Monday, September 6, 2010

Author! Author!

When I went in search of some history from the American Revolution in Lexington and Concord last week I stumbled upon another type of history that I'm sure I would have remembered if I didn't have a brain that resembles a large chunk of Swiss cheese these days.  I had completely and totally forgotten that Concord was home to some of our more famous American authors - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that but it hadn't even registered until I found myself driving past the house where Louisa May Alcott lived in 1868 when she penned one of my very favorite books - Little Women.  Unfortunately I wasn't going to have time to tour the house but that sure the heck didn't stop me from turning around at the first available opportunity and taking some pictures!

Home of Louisa May Alcott
Orchard House
Situated on the historic road that runs from Concord to Lexington, the first permanent home of Amos Bronson Alcott, a teacher, writer and philosopher who left a legacy of forward-thinking social ideas, and his family was named the Orchard House in honor of the forty apple trees that were part of the 12-acre parcel of land that he bought in 1857 for $945. The farmhouse that was on the land when Alcott bought it was built sometime between 1690-1720 and even though many improvements were made to the home at the time it was purchased, there have been very few renovations since then which leaves the house in almost the exact same condition it was in when Louisa May and her family resided there from 1858 to 1877.

Sign out front of Orchard HouseAccording to their website:  "A guided tour of Orchard House introduces visitors both to objects which were important to the family and to the family members themselves: Amos Bronson Alcott ("Mr. March" in Little Women), a teacher and Transcendental philosopher; Abigail May Alcott ("Marmee" in Little Women), an independent-minded 19th century woman who was one of the first paid social workers in Massachusetts; Anna Alcott Pratt ("Meg" in Little Women), who had a flair for acting; Louisa May Alcott ("Jo" in Little Women), well-known author and advocate for social reform; Elizabeth Sewall Alcott ("Beth" in Little Women), the "Angel in the House" who died shortly before the family moved to Orchard House; and May Alcott Nieriker, ("Amy" in Little Women), a very talented artist.

That settles it, I'm going to have to go back when I have time to actually tour the house!  Luckily for me the house is open even during the winter months so I'm sure that at some point I'll be able to combine a visit to see Amanda with a tour of Orchard House.  After all, it's been said that Amanda and Louisa May look somewhat alike!


Even though Little Women was based around the Alcott family, the setting wasn't the Orchard House but a home they referred to as "Hillside" when they lived in it from 1845 to 1852.  As it turns out, Hillside, which is now known as The Wayside, is a short walk from Orchard House on the same historic road to Lexington.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's Concord Home
The Wayside
In 1717, the property and house belonged to Minuteman Samuel Whitney and from 1775-1776, during the nine months that Harvard was relocated to Concord, the house was occupied by John Winthrop who was one of the most renowned scientists in the country.  In 1845 Amos Bronson Alcott and his family took up residency in the house and named it Hillside.  When the Alcotts moved to Boston in 1848, the home was rented out for a time until it was bought by another author, Nathanial Hawthorne, in 1852 for $1500.

Before purchasing the only home that he would ever actually own, the acclaimed author of The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, and Twice-Told Tales, had lived in The Old Manse in Concord with his wife, Sophia, shortly after they were married and then at a rented home in Lenox, Massachusetts.  The house that he and Sophia would be moving into along with their three young children, Una, Julian, and Rose was only about two miles away from where they began their married life together.

The Old Manse
The Old Manse
Hawthorne renamed the house The Wayside as it stood so close to the road he said that it could be mistaken for a coach stop.  Alcott never accepted the name change but considering it wasn't his house anymore, he didn't have any say in what it was called - though he continued to call it Hillside when they moved back from Boston and into the Orchard House.

The Wayside SignageWhile the Hawthornes were in Europe after Nathaniel was appointed United States counsel at Liverpool, the house was leased and rented to members of their family, including Sophia's sister, Mary Peabody (Mrs.Horace) Mann. Upon their return, Hawthorne spent the last four years of his life in the house with his family from 1860-1864.

