I have thought that Walden Pond would be a good place for business... it is a good port and a good foundation.

re-surveying walden

edge operations




van alen edition

variants from lectures at van alen institute, coopers union, & northeastern


text version (printable) here.

Note: Where possible,  links from this presentation lead to web-hosted texts, maps, and period databases; they should open in a new tab. Ditto for the sources beneath each graphic. For endnotes with many links, one will be chosen.


A standard set of end-notes and figure sources are available, here, at the end of the presentation.  


graphic sources: map 2, cover 3

Hi, I’m Meg Studer.

I run Siteations Studio

and teach at City College.

Part designer, part historian, today I’d like to re-survey Walden. 1


Granted, Thoreau's text is

Dusty, Canonic, Opinionated.


but it traces the trade in

urban resources

and climate control,

circa 1850.

graphic sources: survey 8, ad 9

For instance, “The Pond in Winter” 4

invites us to explore the antecedent Coldscape, 5

the feedback between its’ urban,

consumer, and climatic forms.


There, describing the winters

of 1846 and 47, Thoreau recounts

dual demarcations

of the pond:


The extraction of ice

for sale mirrors his

depth surveys. 6


Each frozen etching stakes out territory for commerce and, given Thoreau’s professional surveying, competence.  7

graphic sources: survey 8, ad 9

Having started the chapter with his morning excursions for drinking water, Thoreau describes successive scales of ice harvesting.


He begins with

traditional techniques & the appropriations of adjacent owners:


“the prudent landlord comes from the village to get ice . . .He cuts and saws the solid pond, unroofs the house of fishes, and carts off their very element and air… to wintry cellars, to underlie the summer there.” 10


In short, Thoreau contrasts his minimal drinking & drafting impacts with more intensive extractions.

graphic sources: traditional ice-house 11

graphic sources: tools 14, harvest photo 15, harvest numbers 16

He continues by describing the

industrial techniques & tools of day labor,


“there came a hundred men of Hyperborean extraction swoop down on to our pond one morning, with many car-loads of ungainly-looking farming tools, sleds, ploughs…saws, rakes… So they came and went every day, with a peculiar shriek from the locomotive” 12


Mixing imagery from

agricultural almanacs and

Milton's mercantile critiques,

Thoreau wonders what these ‘gentlemen farmers’ are harvesting. 13

graphic sources: map  (see 19)

Eventually, Thoreau jokes that they are skimming, “all the terra firma there was;“ 17


Profit lay in

Walden Pond’s

(marginal) recognition

as legal ‘land.’


Just as the tidal edges of Boston were increasingly monetized and metered out after 1820 – with a pierhead lines in 1837 and Baldwin Low Waterline in 1846 – by the winter of ’46, inland water could be quasi-legally leased. 18


A rulingover ice-harvest rights at Cambridge’s Fresh Pond in 1841 ‘extended’ owner’s edge parcels,

privatizing the ponds

of Massachusetts in triangular slivers. 19

Thus finally, after Nordic nodes

and a pragmatic description

of the work-crews,

Thoreau steps back

to survey the larger harvest efforts;


he paints an image of inevitable melt as much as economic foray.


At Walden, he notes,

“This heap, estimated to contain ten thousand tons, was finally covered with hay and boards; [With] a part of it carried off, the rest remaining exposed to the sun. . . the pond recovered the greater part.” 20

graphic sources: photo 21,  composite ice estimates 22

graphic sources: ice-house section 25

However, as Thoreau mentions, the ‘five year old ice’ at Fresh Pond indicates that Walden’s harvest melt was far from representative. 23


Across the region,

ice houses utilized

industrial tactics

and ‘efficiencies’:

They capitalized on the steam and standardized cuts of the lumber industry – with thin wooden frames and saw-dust insulation. Combined with neatly ‘cubed’ storage, gridded extraction sequences, and steam-driven conveyor belts,

pond surfaces neatly mirrored the ‘rational’ factory floor,

offering an embryonic glimpse of assembly line logic and the storage capacity key to market capitalism. 24

Thoreau thus gives an amusing, intimate critique of Walden’s harvest.


But he neglects the

immediate alliances of

ice and rail,

their symbiotic impact on

distribution, competition, and consumption:

In 1830 there was only 1 firm in Boston.

