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Orchard House - An American Treasure in Concord, MA

By Lina R.

Orchard House photo, Concord, MALouisa May Alcott wrote her classic novel, Little Women, at the age of twenty-six, while living at Orchard House. This historic museum, located at 399 Lexington Road in Concord, MA, is owned and operated by the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association, a not-for-profit corporation.

On a guided tour of Orchard House, the Alcott home from 1858-1877, you will learn about Amos Branson Alcott, how he met and married Abigail May, and about their four daughters, Anna, Louisa, Elizabeth, and May. Louisa used Orchard House for the setting in her famous story. She used memories of her family and of her adolescent years to write the book so many of us have enjoyed over the years about the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

My friend Jo and I recently enjoyed an entertaining afternoon while visiting this famous landmark. There are nine period rooms, an exhibit area, and a lovely gift shop. We began in the study room, where a picture of Ralph Waldo Emerson hangs on the wall. A bookcase that was built by Branson Alcott still stands next to the fireplace. Many items originally owned by the Alcotts are on display throughout the house, such as Mrs. Alcottís family china, and Louisa's desk and inkwell.

We stood in Louisa's bedroom, where she actually wrote Little Women. What an incredible feeling to be standing in the middle of furniture and personal items once used by this famous author! Things like the big sleigh bed where she slept, the small round table where she sat and drank a cup of tea, the fireplace, the portraits of Louisa hanging on the walls, and the desk where she wrote, have been well preserved. I could picture Louisa sitting at that desk writing stories that would be read by children all over the world.

May was the artist in the family. She drew pictures on the walls in her room because they could not afford such luxuries as paper. Her original drawings are still there, covered with glass to preserve them.

Volunteer performers put on a Living History Program every year. Due to the construction project going on at Orchard House, this yearís 1840ís Holiday Celebration was held at The Wayside, the Alcottís home from 1845-1848. It was called Hillside when they lived there. The house was re-named The Wayside by Nathaniel Hawthorne who lived there with his family in 1852. The last private owner of The Wayside was Harriet Lothrop, who was also known as Margaret Sidney, author of one of my favorite childhood stories, The Five Little Peppers. The Wayside is now a National Parks Property.

Our tour of The Wayside began in a small exhibit area where pictures and statues of the Alcott family, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Harriett Lothrop are on display. After viewing a short video, we crossed over a narrow wooden pathway to the next building. A man named John Field invited us in, explaining that he was waiting for the delivery of some wood for the Alcotts. He told us a little bit about them and about his own family.

A transformation occurred the minute we stepped over the threshold. It was 1847 and we were guests in the home of this most hospitable family. Mrs. Alcott was in her kitchen preparing to bake cookies. She talked about her girls as she welcomed us to their home. We moved along to the study where we found Mr. Alcott. Next, we watched the girls rehearsing a play called The Frost King that was written by 15 year-old Louisa. We met their grandmother who was visiting from Connecticut. Later we sang Deck the Halls with Auntie May from Boston. She gave each of us a copy of Mrs. Alcott's famous recipe for ginger snaps. The tour lasted between 30-45 minutes, and we had lots of fun.

The Gift Shop has a nice assortment of unique items, such as cookie cutters, mugs, paper dolls, videos, letter openers, and books written by Louisa May Alcott. Jo bought a video and I bought a tote bag.

Maria Powers, the Executive Assistant and caretaker, loves the work she does there. She enjoys meeting interesting people who come from all over to visit this remarkable museum.

Orchard House has been designated a national treasure and is an official project of Save America's Treasures. This magnificent piece of American history is undergoing a 1.2 million dollar project to preserve this site for future generations. They must raise $600,000 in six months in order to match a federal grant and complete the project.

Orchard House is shown by guided tour and is open year-round. It is closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and from January 1-15. To find out about the exciting events coming up in February, call 978-369-4118, or visit their website at http://www.louisamayalcott.org.

For more of Lina's writings, be sure to visit her web site at My Web World.


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