Author! Author! In Concord! Concord!

Ok, let's say for a moment that you aren't into Revolutionary War history so you think that perhaps Concord might not be the ideal place to visit while you're a guest of the historic Hawthorne Hotel because you'll be bored looking at an old bridge or reading markers by the side of the road stating that a British soldier died here and another one died there. Interesting for some but perhaps not for you as you're looking for something a little more - shall we say - literary?  If that's the case then you are definitely in the right spot as Concord, Massachusetts was called home to not one, not two, but six different authors.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott and his daughter Louisa May, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Sidney all lived in Concord at one time or another and helped the town play a significant role in American literary history.  If you're a fan of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, Alcott's Little Women, Sidney's The Five Little Peppers, a short story or two from Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse, or any of Emerson's poems and essays, then Concord is definitely the place to visit as you can tour their former homes, take a walk around Thoreau's Walden Pond, or pay homage at their graves on Author's Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  For the purpose of this post, Nathaniel and I will provide you with information on visiting two of those former homes - Orchard House and Bush.

Sign for Orchard HouseShortly after entering Concord on the historic road that runs from Lexington to Concord (Massachusetts Route 2), visitors soon come across the home of Amos Bronson Alcott, a teacher, writer and philosopher who left a legacy of forward-thinking social ideas, and his family at 399 Lexington Road.  Named the Orchard House in honor of the forty apple trees that were part of the 12-acre parcel of land that Alcott bought in 1857 for $945, the structure was the first permanent home of Bronson, his wife, and four daughters after the family had moved twenty-two times in thirty years.

When Alcott bought the property there were two houses on the land - a farmhouse and a manor house, both built sometime between 1690-1720.  Alcott joined the two houses together, attaching the smaller farmhouse to the back of the larger manor house, and then set about to make improvements to the home. Since then, very few renovations and no major structural changes have been made to the house which leaves it in almost the exact same condition it was in when Louisa May and her family resided there from 1858 to 1877. As any current or future preservation efforts adhere to the highest standards of authenticity and approximately 80% of the furnishings on display were owned by the Alcotts, the rooms look very much as they did when the family lived in the house.

Best known as the house where Louisa May wrote and set her novel Little Women in 1868, for many visitors a walk through the house is like a walk through the book itself. According to their website:  "A guided tour of Orchard House introduces visitors both to objects which were important to the family and to the family members themselves: Amos Bronson Alcott ("Mr. March" in Little Women), a teacher and Transcendental philosopher; Abigail May Alcott ("Marmee" in Little Women), an independent-minded 19th century woman who was one of the first paid social workers in Massachusetts; Anna Alcott Pratt ("Meg" in Little Women), who had a flair for acting; Louisa May Alcott ("Jo" in Little Women), well-known author and advocate for social reform; Elizabeth Sewall Alcott ("Beth" in Little Women), the "Angel in the House" who died shortly before the family moved to Orchard House; and May Alcott Nieriker, ("Amy" in Little Women), a very talented artist.'

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House

Open to the public and overseen by the not-for-profit Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association since May 27, 1912, the only way to see the inside of Orchard House is by taking a guided tour; however, in a slight twist to most other New England attractions, the house is open year-round so if you're one of those folks who prefer to visit places during the "off season", you are totally in luck! Guided tours are offered on the following schedule:

November 1 - March 31 
Monday - Friday, 11:00 - 3:00 Last tour at 3:00 
Saturday, 10:00 - 4:30 Sunday, 1:00 - 4:30 
Last tour at 4:30

April 1 - October 31 
Monday - Saturday, 10:00 - 4:30 
Sunday, 1:00 - 4:30 
Last tour at 4:30 

Closed: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and January 1 & 2; 
Open at 12 noon on Patriots' Day (3rd Monday in April)

Tour tickets are sold on a "first-come" basis (meaning you cannot buy them in advance) so if it's a particularly busy day (and there always seem to be cars in the parking lot!), you may have to wait a bit for your tour to step off, especially if there's a group tour in front of you. Until then, there are other activities to keep you busy during the wait time.

As of this writing, the current admission rates are: Adults: $9.00; Seniors (62+ years) & College Students (w/ID): $8.00; Youths (ages 6-17): $5.00; Children under 6 & Members: Free; Family Rate (2 Adults & up to 4 Youths): $25.00. Reservations are not required for groups of ten or less.  For more information, please check out Visit Information on Orchard House's website where you will also find a link for a discount as well as a chance to virtually tour seven rooms of the house and a list of Special Events being held at the house throughout the year.