With rail’s freight weights and regional reach, by 1850 there were 16 competitors, 14 rail-based harvest sites and over 20,000 tons of local consumption. 26


For roughly $2 a month,

a retailer or household could subscribe to daily deliveries, radically reworking what

they processed and/or how they ate (starting amount = $56 today). 27

graphic sources: photo 28, composite ice estimates (see 22)

For instance, when paired with domestic delivery, we see the greatest impacts of ice in industries like dairy.


Raw milk has a four-hour shelf-life, limiting transport. Before refrigeration, urban milk came from brewery cows.

Initially, iced wagons effectively enlarged Boston’s milk-shed from a 4 to a 24 mile radius, converging at the milk depot. And informally, rail cars with loose ice blocks enabled milk collection up to 65 miles away in the 1840s. 29


By 1850, this new regional reach underpinned sanitation reform and dairy adulteration laws in Massachusetts. But, along with intensive competition, uneven rail access spurred milk monopolies.

graphic sources: time estimates 30, rail map 31

Similar effects were found in meatpacking, fishing,

lager production, and chemical industries.


Along with Maine, Hudson, and

Great Lakes’ ice-harvests,

Boston’s regional and interstate

ice-trade enabled the development of modern, urban foodsheds in the industrializing North East; natural ice was only supplanted only by mechanical production in the 1870s-80s. 32


In essence, the rise of the 19th century city is unthinkable without ice, as it altered the extent of food collected, its’ processing, and, thus, intensity of urban masses fed.

graphic sources: Boston ice trade volumes 33, types of consumption34

Instead of internal ice consumption and its regional resource re-configurations, Thoreau imagines Walden’s ice, in a somewhat sardonic tone, consumed by


“the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta. . . [where] Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.” 35


As an abolitionist, Thoreau likely had in mind the ‘other’ links of ice

in the East and West Indies and the U. S. South. 36


As inexpensive shipping ballast, ice subsidized the import of plantation cotton, rice, and indigo.


By 1855, ice came to constitute Boston’s largest annual export tonnage. 37

graphic sources: Boston coast-wise ice exports 38

As a backhaul good,

ice is thus utterly entangled with the

global logistics

and politics of Thoreau’s day.


Between 1820 and 1850, ships nearly

tripled in size. Schedules standardized.

‘Packet routes’ emerged, triangulating mail and resources for industrial empires.39


The increases in ice export, from 1840s-60s, indexed these larger trade improvements.

graphic sources: Ship sizes 40, Maury’s current chart 41

In feedback,

the Navy produced standardized oceanic tables

and charts

by examining existing logs.


 Across the 1840s, M. F. Maury collected thousands of entries, compiling and identifying the range of variation in current and wind patterns along main trading routes and whaling areas. 42


Designed to cut shipping time, this ‘scientific’ navigation made ice an even better ballast. Overall, known conditions lessened risk and thus freight prices. Plus, faster trips meant less melt and more profit.

graphic sources: melt estimates 43

So, as in the ‘Cotton Kingdom,’ the Caribbean ice markets relied on plantation sugar, molasses, coffee, and inter-island slave trade

to dictate ice demand. 44


In many ways, ice simply extended and deepened the trade triangles from Boston’s colonial days, its fiscal entanglements inevitably interwoven with the European Periphery.


In addition, enticed by favorable

tariffs and raw resources,

by the late 1840s American ice-traders were experimenting with

‘frozen’ shipping,

from boiled lobster to fruit and butter. 45

graphic sources: Boston ice exports (see 33), photo samples 46

This was seen far beyond the Caribbean and old ‘Atlantic’ world:


In 1849, S. American

ice-imports mirrored the  gold rush’s passenger and provision shipments

(around Cape Horn to San Francisco). 47


Market growth was linked less to consumption than the use of ice as

ballast for shipping supplies to San Francisco: Brazilian molasses, Argentinian and Peruvian meat. 48

graphic sources: Boston ice exports (see 33)

Likewise, ice subsidized the importation of a diverse array of materials from the East Indies - graphite, jute, coffee, saltpeter, tea, and palm oils.


