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Friday, May 24, 2013

Literary Landmarks: Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House

Literary Landmarks: Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House
(First in the Series)
Written and photographed by Jenn Buliszak


Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House is located at 399 Lexington Road in Concord, Massachusetts. Orchard House is the setting for Alcott’s children’s book Little Women that was published in two parts in 1868 and 1869. Little Women is based on Alcott’s own family and chronicles many of the events of her life when she and her family lived in nearby Wayside (then known as Hillside). 

The Alcotts, Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail May Alcott, were a progressive family. They were abolitionists, supported women’s suffrage movement and social reform. Amos was a philosopher and innovative educator who had a difficult time financially supporting his family. Abigail was one of the first paid social workers in Boston. The Alcotts adhered to Transcendentalist beliefs that stressed “the perfection of the individual "through adherence to intuition, nature and self-reliance."  Believing that the key to social reform and spiritual growth lay in the crucible of the family, [Amos Bronson] Alcott instilled the values of self-reliance, self-sacrifice, and charity in his children from an early age. He promoted self-expression by nurturing his daughters' individual talents and encouraging them to keep journals. These journals were shared with other family members to foster openness of thought and feeling.” (Texas A&M American Transcendentalism Web).  They were a very social family who enjoyed the company of many friends including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller. 
Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father, purchased Orchard House in 1857. The home consists of two separate homes that were joined together on the 12-acre apple orchard before the family moved in. In fact, during the tour of the kitchen, visitors are shown a door to one of the wells located below the wooden floorboards that was never used by the family. It was discovered in 2001 when architectural preservationists added a foundation underneath the back portion of the slowly-sinking historic home. The preservation work was featured on PBS’s This Old House. 
Orchard House permits exterior photography of the home and gardens but asks that visitors forgo taking interior images. Fortunately, the organization posted wonderful 360 degree panorama images of each of the rooms on their website at http://www.louisamayalcott.org/panoramas.html. Of special note, is the white painted window desk in Louisa’s chamber; her father built the desk for her and that is the location where she wrote Little Women. The viewer can also look at Beth’s beloved piano and her portrait in the corner of the family’s dining room next to the staircase. 
Orchard House visitors can opt to take a wonderful tour of the historic home and view many of the locations described in Little Women. One of the most notable features within the home is May’s artwork in many rooms. In the entryway, where the visitor begins the tour, the wallpaper wall is filled with inked portraits. On Louisa’s white fireplace mantle is a beautifully painted young owl. May painted it for Louisa, as she loved to watch a family of owls in the tree outside her chamber window. May Alcott Nieriker was the youngest of the Alcott sisters.  She died in 1879 shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Louisa May “Lulu.” 

Orchard House Today

Orchard House offers many fun Youth programs during the summer months including a creative writing workshop and the “Apple Slump Players” Drama Workshop. One of the most popular events is their Living History Tour of the house titled “Welcome to Our Home”. Participants of this fun tour “travel to the past during an interactive tour with an expert, authentically-costumed guide portraying an Alcott family member or one of their famous friends” (Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House, 2013). The Orchard House’s gift shop is a fun stop.  They sell many books related to Little Women, the Alcott Family and the Transcendentalists.   Historical maps of Concord and Louisa May’s own Apple Slump recipe are also available for sale.  (Editor's note: More about Louisa May Alcott's Apple Slump can be found on this Literary Recipes page.)

Amos Bronson Alcott's School of Philosophy


                                                                   
Also located on the grounds is Amos Bronson Alcott’s School of Philosophy building which is open to visitors during the summer months.

It is important to note that Louisa May Alcott and her family moved numerous time before her family returned to Concord. They lived at The Hillside (later renamed The Wayside by Nathaniel Hawthorne [author of The Scarlet Letter) for years before purchasing Orchard House next door.  Subsequently The Wayside became home to Daniel and Harriett Lothrop.  Harriett was the children's author of The Five Little Peppers, using the pseudonym of Margeret Sidney.  [Adam] Bronson Alcott sold The Hillside to Nathaniel Hawthorne who renamed it The Wayside and added the three-story Sky Parlor. The Wayside is also designated as a recognized stop on the Underground Railroad. (National Park Service, 2013).
 

