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Thoreau’s encounter with the Collins house is told in the 62nd paragraph of the “Economy” chapter. By Spring 1845, the Fitchburg Railroad line was fully open for business between Boston and Fitchburg. It passed the western edge of Walden Pond and had a station stop in downtown Concord. All of the Irish laborers who had worked to lay its tracks were leaving the temporary shanties they had built along the route. “James Collins’ shanty was considered an uncommonly fine one,” Thoreau wrote. He was given a tour of the house by Mrs. Collins and inspected the boards, inside and out. When James returned, Thoreau bought the whole house for $4.25. The family moved out early the next morning. Thoreau dismantled the structure, let the boards bleach and warp back in the sun, then used them to fill in his own walls between the pine timbers he had already put up. He doesn’t tell us whether or not he specifically agreed that the Collins house was “uncommonly fine.” But the fact that he bought it and used it as the basis for his own Walden house quietly shows that he at least believed it was made of sound materials. In fact, he and his father used the rest of the wood as they built a new Thoreau family home on Texas (now Belknap) Street, near the train station.
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