Following several other sales of the home, in 1883 it was bought by Boston publisher Daniel Lothrop and his wife, Harriett, who wrote The Five Little Peppers (another of my favorite childhood books) and other children's books under her pen name Margaret Sidney. The Lothrops greatly admired Hawthorne's writing and wanted to make as few changes as possible to his only home and they even bought some of the Hawthorne's old furniture to put back in the house.  After Margaret Sidney's death in 1924, the home was inherited by her daughter, aslo named Margaret, who opened the home to the public in 1927.

In 1963 the house was designated a National Historic Landmark and stayed in the family until 1965 when Margaret Sidney donated it to be part of Minute Man National Historical Park as the very first literary site to be acquired by the National Park Service. After extensive restoration, the house was opened to the public in 1971 and in 1985 it was designated a National Historic Landmark for the second time. Just why it was designated that twice I'm not sure but I'll have to find out if/when I get the chance to tour the house.

Gate at Sleepy Hollow CemeteryAgain having a brain of total Swiss cheese, I completely neglected to get any pictures of Ralph Waldo Emerson's home which was just about a half mile up the road from Orchard House and The Wayside but I guess that just gives me yet another reason to get myself back up to Concord at some point.  I did, however, remember that the cemetery where Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Alcott are all buried was close by so it was then off to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and Author's Ridge.

Not to be confused with the cemetery of the same name in Tarrytown, New York, Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was dedicated on September 29th, 1855 in a ceremony wherein Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a speech.  With that, I guess it's only right that he was buried there after his death in 1882.  The land itself had been known as Sleepy Hollow for a good twenty years before it became a cemetery and it was left pretty much as is rather than becoming more park-like as a lot of cemeteries are.

The Path to Author's Ridge

On a northwest hill overlooking the cemetery is Author's Ridge where, after a short climb, one can find the graves of Concord's famous authors, thinkers, and members of the Transcendentalist movement.  The graves are very modest as are the tributes that people leave there - mostly pine cones and a few other tokens to show that they were there and paid their respects.

Author's Gravestones Collage
Individual grave markers of Hawthorne, Thoreau, LM Alcott, and the plague on Emerson's grave which reads
"The passive master lent his hand, To the vast Soul which o'er him planned."
The Thoreau Family Gravestone
The Thoreau Family Gravestone
The Hawthorne Family Gravesite
The Hawthorne Family Gravesite
Alcott Family Gravestone
The Alcott Family Gravestone
Ralph Waldo Emerson Gravesite
Gravestones of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his wife, Lidian
All in all, it was an interesting little side-trip in my search for things historic and it definitely gives me good reason to go back up to Concord one of these days. Not that I need a good reason, mind you!

10 comments:

  1. oh, how I would have loved to accompany you on this tour. I so much loved Little Women and RWE is one of my favs also.

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  2. I would have loved this day excursion, too! Talk about steeped in History!

    I'll have to re-read Little Women! I haven't read it in years!

    Oh, And I SO knew you'd be going to Sleepy Hollow! :]

    big hugs :)

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  3. oh my gosh, amanda and louisa DO look alike, change the hair and glasses and there you go!

    smiles, bee
    xoxoxooxoxox

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  4. What Bee said...those two really do look alike!

    Great historical post! Little Women was a fave of mine, so I enjoyed reading the history and seeing all these great photos. I know you'll go back:)

    Don't labor too hard today. Sending big hugs, honey...

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  5. What Empress Bee and Sandy said. Right on the money.

    I too would have loved to have been with you on this excursion. How fun. You certainly are surrounded by lots of rich history.

    Have a terrific Labor Day. Big hug. :)

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  6. Yeah... what they all said... the resemblance is really uncanny. You find the greatest things in history to explore. Thank you.

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  7. wow, they do look alike! That is amazing! Sounds like you had a wonderful day!

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  8. Orchard House is so quaint and I just love The Wayside too. Your little histories peppered with your own photographs are an absolute joy Linda, thankyou. x

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  9. Omigosh, how I would absolutely love visiting these places!! I've always enjoyed seeing places where famous people like authors, painters, etc, have lived. Talk about a lot of history behind each one of those houses. Wouldn't mind living in any one of them too, they're all gorgeous. That cemetery must have been fascinating!! I need to plan a trip out that way, wonder how long of a drive it would be...I would also need a week or two! lol xoxo

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