Thoreau Cabin

Furman Reflective Walk

Thoreau Cabin

Greenville, South Carolina 29617, United States

Created By: The Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection, Furman University


Furman University’s Thoreau Cabin was built in 2009 by the students in an inaugural May-semester class entitled, “Replicating Walden,” led by Dr. David Bernardy in Furman’s English department.

The cabin is named after Henry David Thoreau, the influential American essayist and philosopher whom most people first encounter in their high school English classes. Thoreau, born in 1817, spent most of his life in Concord, Massachusetts. After graduating from Harvard, he taught school for a short period, then worked in his family’s pencil factory.

In the late 1830s, Thoreau became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and other writers who were best known for their emphasis on the roles that experience and intuition played in human understanding. These individuals, eventually known as Transcendentalists, also stressed the importance of nature and our relationship to it.

Transcendentalist ideas, among other things, prompted Thoreau to live in a tiny cabin alone for two years (1845-1847) on Walden Pond in Concord. As Thoreau later wrote in his now famous book, Walden (1854), his goal was to “live deliberately” and to know life “by experience.” Thus, Thoreau sought a better understanding of himself (and what he valued) by retreating, at least temporarily, from the distractions of daily life.

During his time on Walden Pond, Thoreau formulated his notion that there was a so-called higher law that people were bound to follow, even if it meant breaking man-made laws. This became known as “civil disobedience.” Only an individual’s inward journey of self-reflection could determine if such disobedience should be undertaken.

Furman University’s Thoreau Cabin is located approximately the same distance from Swan Lake as Thoreau’s actual cabin was from Walden Pond. But this is not the only similarity. Furman’s educational mission, as articulated in The Furman Advantage, notes the following:

Intentional acts of self-discovery lead Furman students to continually reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. They also know how to appropriately manage internal and external expectations. It’s this kind of soul-searching, life-changing work that makes them comfortable with who they are and what they want.

The parallels between these outcomes and Thoreau’s experience in his cabin are clear. Thoreau embarked on a journey of self-discovery; he sought to determine a balance between what he expected from himself versus what the world expected from him; and his two-year retreat provided a greater sense of who he was and what he valued. This is also concisely summarized by the three essential questions posed by Furman’s Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection: Who am I—most authentically? What do I believe—most deeply? What does the world need—from me?

As you reflect on Furman’s Thoreau Cabin, the following questions might be helpful to ponder:

  • When you think of a retreat, what comes to mind? Is it positive, negative, or neutral?

  • If you received permission to spend a weekend by yourself in the Thoreau Cabin, what do you think you would miss? What do you think you wouldn’t miss? Are these things connected to your values?

  • Consider a typical day in your life. How much, if any, silence do you experience? Do you wish you had more or less silence?

Contributor Statement:

Dr. A. Scott Henderson is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Educationat Furman University. Before coming to Furman, he was a secondary social studies teacher. He has a Ph.D. in history, with a focus on the U.S. in the 20th century.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Furman Reflective Walk


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