Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Backyard - Louisa May Alcott; Orchard House, Concord, MA

Bookworm. That was me. And still is me. Growing up, books were my friends - my escape. I loved to read. Authors were like demi-gods to me. They wove their magic in and out of the pages of my favorite books. And none were more magical than Louisa May Alcott. Like many young girls, my introduction to Louisa was via "Little Women". After that, I grabbed hold of anything written by her. I couldn't get enough. In time, I began to have delusions of becoming a great writer just like her.
After recently becoming unemployed, I leaned on the comfort of books. I ran to my local library to be among their soothing presence. As I slowly strolled the aisles, lovingly caressing book binders with  my fingertips, a familiar book suddenly caught my eye - "Little Women". All the old feelings, my love of this novel came flooding back. I felt compelled to search out Louisa's biography. To learn more. I wanted to read about her using my now old and tired eyes. What made her tick. How did she come to pen her interesting and riveting writings.

An idea slowly formed. Maybe I should go visit Orchard House. The home depicted in "Little Women". Where she had written many articles. Where her family lived. I couldn't understand why I had never been there, especially when I learned her home was only 45 minutes from my own.
Flash forward a few weeks - On a cool, sunny Fall day, I drove to Concord, MA. As I came over a rise in the road, the house came into view. Chills ran up my spine and goosebumps raised on my arms. My stomach flipped. My heart raced. I imagine this must be like meeting one's rock idol or movie star. For me, Louisa May Alcott was my idol and star rolled into one. And here was her home. Where she created the magic.

I entered a side entrance of the house and found myself in a small gift shop. I purchased a ticket for a guided tour. Within a few minutes, I was following a knowledgeable guide into the kitchen. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply. Tried to feel the magic in the air. (Which was actually kind of silly on my part, since with the house sitting so close to a busy road with cars whizzing by, the magic kind of fizzled.)

I learned that the house opened to the public as a museum in 1912. This wasn't the first or only home of the Alcott family. Louisa's father, Amos Bronson Alcott, had come to Concord with his family to open a school of philosophy and be among his fellow Transcendentalists. He was a fascinating man and quite liberal for his time. His opinions deeply influenced Louisa's mindset; she became an abolitionist and feminist. A woman with far reaching views who unknowingly helped to reshape and redesign the views of the future.
Mr. Alcott purchased land with two buildings; he pieced them together to accomodate his large family. They counted among their neighbors and fellow townsfolk: Nathanial Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. It was a great setting for a fertile mind bent on creating colorful and enticing stories. There was always lively discourse around the Alcott dining table about topics such as social reform which eventually found their way into Louisa's writing.

The house appeared to be in the same condition as it was when the family lived here from 1858 to 1877. It contains many items once owned by the Alcott family; a treasure trove of artifacts. There's a bust of Mr. Alcott in the front parlor sculpted by Daniel Chester French (the same sculptor who crafted the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.)  Lizzy's (i.e. Beth's) melodeon stands in the dining room where you'll also find the family's china. Throughout the home are lifelike paintings of Louisa and the members of her family.

The guide beckoned us up a set of stairs to the second floor and led the way to Louisa's bedroom. She pointed to a window overlooking the front lawn of the house. A little desk stood under it. The very place where Louisa had written the novel that would launch her fame, "Little Women" and which would bring her critical success. The story was set here at Orchard House and loosely based on her own family and friends. In the story, she (depicted as the main character "Jo") has 3 sisters, each of them based on one of her own. 

At the end of the tour, I sat down to enjoy a short film documentary on Louisa and her family in the room that had once housed her sister May's art studio. (May is "Amy" in "Little Women".) It was quite informative and filled in some of the gaps of her life. The room itself was amazing. It was only recently that portraits May had sketched on the walls were discovered underneath the wallpaper. I chatted for some time with the tour guide. She provided even more details on Louisa's life at Ochard House and also directed me to visit some other interesting sites in Concord.

I exited the home and returned to my car. I waved goodbye to my old weathered friend and vowed to return someday. I drove a short distance and parked in front of the Concord Museum. It houses some wonderful pieces of Americana and American history. Here is where you can actually view one of the two lanterns mentioned in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "Paul Revere's Ride". I wish I could have stayed longer but my time was limited and there were still more things I needed to do and see while in Concord.
So I continued on into town. Downtown, that is. And strolled the sidewalk, window shopping and peering into the little shops until I couldn't ignore the nagging hunger in my belly any longer. I came upon a quaint little diner, Helen's Restaurant, and decided to take a quick detour inside before continuing my tour of the town. I'm so glad I did! The yummy lunch I ordered was delivered to my table faster than anywhere else I had ever eaten. The staff were friendly and courteous. Great choice for a quick delicious bite!
Satisfying meal consumed, I paid my bill and headed back to my car. The sun was beginning to set so I knew I had to hurry to my final destination. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The final resting place of quite a few esteemed American citizens. And it sits right off a major road leading into town. Quite easy to get to. The tour guide at Orchard House had instructed me to go to the back of the cemetery. There I'd find a place to park my car next to a hill. Climbing to the top of the hill would be "Author's Ridge" where the infamous Concord authors and their families had been laid to rest.

And there were the Hawthornes. The Emersons. The Thoreaus. And of course, the Alcott family. Including Louisa. I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer of gratitude to her. Thank you for giving me the love of reading and learning. They have served me well.
Unfortunately, the day was over for me. The sun was setting. I wouldn't be able to visit any more local sites that day. Homes of authors Ralph Waldo Emerson ("The Old Manse") and Nathaniel Hawthorne, where the Alcotts had also once lived, ("The Wayside") were closed for the season. I'd also like to someday visit nearby Walden Pond where Henry David Thoreau had lived in a long gone cabin and penned a poem about the peaceful serene area. I also didn't have time to view the Old North Bridge  (actually a replica of the original) famous for "the shot heard round the world" which launched the first battle in the American War of Independence. And there was no time to tour the nearby town of Lexington and its historical sites.

But I wasn't too sad about that. Since I live close enough for a return trip, I'll leave those things for another day. Maybe next time I'll grab my adventurous sisters and head back to revisit Orchard House and visit the places I didn't get to this time around.

I hope all of you will have the opportunity to visit the area. If you do, don't forget to stop by Orchard House and say hello to Louisa.


  1. Hi sis, I have been to Concord. Nothing so busy as your visit. Would love to go see more. In the spring would be great.
    Louisa is also my first love when you discuss authors. Her Little women and Little men books were one of my firsts, She has a lot of published work in the world .Guess when she started writing she could not stop. Sound familiar............You..:)
    I saw a documentary about her and she had these words to say about herself.
    "As a young woman I had health and no money. Then when I got older I had money and no health" So sad.
    Love, Nancy

  2. I say we plan an outing for springtime and head back to Concord.

  3. I loved reading this adventure, Kate. I may have to join you for your return trip!

  4. Suzi: You are always welcome to accompany me! You are a great adventure buddy!


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