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The Wayside and Miss Margaret Lothrop

By Jane Sciacca, who has spent 14 years researching and interpreting Concord history at the Old Manse, Orchard House, The Wayside and North Bridge. She is currently a Senior Development Researcher at New England Medical Center.

the wayside in the time of Margaret Sidney's ownershipThe Wayside in Minute Man National Historical Park has a long and rich history that stretches back over three hundred years. Located on today's Lexington Road, the house was originally a four room colonial farmhouse dating to the late seventeenth century. At the start of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775, The Wayside was home to the Muster Master of the Concord Minutemen, Samuel Whitney, his wife, twelve children and at least two slaves. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, The Wayside housed three literary families- the Alcotts, the Nathaniel Hawthornes, and the Lothrops -- which included "Margaret Sidney," the author of the Five Little Peppers children's series.

While The Wayside today is preserved as a National Historic Landmark in a National Park- a building's highest distinction- even the remarkable people and events that are associated with this house did not guarantee its survival into the present day. The preservation of The Wayside is perhaps its least well known story; it is the story of one woman who dedicated forty years of her life to saving her home- Miss Margaret Mulford Lothrop.

Author "Margaret Sidney's" Daughter
Margaret Lothrop (pictured as a child below, right with her mother) was born in the East Chamber of The Wayside on July 27, 1884, the only child of publisher Daniel Lothrop and his wife, Harriett, who authored "The Five Little Peppers" and other children's books under the pen name, Margaret Sidney. Margaret graduated from Concord High School and from Smith College in 1905 -- the only woman college graduate to live at The Wayside. She earned a Master's Degree at Stanford University in California and taught Sociology and Penology there. During World War I, Margaret served with the Red Cross in France. Although she never married, her life was largely devoted to the cause of children. Margaret was the first member of the Children of the American Revolution which her mother founded in 1895. She also served as Assistant Director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in San Francisco.

The Lothrops: Harriet (Margaret Sidney) and young MargaretIn 1883, Daniel and Harriett Lothrop bought The Wayside because it had been the only home that Nathaniel Hawthorne ever owned. The Lothrops, in fact, found all of the history of their new home on the Battle Road of 1775 fascinating. Before it was bought by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1852, it had been a childhood home of Louisa May Alcott and her family. The Alcotts called the house "Hillside" and spent three and a half years living many of the experiences Louisa would recall when she later wrote her classic, Little Women.

Margaret's father had died in 1892, and since then, her mother had shouldered the burden of raising and supporting her child through her writings. She also had focused on preserving her beloved Wayside and three other Concord houses -- Orchard House, Grapevine Cottage and the old Tolman House in Monument Square.

In August, 1924, Harriett Lothrop ["Margaret Sidney"] died in California where she was staying with her daughter. Now at the age of forty, Margaret, a resident of California, a teacher and community activist in her adopted state, inherited the house in which she had been born over three thousand miles away: The Wayside -her birthplace, filled with memories of Revolutionary War patriots, with literary giants and with the love her parents' had of their home.

"At the time of my mother's death, and for several years afterwards, The Wayside was rented to tenants," Margaret Lothrop wrote in her 1940 book, The Wayside: Home of Authors. "When [they] moved from Concord, the question of the future of the house had to be faced. I disliked the thought of selling it to a private family, who might not feel the obligation towards its past and towards the public which my father and mother had from the first so clearly recognized. The house had acquired an individuality of its ownŠ" That individuality was visually reflected in two centuries of architectural change and growth from colonial farmhouse, to the Alcotts' "Hillside," to Hawthorne' s addition of a three story tower and the delightful piazza that the Lothrops attached to the Hawthorne house so that visitors could be welcomed and entertained there.

Margaret Preserves and Opens The Wayside to Tourists
By 1937, Margaret Lothrop had given up her home in California and her teaching at Stanford and returned to The Wayside to live. The rest of her life would be dedicated to preserving her home. Driven by her overwhelming love for her home and its history, of her family who bought the house to preserve it, and of children, Margaret Lothrop would work tirelessly until her death at 85 in 1970 to save The Wayside. As she wrote many years ago, "I knew what [The Wayside] had done for me during my girlhood, in bringing history to life, and I wished that other young people might have the same joy."

For over thirty years, "Miss Lothrop," as she was affectionately known to almost everyone, opened The Wayside for tours and was the guide. Even into her seventies with her health failing, she would greet visitors in the sitting room and talk about her home before high school girls took them on a tour. The winter months Margaret spent doing research on her house with its many historic and literary associations, and even hand copying letters and journals of the illustrious authors and their families in libraries throughout the country.

Although primarily concerned with The Wayside, her inquiring mind led her to encompass many other aspects of Concord and American history and literature. Her papers are in the archives at Minute Man NHP. For the thousands of visitors whose lives she touched, Margaret Lothrop embodied the spirit of The Wayside as much as a minuteman, or Hawthorne, or the Alcott family did. The many appreciative letters that survive attest to that. Here's an example from 1933:

"If we had found only a guide to take us through the quaint old rooms and tell us in just so many words the story connected with the house I'm afraid it would not have impressed us as deeply as it did. Your close association with the dear old house and your ability to make others see through your eyes has made a lasting impression on us. We feel as if you lifted a curtain and allowed us to live for one hour in another generation."

Photos: Courtesy of the Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library.
Backgrounds: Lady Kree and Brave Web Creations.

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