Walden Pond Remembered

By: 
Eli Post

 

You learn a lot when you snoop around on the club’s Google Group. In this case, it’s a bit of fascinating history of one of our better known local landmarks. The discussion started when Rami Haddad, CRW President, went on a trial run around Walden Pond in Concord, to explore an “abandoned race track” in Wright Woods.

There is a tiny loop there that was once used for bicycle racing, although as Larry Finison, who has written about bicycle history in the Boston area, points out while “there were bicycle races as part of the Knights of Columbus celebration at the Concord fairgrounds in 1899 and 1900, there were mainly horse races on the track.”

 

There is a collection of Walden Pond remembrances here and we include a few from long ago. It was clearly a different time and the Pond played a large role especially for those who grew up in the Concord area.

My mother would take me down to the railroad track side of Walden where the old railroad pavilion used to be. That's how I learned about the pavilion that was there about 100 years ago built by the Fitchburg division of the Boston & Maine railroad to keep their trains running on weekends. They would run excursion trains out there packed with people and there was a dance hall and swimming and boats to rent and everybody had a very good time. It finally burned down. 

As small boys we used to explore the neighborhood on our bicycles when I suppose we were probably ten or twelve years of age and then we would wander into the woods. One of the places where we wondered was the woods across the railroad track from Walden Pond and here we discovered straight wooden structures which appeared to be somewhat dilapidated swings and rides, possibly merry-go-rounds and presently we discovered a cinder track. On inquiring from my father I learned that these were the remains of a sort of amusement park and that Walden was something like the Revere Beach of Boston in those early days. The cinder track was used for foot races according to father's recollection although not for horse races or anything of that sort.

The pond was certainly well used by Concord people. Many of us who could bicycle would go down. And then later on as older teenagers and young adults we would certainly drive down. Quite often we would go to "the point" even then because we liked the swimming over there and it was always much quieter.

Our Sunday School classes would take the streetcar to Thoreau Street and then hike down to Walden for our picnics. There was a hot dog stand at the beach run by Fred Hart, but in general Walden wasn't a developed area. Nor was there much emphasis put on Henry David Thoreau as today. My mother would tell me of the big picnic grounds, including an 1892 picnic of Chinese people, the trains on the sidings and the drownings.

The picnic grounds included a dance hall and a railroad station and was at the opposite end of the lake from the beach along the railroad tracks. They had bathhouses constructed over the water so that the people went into the bathhouse to enter the water. There was a ladies bathhouse and a men's bathhouse. This recreation area was used until forest fires destroyed the railroad station and the dance hall, and gradually the picnic grounds were given up. Huge crowds used to come out from Boston on special trains to spend the day at Walden. There was a refreshment stand but people had to bring their own liquor.

The unlicensed sale of liquor was a community problem a century ago and Town Meeting and the selectmen annually wrestled with the struggle between prohibition and anti-prohibition forces. Louisa May Alcott was a strong proponent of temperance and succeeded in organizing a militant local Women's Christian Temperance Union that showed their influence at Town Meetings on whether licenses for the sale of liquor should be issued. Walden Pond was a gathering place for prohibition rallies and clashes with the opposing forces were inevitable and sometimes violent consequences.

 

 

References:

Wright Woods  https://www.concordland.org/land/wright-woods 

Walden Pod Remembered Concord Oral History Program -- Walden Pond Remembered. | Special Collections | Concord Free Public Library (concordlibrary.org)