As early as 1843, Boston companies traded entire shipments of ice for Indian cotton, which was then sold in Liverpool. 49


during the civil war, when indian cotton replaced sources in the south, Boston doubled Indian ice-imports. 50

graphic sources: Boston ice exports (see 33)

Thoreau’s final trajectory for the ice trade; “weaves from Carthage to Ternate

and Tidore” mixing (again) Milton’s mercantile critique (Ternate…) and American ambivalence toward empire (Carthage) with abolitionist sentiment. 51


He may not know exactly the goods

and exchanges ice subsidized but Thoreau seems to understand the complexities

and inevitable culpabilities

forged at the scale of global commerce.

graphic sources: Boston ice exports (see 33)

Ultimately, Thoreau’s critique is not

only lodged in depictions of exhausted pastures, but also the languages, literature, and current events of economics and industrial efficiency.


As landscape urbanists,

why not meet on that mutual terrain of seasonal cycles, emergent patterns, fuzzy risk, and intensive materiality?

graphic sources: Composite

Walden invites us to explore not just  'birds and bewilderment' or the ‘publics’ of parks but the patterns of

landscape’s ‘service’ zones. 52


When read closely it dishes up the logs and logistics of  industrialization;

the under-observed wood-lots,

outhouses, and peripheral ponds and

their material relays,

shaping early suburban social patterns and

grounding contemporary consumption footprints.

