House: Orchard House


Orchard House in Concord, Massachusettes

Location: Concord, Massachusetts, USA
Built: Unknown
Status: Open as a historic museum

History

The Alcott family moved to Concord in 1840, but left in 1843 in order to start Fruitlands, a utopian agrarian commune in Harvard. In 1845, the Alcotts returned to the house and named it “Hillside”. However, they left again by 1852 after selling it to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who renamed it “The Wayside”. Five years later in 1857, the Alcott family returned, and bought another property in May of the following year.

The purchased site included two old homes from the early 1700s and a 12 acre apple orchard. The house was named Orchard House. While the Hawthornes were still in England, the Alcotts rented rooms at The Wayside since their home was being renovated.

Orchard House was the Alcott’s most-used home, as they lived there from 1858 to 1877. At this time, the Alcott family consisted of Bronson, his wife Abigail May, and their daughters Anna, Louisa, May, and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, who was the model for Beth March in Little Women, had died in March, 1858, only a few weeks shy of when they moved in.

Being vegetarians, the Alcotts grew and harvested the fruits and vegetables that came from their gardens and orchard. On May 23rd, 1860, Anna Alcott married John Bridge Pratt. May, the youngest, was a talented artist and was the base idea for Amy in Little Women.

It was in the house that Louisa May wrote the book. It was published in 1868, and was based off the family’s life in Orchard House. Bronson designed and built a structure to the west of the house, and entitled it “The Hillside Chapel”. It was later renamed “The Concord School of Philosophy”. The school operated from 1879 to 1888, and was one of the first and most successful adult education centers in the country.

In 1877, Louisa May bought her sister Anna a home on Main Street. A year later, Abigail May passed away, and Louisa and Bronson moved into Anna’s home, leaving Orchard House to be put up for sale in 1884. Now, the home is believed to be haunted by May. Not much is known about the haunting.

Today, the house is open for public tours daily (excluding major holidays and January 1st-15th). For the most part, the house is unchanged. Most of the rooms are decorated to look how they did when the Alcotts owned the home.

Sources

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