Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2012 Preservation Award Winners
Wheeler-Minot House / Thoreau Farm • Concord

Wheeler-Minot House / Thoreau Farm • Concord

Education & Outreach, Rehabilitation & Restoration

The Wheeler-Minot House was built ca. 1730 for John Wheeler and sold to Deacon Samuel Minot in 1756. Minot conveyed the property to his son James, whose second wife, Mary Jones Dunbar, was the maternal grandmother of transcendentalist author Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau was born in this house in 1817, and moved with his parents to Concord town center eight months later. The Minot farm subsequently went through several hands, before becoming a tenant farm in the late 19th century, worked primarily by African Americans and immigrants from Ireland, Nova Scotia, and Scandinavia. Although Thoreau lived at the farm only briefly, the site provided both inspiration and subject matter for his own writings. After Thoreau's death in 1862, the house took on increasing significance as a destination for Thoreau enthusiasts, scholars, and literary pilgrims. It was moved a short distance in 1878. Farmed for much of the 20th century, the property, with 22 acres, came on the market in 1995, ripe for subdivision. A coalition secured the land, but the fate of the house itself was in doubt. It remained inaccessible to the public until the Thoreau Farm Trust acquired the house and two adjacent protected acres from the town in 2007.

That year, the Trust initiated fundraising for restoration and rehabilitation. Much of the building's historic interior fabric remained, and was restored or replaced in-kind. The Thoreau birth room retains a wall of intact 18th-century paneling. All colors chosen for the house were documented to Thoreau's time through paint analysis. Exterior decorative elements, most of which had been lost over time, were reproduced. A new ell accommodates accessible bathrooms, a chair lift, and mechanical systems. Because of Thoreau's love of nature, the Trust chose to preserve the dooryard of the house, incorporate an organic kitchen garden, and return fields to agricultural use. The Trust leases land to Gaining Ground, a nonprofit organization that grows organic produce, engages children in farming activities, and donates all food to meal programs and food pantries. The property's rich heritage presents many opportunities for programming related to New England history, architecture, and agriculture, as well as Thoreau-specific topics such as literature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. This is by no means a traditional house museum--the building serves as a space to support the Trust's mission promoting civic engagement and discussion in the spirit of Thoreau.

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