graphic sources: cover


  1. For those reading hardcopy versions, I’d recommend an annotated text. My print page numbers will be taken from: Thoreau, Henry D. Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition. Edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. Web links to the text, with specific quote searches and pages ranges, will lead to an 1910 edition, archived from Stanford University:  Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, 1910.
  2. Walling, Henry Francis. “Map of Boston and the Country Adjacent from Actual Surveys | The Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.” E. P. Dutton & Co., var. from 1850s series complied in 1860/61.
  3. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden (1882 Cover). Houghton, Mifflin and company, 1882.
  4. Thoreau, Walden: 273-288.
  5. As food studies have emerged from anthropology and material culture into popular consciousness, there have been a number of great studies of on packaging, shipping, storage, and, combining them all, refrigeration. A great introduction is here: Twilley, Nicola. “The Coldscape” Cabinet 47 (Fall 2012). I’d also recommend: Rees, Jonathan. Refrigeration Nation: A History of Ice, Appliances, and Enterprise in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.  Anderson, Oscar E. Refrigeration in America. Princeton: Princeton U. Press: 1953.
  6. Thoreau’s printed survey can be found in the 1854 Ticknor and Fields’ edition (from Boston Public Library). It is the only drawing in the entire text, on pg 312.
  7. For a great source on Thoreau’s commercial and conceptual engagements as a surveyor, in particular his work on Walden Pond, see: Chura, Patrick. Thoreau the Land Surveyor. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2011: 22-44, 71-91.
  8. My survey, traced and oriented, is based upon Thoreau’s draft (133b), held at Concord Library: “Thoreau Land & Property Surveys - Concord Free Public Library.”
  9. Copy from Chura, Thoreau: 80.
  10. Thoreau, Walden: 284.
  11. Adapted from an ice house sketch in the Fairmont Park archives, Philadelphia and 19th c. pattern book pages (no link). See additional, round versions in HABS/HAELS documentation photos: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=ice+house&sp=1&co=hh&st=gallery
  12. Thoreau, Walden: 284.  For general introductions to the ice harvest, see: Weightman, Gavin. The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story. New York: Hachette Books, 2004. Anderson, Refrigeration: 14-37. Additional sources of trade information (seen in the graphics) are: Hall, Henry. “The Ice Industry of the United States.” Report on Power and Machinery, 1880 Census Special Reports., 1888:1-44. Homans, Issac Smith. “Ice.” Cyclopedia of Commerce and Commercial Navigation (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1860) 1001-1005.  Hunt, Arthur L. “Manufactured Ice.” United States Census 1900 (Special Reports v9, n5), 675-697.  Simmonds Esq., “The Ice Trade of Boston, America,” in Simmond’s Colonial Magazine and Foreign Miscellany Vol. III (Simmonds and Clowes, Foreign Colonial Office, Sept-Dec. 1844), 79. Weatherall, Leander. “The Ice Trade.”  Congress, U. S. Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for the Year 1863, 1863. 442-439.  Wyeth, Nathaniel: “The Ice Trade of the United States,” in The American Almanac of 1849, 175-180.
  13. Thoreau notes ice might be a crop in “the New-England Farmer or the Cultivator,” alluding to novel crops written upon in the Boston Cultivator. This is also tongue-in-cheek as Thoreau’s account follows the describing of the ice trade by Nathaniel Wyeth in The American Almanac of 1849, 175-180.  The hints of Milton, which are repeated by Thoreau (see final slides), derive from shared frozen, polar imagery. Thoreau’s shaving of the ice surface and movement of workers by rail, “from and to some point of the polar region,” align rather well with Milton’s imagery of Satan, guiding colonial merchants, “He scours.. Now shaves with level wing in the deep…[to] Ply stemming nightly toward the pole.”  In short, both seek to critique colonial North-South structures; the classical image of frozen, personified evil (as in Dante’s inferno then Milton) offers the obvious literary anchor for Thoreau. Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Printed for John Bumpus, 1821.
  14.  Hall, “The Ice Industry” 13.
  15.  Library of Congress collection of Detroit Publishing Co photos of Lake Harvests. (see also note 21) http://www.loc.gov/item/det1994009494/PP/
  16.  The immediate harvests at Walden Pond come from Thoreau’s description. Thoreau, Walden: 285-6.
  17.   ibid.
  18. A quick history of waterside access rights is available in this recent redevelopment case file: http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/378/378mass629.html
  19.  Parker, George. “Map of Fresh Pond, Showing the Division Lines of the Proprietors Extended into the Pond and Defining Their Right to the Same as Decided by Simon Greenleaf & S.M. Felton, Commissioners | The Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.” Bouve, Ephraim W., 1841.
  20.  Ibid.
  21. See note 15. http://www.loc.gov/item/det1994004921/PP/
  22. The regional estimate of harvest locations and storage sites was compiled from the following sources:  Smith, Philip Chadwick Foster. Crystal Blocks of Yankee Coldness: The Development of the Massachusetts Ice Trade from Frederick Tudor to Wenham Lake, 1806-1880. Wenham Historical Association and Museum, 1962.  Wyeth, “The Ice Industry,”179. Hall, “The Ice Industry,” 23.  Weatherall, “The Ice Trade.” 442-439. “Jamaica Plain Historical Society - ‘Locales’ Editor - - Harvesting Ice on Jamaica Pond.” http://www.jphs.org/locales/2004/6/2/harvesting-ice-on-jamaica-pond.html “Chandler’s Pond Photos & History.” http://www.bahistory.org/ChandlerPhotos.html
  23.  Thoreau, Walden: 285-6.
  24. See process descriptions in resource from note 22, summary in Anderson, Refrigeration: 14-18.
  25. Thompson Ice House, South Bristol & McFarland Cove Roads, South Bristol, Lincoln County, ME from Library of Congress’s HABS/HAELS: HAER ME,8-SOBRI,1- (sheet 4 of 6) . http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.me0204.sheet.00004a/