Just down the road from the former home of the Alcotts can be found the former home of Concord's favorite son and one of Nathaniel's good friends - Ralph Waldo Emerson. The house, designated as a National Historic Landmark, is still owned by the Emerson family who first opened it to the public as a museum in 1930.

Mini-Nate at the Emerson House

Named "Bush" by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the house was built as a summer home in 1828 by the Coolidge family and originally named "Coolidge Castle".  In July of 1835, Emerson bought the house and over 2 acres of land from John T. Coolidge for $3,500 and moved into it on September 15th with his new wife Lydia Jackson (who he called "Lidian" and had married just the day before) his mother Ruth, and a live-in cook.

After purchasing the house, Emerson spent between $400 and $500 for enlargements and finishing using money from a settlement with the family of his first wife, Ellen Louisa Tucker, who had died young from tuberculosis less than two years after their marriage on Christmas Day in 1827.  Emerson wrote that he hoped to "crowd so many books and papers, and, if possible, wise friends into it (the house), that it shall have as much wit as it can carry."

The Ralph Waldo Emerson Home in Concord

Succeeding in that endeavor, Bush became a central meeting place where Emerson entertained a host of notable neighbors and visitors including Bronson and Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and other philosophers, idealists, and poets. In July of 1836, the home hosted the meetings of the Transcendental Club, a group of New England intellectuals of the early-to-mid-19th century which was formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 8, 1836. The club gave rise to Transcendentalism, a philosophical movement that developed in the 1830s and 1840s as a protest to the general state of culture and society with core beliefs of the inherent goodness of both people and nature.

In April of 1841, Henry David Thoreau accepted an invitation to move into Emerson's home where he worked off his room and board as a handyman around the house. He lived there before and after his experiment of independent living in a cabin on Walden Pond (part of Emerson's 11 acres around the pond that he had purchased with money he earned as a lecturer) and stayed on with the family until July of 1848. 

On the morning of July 24, 1872, fire broke out at Bush causing heavy damage to the house. After the fire was put out by Ephraim Bull, Jr., the one-armed son of Ephraim Wales Bull, the man who created the Concord grape, Emerson's friends and neighbors in Concord - without consulting Emerson about it - took up a collection to pay for repairs eventually raising some $16,000 total. This provided enough money to send  Emerson and his daughter Ellen to England, continental Europe, and Egypt while the house was being restored. On April 15, 1873 the Emersons returned to reoccupy the house and were surprised by a town-wide celebration of the event which included the closing of the local schools.

Sign at the Home of Ralph Waldo Emerson

On April 21, 1882, Emerson was diagnosed with pneumonia and on April 27, 1882 he died at his home in Concord at the age of 78. On November 13, 1892, his wife Lidian Emerson died in the house at the age of 90 and was buried next to her husband on Authors Ridge in Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The Emersons' daughter Ellen Tucker Emerson, who did not marry, continued to live in the house until her death in 1909; other friends and relatives lived there until 1948.

Visitors to Bush will find that the house looks very much like it did when Ralph Waldo Emerson lived there as it contains original furniture and Emerson's memorabilia. The two exceptions are Emerson's personal book collection which has been moved to Harvard University's Houghton Library and the furniture and books from his study, which are now on display in a recreated study in the Concord Museum which stands in the home's former apple and pear orchard across the street from the house.

Mini-Nate at Emerson's Study in the Concord Museum

The house, located at 28 Cambridge Turnpike at Lexington Road, is open for guided tours seasonally from Patriots' Day weekend in April to late October on Thursdays to Saturdays from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm, Sundays from 1:00 to 4:30 pm. As of this writing, admission fees are $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and children 7-17, and free for children 6 and under. Combination tickets to both the Ralph Waldo Emerson House and the Alcott House are available for purchase at the Concord Museum. Should you have any questions, please contact Marie Gordinier, Manager of the R. W. Emerson Memorial House at 978-369-2236.

Due to the nature of the contents, photography is not allowed in either Orchard House or Bush.

Copyright © - Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel is strictly prohibited.

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~ Nathaniel and Linda