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 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
In 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
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.
"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."