  26. See note 22.
  27. Original price from Annual Report of the Boston Board of Trade, Vol. 2 (Boston: Moore & Crosby,1856), 56. Estimate converted using: Samuel H. Williamson, "Purchasing Power of Money in the United States from 1774 to Present," MeasuringWorth, 2015. http://www.measuringworth.com/ppowerus/
  28. Photo from the Vicksburg Historical Society, Harvest on Sunset Lake, circa 1912.
  29. Whitaker, George M. The Milk Supply of Boston and Other New England Cities. Washington, D.C. : U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Bureau of Animal Industry, 1898.
  30. Harley, Robert Milham. Essay on Milk. (New York: Jonathan Leavitt, 1842), 107-116.
  31. Taylor, George R. The Transport Revolution. New York: Rinehart, 1951: 104-150, 178-198.
  32. Whitaker, The Milk Supply, 1.
  33. See other northern harvest industries in: Anderson, Refrigeration. 26–33. Clandro, Daniel. “Hudson River Valley Icehouses and Ice Industry.” Hudson River Institute, 2005. Knapp, Vertie. “The Natural Ice Industry of Philadelphia…” Pennsylvania History, 41.4 (Oct 1974): 412-421.  Estimates of Boston ice exported are from: Annual Report of the Boston Board of Trade, Vol. 2 (Boston: Moore & Crosby,1856), 56. Vol. 11 (Boston: Marvin & Sons, 1865) 77. Vol. 14  (Boston: Eastburn’s Press, 1868) 132. Similar tables with corrections are printed in Herold, Marc W. "Ice in the Tropics: the Export of ‘Crystal Blocks of Yankee Coldness’ to India and Brazil." Revista Espaço Acadêmico 11, no. 126 (2011): 168.  For estimates of local consumption, see note 12.
  34. Hall, “The Ice Industry,” 5.
  35. Thoreau, Walden: 287-88.
  36. Dickason, David, “The Nineteenth-Century Indo-America Ice Trade” in Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 25, No 1 (Feb. 1991) 64. “Ice is taken on freight, not as the foundation of a voyage; but as an incident to the voyage. A vessel would not go to New Orleans or to Calcutta, for the purpose of carrying ice, unless she charged a fair freight. But as she is determined to go (ice or no ice), and as she frequently would go almost in ballast, so she can afford to take the ice at a low freight, provided she can start from a center of general business, such as Boston harbor. This very important circumstance rivets the ice trade to Boston harbor and greatly expands it size.“ Reprint from the Report of the Committee Appointed by the Stockholders of the Charlestown Wharf Company (I839).
  37. Weightman, Frozen Water Trade: 207.
  38. See note 33.
  39. Taylor, Transport Revolution: 122 & Appendix A.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Maury, Matthew Fontaine. The Physical Geography of the Sea. Michigan Digital Text, 2005. (originally 1855). 295.
  42.  ibid.
  43.  Ice melt estimate (linear) based on Tudor’s estimated 50% melt to Calcutta and the collected average (summer) times, in Maury’s collected research logs, for transit between either New York or Boston (1 day apart) and the trading ports listed by the Boston Board of Trade.  Maury, Matthew Fontaine, and United States Naval Observatory. Explanations and Sailing Directions to Accompany the Wind and Current Charts, Approved by Captain D. N. Ingraham, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography, and Pub. by Authority of Hon. Isaac Toucey, Secretary of the Navy. Washington: W. A. Harris, printer, 1858. Annual Report of Boston Board of Trade, note 33.
  44. Weightman, Frozen Water Trade: 164-5.
  45. The Tudor Ice Company ‘waste books’ (vII.3), from the late 1840s-1870s, list the typical surplus of New England produce and agricultural markets: cheese, apples, butter, ham, oranges, oats, hay, flour, cider, mackerel, candles, figs and raisins (both potentially reshipped from Wine Islands/East Indies trade). Apples and dairy were shipped in the ‘cool’ space, but many of the other goods were salted (ham, mackerel) and shipped by barrel like any other voyage. Tudor Company Records. Baker Library Historical Collections. Harvard Business School. Mss:766 1752-1902 T912. Hittinger, Gage, & Co., another Boston ice company, experimented with boiled lobsters, as noted in Herold, "Ice in the Tropics": 167.
  46.  Other samples of various shipments (as mapped) see primary and secondary sources: Rasmussen, Louis. San Francisco Ship Passenger Lists: November 7, 1851 to June 17, 1852, 159-160.  (235 boxes of meat, 53 boxes of oysters on the Benjamin Howard in 1852, to San Francisco). Dickason, "Indo-American Ice Trade". 73-78. (Apples, Goshun Butter, Oysters, and Quines, from Tudor MSS, no tonnages listed) Wyeth, "The Ice Trade". 177 (provisions, fruits, and vegetables-repeated in Wetherell, et. al.) Roles, Francis. “Trade with the United States” Official handbook of the Ceylon Court (Colombo: Skeen, 1904) 53. (apples, butter, cheese, hams, salt beef, pork and fish, no quantities listed).
  47. Weightman, Frozen Water Trade: 164-5.
  48. For South America trade see samples in Herold, “Ice in the Tropics”. The total impact (tonnage) is derive from Annual Report of Boston Board of Trade, note 33.
  49.  For a general reading of the Asia trade structure see: Dickason, David, “The Nineteenth-Century Indo-America Ice Trade” in Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 25, No 1 (Feb. 1991) 53-89.
  50. The total impact (tonnage) is derive from Annual Report of Boston Board of Trade, note 33.
  51. For Milton, see note 13. Carthage, as a symbol for mercantile America, was adopted during the revolution. Carthage had been sacked and burned by Rome, and was thus typically said to figure Britain’s approach to ruling an empire. Winterer, Caroline “Model Empire, Lost City: Ancient Carthage and the Science of Politics in Revolutionary America” in The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 1 (January 2010), p 10-14.
  52. For the typical, dismissive romantic take on Thoreau in design see the introduction to “First the Forests,” by Dan Handel, at the Canadian Center for Architecture. http://www.cca.qc.ca/en/study-centre/1814-primers-of-forestry