conservation Area (in honor of Charles Stearns Wheeler).


To contact Jeff Craig, please send an E-mail to:

WheelerThoreauShantyDiscovery@gmail.com


Thanks to the seven Archaeologists and two Professors who have contributed valuable advice and technical assistance to the continuing evaluation of this possible historic site. Heralding from five major universities across the country, Jeff Craig is indebted to them for their expert advice and support to help identify this "lost" Shanty site (that if confirmed, is where Thoreau's destiny was changed forever by his experiences at Wheeler's Shanty).


Check back to this website for occasional updates!


















Flint's Pond at Sunset



Copyright 2018 by Jeffrey B. Craig

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