The Wayside is currently under renovation and is closed for 2013 and is scheduled to reopen in late 2014.

The well-worn Larch Path connects the Wayside and Orchard House. It is a fun walk between the two historic properties.  

 
Additional Books to investigate:
For Young Readers:
  •  Dunlap, Julie and Lorbiecki, Marybeth. Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau’s flute. Illustrated by Mary Azarian. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. 2002.
  • Krull, Kathleen. Louisa May’s Battle: how the Civil War led to Little Women.  Illustrated by Carlyn Beccia. New York: Walker & Co. 2013. 48p.
  • Meigs, Cornelia. Invincible Louisa: the story of the author of Little Women. Boston: Little, Brown. 1968. 256 p. *Won the 1934 Newbery Medal.
  • McDonough, Yona Zeldis and Anderson, Bethanne. Louisa: the life of Louisa May Alcott.  New York: Henry Holt and Co. 2009.

For Adults:
  •  LaPlante, Eve. Marmee & Louisa: The Untold story of Louisa May Alcott and her mother. New York: Free Press. 2012. 368 p.
  • Reisen, Harriet. Louisa May Alcott: the woman behind Little Women. New York: Henry Holt. 2009. 362 p.
  • Matteson, John. Eden’s outcasts: the story of Louisa May Alcott and her father. New York: WW Norton. 2007. 497 p.

Additional Resources:
  • For additional information about Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, please visit the official website of the Louisa May Alcott ‘s Orchard House.  http://www.louisamayalcott.org/.
  • More information about the Wayside is available on the National Park Service: U.S. Department of the Interior site, The Wayside—National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary. http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/pwwmh/ma47.htm.
  • Be sure to view a wonderful video, Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House -- Home of the Alcotts and  the setting for Little Women.  
  • Women in History. Louisa May Alcott biography. Lakewood Public Library. http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/alco-lou.htm.

References:

Alcott, Louisa May. (1868). Little Women. New York: Puffin Books.

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House. (2013). 2013 Summer Youth & Family Programs Flyer. Concord, MA, USA: Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House.

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House. (2013, May 16). Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House. Retrieved May 16, 2013, from www.louisamayalcott.org: http://www.louisamayalcott.org/

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House. (2013, May 11). Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House Tour. Concord, MA, USA.
Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House. (2013, May 16). Orchard House Rooms. Retrieved May 16, 2013, from www.louisamayalcott.org: http://www.louisamayalcott.org/rooms.html

National Park Service. (2013, May 16). The Wayside - National Register of Historic places travel itinerary. Retrieved May 16, 2013, from www.nps.gov: http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/pwwmh/ma47.htm

Texas A&M American Transcendentalism Web. (n.d.). Amos Bronson Alcott. Retrieved May 16, 2013, from transcendentalism-legacy.tamu.edu: http://transcendentalism-legacy.tamu.edu/authors/alcott/

Bailey, Susan.  Blog: Louisa May Alcott is My Passion.  Retrieved May 25, 2013, from   http://www.louisamayalcottismypassion.com.  (Additional resource added by editor on May 25, 2013)

2 comments:

  1. I was wondering if you'd mind adding my blog about Louisa as an additional resource - http://www.louisamayalcottismypassion.com - I've been blogging exclusively about the Alcotts for nearly 3 years - lots of commentary on Louisa's life, works and legacy.

    BTW, SO glad Minuteman National Historical Park has the funds to renovate The Wayside. Once done, I recommend the tour - this house is fascinating.

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  2. I took a look around your site and it is very interesting. Thanks for sending along the comment and the information about your Alcott blog. I can tell that the legacy of Louisa May Alcott is your passion and I hope readers will take a look at your site.
    http://www.louisamayalcottismypassion.com

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