Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House
Yankee Plus Dec 2015
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New England, as we all know, is jam-packed with historical bragging rights, not only in the sense that our six little states were (and are) flourishing epicenters of business, food, industry, art, education, writing, politics (the list goes on and on) but the enduring tributes to these achievements – the schools, museums, factories, monuments, houses, cemeteries, and commemorative plaques – are packed in together, sometimes just steps apart, anchored like stars in a schoolbook constellation.
The abundance and richness of our history makes for some busy, and sometime diverse, day trips. One small town or neighborhood can provide a long day of sightseeing and points of interest.
The town of Concord, Massachusetts is a fine example, and has been feeding my love for New England and its history throughout my life, beginning with early morning viewings of the annual Patriots’ Day reenactment of the battle at the Old North Bridge, picnics at Walden Pond, strolling Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and a Christmas-season visit to Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott lived with her family from 1858 to 1877, and where she wrote “Little Women” in 1868.
I must have been around ten when I saw the original version of the movie, and my mother said that if my sisters I read the book she would take us to the see the house where Jo March lived with her Marmee and sisters Meg, Beth, and Amy. I confess I don’t remember much about the visit, other than the house being decorated for the holiday season and that there were period actors playing the parts of the Alcott family, but the story and the movie remain favorites of mine.
On a recent trip home to Lowell, my mom and I decided to make the most of an overcast March day (rather fitting, don’t you think?) by once more visiting Orchard House. Its exterior is nearly identical to what it would have looked like when the Alcott family lived there, and upon entering, you are greeted by a small but cozy gift shop selling all things Concord and Louisa. The house does not allow photography, but the saleswoman was kind enough to allow me a few snaps.
We browsed and waited for the next tour, which was lengthy and splendidly narrated by a seasoned guide. This time around, I will remember a great deal more about Louisa May and her family. The house practically pulses with their presence. Around 75% of the objects and furnishings inside are original to the Alcott family, and far beyond furniture and wallpaper, there are small, personal reminders of the family — from etchings and drawings done by May (Amy in the book) on her bedroom walls to Mrs. Alcott’s bread board in the kitchen.
My mom and I had a great time at Orchard House, and it reminded me that in addition to appreciating how lucky we are in New England to have so many significant reminders of the past surrounding us, perhaps the best part is how we can revisit these sites again and again, learning something new each time and adding our own small story to a much larger one.
Fun Fact: Louisa May liked to refer to Orchard House as “Apple Slump” as a witty nod to its fruity origins, as well as its constant need of repair. Do you know what makes a slump dessert a slump? Check out Funny Names for Old Fashioned Fruit Desserts for the answer!