The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 21, 2007


H.W. Gleason photos capture Carlisle a century ago

Since last spring the Gleason Public Library has been hosting a year-long exhibit of the
H.W. Gleason at Thoreau's cairn, Walden Pond, May 19, 1908.
photographs in Carlisle of Herbert Wendell Gleason . A prolific early 20th-century landscape photographer, Gleason spent many years, from 1899 to 1918, interpreting and recording the natural spaces traversed by Henry David Thoreau. Tracing the locations mentioned in texts such as A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and Thoreau's Journals occasionally brought Gleason to Carlisle, and the photographs he took there allow those who view them a rare glimpse into the Carlisle of a century ago.

A pastoral career begins

Herbert Wendell Gleason was born in Malden in 1855. After being educated at Williams College and Andover Theological Seminary, he began his pastoral career in Minnesota, first as a minister and then as the editor of The Kingdom, a periodical of the Congre-gational Church. While in Minnesota, he began pursuing his interests as a photographer and an outdoorsman, eventually resigning from the ministry in 1899 for reasons of "ill health." He then returned home to Massachusetts with his wife, Lulie Wadsworth Rounds, his childhood sweetheart and lifelong companion.

Putting the ministry and the midwest behind him, Gleason settled on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, supporting himself as a court stenographer. With his heavy view camera, he began making treks to the Concord area to capture images of the landscapes he had read about in the writings of Thoreau. Gleason took photographs of all aspects of the Concord landscape related to Thoreau, from broad vistas like the view from Pine Hill that looks out across Walden to Mt. Wachusetts, to those that captured smallest details a butterfly alighting on a Joe-Pye-Weed flower. Fairhaven Bay, Egg Rock, Barrett's Mill Pond, Conantum, Fairyland, Martha's Point, and of course Walden are all represented, but there are also carefully crafted images of mountain laurel, blue flags and wild cherries.

Following Thoreau's footsteps

Following the words and thoughts of Thoreau eventually took Gleason out to Cape Cod and
Muskrat cabin in bushes on the west side of Carlisle Reach, November 6, 1917.
north to New Hampshire and Maine. In 1906, at the time when Thoreau's work was being recognized, Gleason's images were used to illustrate a 20-volume edition of his complete works, published by Houghton Mifflin. By then Gleason's own reputation as the photographer of Thoreau's landscape had been established. But to put Gleason's work in context, it is necessary to understand its full scope.

Though he was closely associated with Thoreau, Gleason was better known nationally through his extensive photographs of America's western wilderness. Sometimes accompanied by his wife, he traveled to Alaska, the Grand Canyon, and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, as well as the Canadian Rockies, California, the Yellowstone area and Arizona. His many trips west resulted in the production of thousands of images, some of which were published in books by John Muir and other early environmentalists.

Images for the Department

of the Interior

Gleason was appointed Interior Department Inspector by Stephen Mather, his close friend and first director of the National Park Service. He did a substantial amount of work for the Department of the Interior, and his images contributed to government and public support for the establishment of a national park system. Both Luther Burbank and John Muir were friends, and he was closely associated with the Sierra Club.

In addition, Gleason gave many successful slide lectures, his work appeared in National Geographic, and during the 1920s and 1930s he was the photographer for the Arnold Arboretum. In the forefront of the environmental movement during his own time, Gleason's work is now being used, most notably by Richard Primack and Abe Rushing-Miller, to determine the effects of global warming on Concord-area plants, comparing the blooming time of plants of Thoreau's time with those of the present.

Old Carlisle Road, December 1, 1916.
It was only through my work at the Concord Free Public Library that I became familiar with the work of Herbert Wendell Gleason. Though he was a prolific landscape photographer and a Massachusetts native, I was unaware of his contribution to early 20th-century photography until, in the course of my workday, I was called upon to locate specific images from among the nearly 7,000 Gleason glass-plate and film negatives owned by the Concord Free Public Library.

Carlisle images

Among the thousands of images Gleason captured are several of Carlisle. For the Gleason Library exhibit they have been enlarged and captioned with quotes from Thoreau's works. The selected images include the Carlisle Pines, Spaulding Farm, and numerous views of the Concord River as it winds through Carlisle. Of particular note are two images of Old Carlisle Road that reveal a simpler, more rural Carlisle, now past.

The exhibit is located between the second and third floors of the Gleason Library and is open during regular library hours. More examples of Gleason's work are available in an online exhibit, Gleason's Concord, curated by Leslie Wilson and accessible online at

Editor's note: Conni Manoli-Skocay is a staff assistant in the Special Collections Department at the Concord Free Public Library. She curated the H.W. Gleason photographic exhibit at the Gleason Public Library.

A program on the H.W. Gleason collection is scheduled at the Gleason Public Library on January 28. See page 10 for further information.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito