In 1839, Henry David Thoreau and his brother, John, walked through the town of Holderness on their way north. The young brothers – then in their early twenties - were on a unique journey: a sailing voyage, against the current, toward the White Mountains.
They began their odyssey at home in Concord, MA, where they launched a small, homemade sailboat onto the Concord River. They sailed downstream to Lowell, where they joined the mighty Merrimack River and pointed their craft north. After sailing upstream to Concord NH, they took a stagecoach to Plymouth, where they visited an abolitionist friend. From there, they began walking north to the mountains - likely passing the future site of the Holderness School along the way. Thoreau’s story about the journey, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, would become a classic in American literature – and a forerunner to his iconic work, Walden.
Today, Holderness remains a major waypoint on the path to adventure and discovery. In 1839, Thoreau walked north from Holderness to explore the White Mountains. Today, students regularly leave Holderness on similar journeys – hiking the Presidential Range on Mountain Day
, running rapids on the Pemigewasset River, and testing their limits during the school’s 11-day Out Back program
. Those adventures are a part of the everyday Holderness experience. Just look at the school’s athletics programs. The rock climbing team
trains at Rumney Rocks, a world-famous climbing mecca just 15 minutes from campus. During the winter, the Eastern Alpine Team skis at Cannon Mountain
, a world-class training venue for colleges and even the U.S. Ski Team. And the freeskiers and snowboarders? They hit the jumps and rails at Loon Mountain
, home to some of the biggest and best terrain parks in the East. And don’t forget about the 10 kilometers of Nordic skiing, running, and mountain biking trails located right here on campus
Academics at Holderness
are just as deeply tied to the local environment. In the fall and spring, biology classes - and the school’s crew team - head six miles east to the waters of Squam Lake, an unspoiled gem in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region. And just 15 minutes north of campus is the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study, a 7,800-acre tract of northern hardwood forest that’s home to one of the longest-running and most comprehensive ecosystem studies in the world. It’s where scientists first discovered the harmful impacts of acid rain, and it’s where Holderness students witness and participate in real-world learning. These are world-class educational resources, and they’re right in our backyard.
Would Holderness still be a great school if it were magically transported somewhere else? Of course. But it wouldn’t be the same. Students wouldn’t be able to ski at Cannon before lunch or fly fish after class. And Holderness probably wouldn’t draw the kind of talented, dedicated faculty who love where they live, work, and play. Without their guidance and expertise, students wouldn’t get to experience and learn from the school’s natural surroundings. They’re the ones who lead the mountain bike rides, organize field trips to Hubbard Brook, and show students how to rock climb. They teach snow science courses and organize weekend trips to the Great North Woods. They don’t just teach academics; they teach their passions.
It’s true that much has changed since Thoreau walked through Holderness in 1839. Students from Massachusetts still travel north to Holderness, but it’s usually an easy trip by car on I-93 rather than an epic journey by boat, stagecoach, and foot. But the kind of inner voyage Thoreau took – the one that paralleled his journey north – remains the same. The rivers he navigated, the mountains he climbed, and the book he eventually wrote all helped form the person and writer he would eventually become. The same is true for our students. Like Thoreau, the learning they do at Holderness is inextricably tied to their experiences in and journeys through the natural world. Every time they paddle a canoe down the Pemigewasset River or visit an experimental forest at Hubbard Brook, their future selves become a little bit bigger, stronger, and wiser.
Thoreau went on to write Walden. We can’t wait to read the stories today’s students will write.