The Walden Woods Project was founded in 1990 by recording artist Don Henley. At that time, sixty percent of Walden Woods — a 2,680 acre ecosystem surrounding Thoreau’s Walden Pond — was already protected from development. However, two large tracts of land were endangered when developers sought to construct an expansive office building and condominium complex in the mid-1980s. These commercial developments posed such a significant threat to the area that the National Trust for Historic Preservation twice listed Walden Woods as one of America’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places.
In response, the Walden Woods Project embarked on a national campaign to raise public awareness and the funds necessary to purchase and preserve the endangered areas. In January 1991, the Project bought the 25-acre tract that had been slated for the development of condominiums. A few years later, the second tract of land was acquired at Brister’s Hill.
The Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods opened in 1998. The Institute is a center for research and education focused on Henry David Thoreau, his literary achievements and philosophy, and his influence on environmental and social movements. Through its technology center, education programs and the most comprehensive Thoreau research collection in the world, the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods provides opportunities for lifelong learning about Thoreau’s life and work.
Since its founding, the organization has protected nearly 140 acres in and around Walden Woods and provided quality programming for more than 200 high school teachers and students. The Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods provides services to hundreds of researchers on an annual basis both nationally and internationally.
The Library houses its archival collection, as well as its collection of Thoreauviana, including the complete second draft of Thoreau’s essay on Sir Walter Raleigh.
Included in the Walden Woods Project Collection is a generous gift of over one thousand volumes of environmental history and nature writing from the library of the Massachusetts Audubon Society (formerly the Hatheway Environmental Library).