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A Tour of Orchard House
By Tara Calishain.

If you ever get a chance to go to Concord, I recommend going via the Boston airport. There's nothing like exiting an airplane, climbing in the backseat of a cab, and riding at 70 miles an hour all over Boston to impress upon you the quiet and serenity of Concord. Louisa May Alcott may have been bored out of her mind by life in Concord; after the cab ride I thought it was wonderful. 

Louisa May Alcott may not have been the most famous Concordian (many would argue that honor belongs to Emerson) but she remains a sentimental favorite. Little Women, written over 130 years ago, continues to entertain generation after generation of children. And Orchard House, LMA's one-time home, continues to entertain generation after generation of visitors. 

Though Orchard House is in many respects a wonderful tour -- you can walk right into the rooms, and the guides are incredibly knowledgeable and very friendly -- picture-taking is not allowed inside the house. So this article is illustrated with outside shots as well as postcards of the house interior from the turn of the century. 

The two buildings of Orchard House were already old when Louisa May's father, Amos Bronson Alcott, bought them in 1857 -- they dated from the 1700s. But it's still beautiful, rambling up off a narrow road with trees all around it. 

See the top windows to the upper-right of the front door (at right - click image for larger view)? That was Louisa's room. 

But don't go in the front door. Go around to the side, where you'll find the gift shop and a place where you can get tour tickets. There's a small room where you can sit and watch a short video on Orchard House, featuring Jan Turnquist as Louisa. 

I don't know if the tours go in a particular pattern, but the first place we went was the kitchen. The kitchen features fixtures there when the Alcotts lived there. It also features a supporting beam that was put in because of the condition of the house and a chunk of wood showing how insects have made an excellent meal of the beams for almost 300 years. 

This was a theme I felt over and over again as we went through the house -- the temporary support structures in some places and the creak of the floor made you well-aware of the house's age. On the other hand, both the house and its inhabitants have been the subject of recent finds -- May's drawings have been uncovered on the walls, and Louisa had an unpublished manuscript found in mid-90's. You get the sense that there's so much more to be understood about both the house and its inhabitants. They stand in contrast -- the alarming decay and the continual discovery. 

As you walk into the dining room and the parlor, you can see the reason for the large windows. Sunlight streams in, lighting up the whole place without the need for electricity (of course there is electricity installed in the house... seeing an outlet looks pretty incongruous next to old furniture and paintings.) The parlor is bright and airy -- you can imagine that kind of socializing that went on here. Anna Alcott was married in this room. 

(The dining room  is in the foreground here, with the parlor in the background.)

Across the hall from the parlor you'll find the library, crowded with both books and furniture. One can easily see this as Mr. Alcott's corner of the world. Sunlight streams through a front window, highlighting a gorgeous fireplace and what seems like millions of books. 

That's Bronson Alcott in the picture. 

Between the parlor and the library is the front door and the stairs. Upstairs are the bedrooms. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of her parents' room. Be sure to take a look at the checklist of chores up in the room that each child had to work from. Must have been tough to be an Alcott child sometimes. 

Orchard House refers to May's room as the "most preserved room in the house" and it's easy to see that. 

The picture above is marked with a blue circle. In that circle is the area where pictures by May were discovered and restored. This room is a little on the small side, but beautifully cozy. You can imagine May in here sketching for hours. 

Just a step from May's room is Louisa's room. There's a half-moon desk that her father built between the two windows that I pointed out to you at the beginning of the article. 

See the chair on the right side of the picture? Just a little further to the right of that is a fireplace with an owl on it painted by May. Unfortunately there's also a fairly large crack, another sign of the condition of the house. 

Once you've walked through the house, you haven't seen everything. There's also the School of Philosophy, to the left of the house as you face it (below left - click on image for larger view)


Isn't that a beautiful building? And don't miss a chance to walk around the buildings, with the gardens and the beautiful trees (above right - click on image for larger view)

Orchard House is a wonderful stop on anyone's tour of Concord. It is just as exciting, in its own way, as the cab ride from Boston. Hang on!

Photos: Tara Calishain
Backgrounds: ABC Giant and ArtToday.

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