Orchard House remains TEMPORARILY CLOSED due to COVID-19 restrictions
In Louisa May Alcott's journal of 1860, she wrote, "All of the philosophy in our house is not in the study, a good deal is in the kitchen, where a fine old lady thinks high thoughts and does good deeds while she cooks and scrubs." The Alcott women all worked in the Kitchen preparing and preserving food and doing laundry, but Mr. Alcott spent time here as well, making it an efficient workspace. Innovations he implemented include a hot water boiler/reservoir and a clothes drying rack. Other original features include the soapstone sink that was purchased by Louisa, a variety of kitchen implements and cooking tools, and the hutch table. The Alcotts were also fortunate to have running water installed in the mid-1870s, but their well is still visible via a trap door in the Kitchen floor. May Alcott even commandeered her mother's bread board to practice the art of pyrography on it.
The Alcotts were vegetarians and harvested fruits and vegetables from gardens and orchards they tended on the twelve acres surrounding Orchard House. Mrs. Alcott's family china, portraits of Elizabeth and Louisa, and paintings by May are displayed in this room along with other family furnishings, most memorably Elizabeth's melodeon (small reed organ). Of vital importance to the family and their guests at the dining table were mealtime conversations that addressed abolition, women's suffrage, child labor, and many other social reforms. The Alcott sisters also used the Dining Room as their stage, performing home-made theatricals for neighbors and friends assembled in the adjoining Parlor during their weekly evening Open House.
This more formal room used primarily for entertaining and special family events is decorated with earth-toned wallpaper and a green patterned carpet that contrasts with the burgundy-themed Study across the hall. Arched niches were built by Mr. Alcott to display busts of his favorite philosophers, Socrates and Plato, but during the 1860s, statuettes by John Rogers, depicting important themes and events of the Civil War, were often displayed instead. Family portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Alcott and watercolors by May -- along with her pen and ink drawing of Moses on the fireboard -- enliven the room. On May 23, 1860, the thirtieth wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Alcott, eldest daughter Anna married John Bridge Pratt beneath an arbor in this room. Years later, Louisa recalled this first family wedding and described it in Little Women as the marriage of "Meg March" and "John Brooke."
A room of her own had always been a priority for Louisa May Alcott. With her often turbulent emotions, active imagination, and serious pre-occupation with her family's financial welfare, a haven into which she could escape to find the solitude and freedom to write was indispensable. When the family first moved into Orchard House, Louisa's father not only built a bookcase cupboard for her, but the half-moon writing desk between the two front windows as well. It was at this desk in 1868 that Louisa wrote Little Women -- a book that would change the course of American literature as well as the Alcotts' lives. When Louisa was recuperating from typhoid pneumonia she contracted during her service as a Civil War nurse, her youngest sister May painted a panel of calla lilies and nasturtiums beside the writing desk to cheer her; May later rendered a baby owl on Louisa's mantel and the oil painting of an owl that hangs on the outer wall by Louisa's bed.
The youngest Alcott daughter -- and model for "Amy March" in Little Women -- was a talented artist in real life as well as in fiction. In addition to more traditional sketches and paintings, May's bluish-grey bedroom still contains unique drawings of mythological and biblical figures on the woodwork, walls, and doors, as well as original wallpaper, a vaulted ceiling, and bracketed shelves to hold flower vases. The room is furnished with a set of painted cottage furniture typical of the mid-19th Century. There is also a trunk that contains costumes made by the Alcott sisters which they wore during performances of their home-made theatricals in the Parlor.
The master bedroom reflects Mrs. Alcott's taste and contains many of her possessions, including family paintings and photographs, household furnishings, and handmade quilts. In later years, Mrs. Alcott often spent many of her free moments here reading, writing in her journal, and having tea. Several of May Alcott's highly acclaimed copies of Joseph Turner's landscapes also adorn the walls in this room. A small passageway leads to the Nursery that was added onto Orchard House in 1870.
This room was added in 1870 after newly-widowed Anna Alcott Pratt decided to come back to live at Orchard House with her two sons, Frederick and John Jr. Portraits of Anna, her husband, and their two sons are in the room, along with two rare lithographs of children done by noted artist Lilly Martin Spencer. Displayed on the back wall is “The Mansion of Happiness,” a popular 19th Century board game that was the first produced by Parker Brothers in Salem, Massachusetts. Many of the toys, dolls, and games in the Nursery were donated by Anna's sons and May’s daughter, Lulu, when Orchard House was preparing to open to the public as an historic site in 1911.
"If in Emerson's study perpetual twilight reigns," wrote a visitor to Orchard House in 1874, "in Alcott's it is always noon. The great sun shines in it all day, the great fireplace roars, and the warm crimson hangings temper the sunlight and reflect the firelight. Quaint mottoes and pictures hang on the walls." Mr. Alcott's books fill the shelves, the room is furnished with his desks, chairs, and a handmade revolving bookcase, while the walls hold images of his friends, neighbors, and sources of inspiration -- Emerson, Thoreau, Sanborn, Hawthorne, John Brown, Thomas Carlyle, and his own mother, Anna Bronson Alcox. Here, Mr. Alcott could also sit and gaze upon a beautiful portrait of his youngest daughter May, who spent her last years in Europe. In 1879, the Concord Summer School of Philosophy, an adult education series created by Mr. Alcott, first met in this room until a larger building adjacent to Orchard House was constructed the next year. A bust of Mr. Alcott in the niche of this room was carved by noted American sculptor Daniel Chester French, who was one of May's early art students.