Thoreau project makes construction progress

Professor of English Ed Gillin’s Thoreau-Harding English class plans to erect a framework of walls around the base of a Walden cabin replica on April 23––a project that began construction five semesters ago. The project commemorates Walter Harding, a renowned Henry David Thoreau scholar who worked as a Geneseo English professor.

This adds to the campus’s involvement in studying the life and literary works of Thoreau, joining the Digital Thoreau project launched by professor and chair of the English department Paul Schacht.

The students enrolled in the course this semester have spent the majority of their time working hands-on with the project’s construction. According to Gillin, most had little to no experience with the tools necessary for woodworking, but picked up the skills quickly.

“The project has really united the class,” he said. “Thoreau talks about ‘learning by doing,’ so here we are using our hands.”

The class has done research to find the cabin’s layout and measurements, analyzing the text and observing pictures of other replicas. They are attempting to scale the cabin similarly to the way Thoreau scaled his, using the same 10 x 15-foot measurements for the beams forming the cabin walls.

“We are hoping that everything fits together on the 23rd,” Gillin said.

Members of the Harding family will join the students in a small ceremony establishing a more prominent framework for the replica.

As for future construction, the students of next semester’s class will join Geneseo in erecting even more of the cabin during the inaugural ceremonies for incoming President Denise A. Battles in October.

“This day coming up in April will represent so much effort and work students have put it,” Gillin said. “Hopefully, what lies beyond it for next semester and October will be much easier.”

Senior Dillon Murphy is part of this semester’s class, noting that he greatly enjoys the unique classroom environment.

“I have never done something in an English class this hands-on,” he said. “It is refreshing.”

“It really engages you and keeps you interested in your work,” senior Alexis Donahue added. “It has provided me with leadership opportunities outside the classroom.”

In addition to crafting the entire cabin, the students host both a website and blog about their work on the replica. It is here where they relay information about contributing to the project and tell their stories about how reading Thoreau and constructing the cabin has affected their lives.

“I hope someday these students will come back with their grandkids and be able to see the replica they built themselves,” Gillin said.