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Henry David Thoreau in CIDNA

In spring of 1861, Henry David Thoreau, weakened by the tuberculosis that would take his life a year later, was advised by his doctor to seek a change of climate. Thoreau wrote, “[I]t will be most expedient for me to try the air of Minnesota,” and by the end of May he had left Concord, Mass., and was roaming the woods and marshes of what is now the Chain of Lakes area of Minneapolis. Thoreau chronicled the visit in his journal with the intention of expanding on these rough notes, but did not live to do so. Back in Concord, he died of tuberculosis on May 6, 1862.

While here, he walked the woods and marshes, the glacially carved valley now called Dean Parkway, and the shores of our three lakes. He described and cataloged, often with their Latin names, the flora and fauna he found in and near “lake of the isles” and “Lake Calhoun” — our CIDNA neighborhood — from phlox to goldenrod, loons to turkey buzzards.

Today we can view the journal manuscript — writings in Thoreau’s own hand — on the Gutenberg website, but they are almost impossible to decipher. In 1962 Walter Harding succeeded in transcribing them for a booklet, Thoreau’s Minnesota journey: two documents. To find the many references to the lakes in this online document, use the search terms “lake of the isles,” and “Calhoun.”

Read more about Thoreau’s visit to Minnesota in “Thoreau in Minnesota,” a 1935 paper by John T. Flanagan, on the Minnesota Historical Society website.

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All images courtesy of the Hennepin County Digital Library