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“Critical Museum Review of Orchard House Museum”
Review of Orchard House

Orchard House
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American History Tour: Cambridge, Lexington and Concord Day Trip from Boston
Ranked #3 of 31 things to do in Concord
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Recommended length of visit: <1 hour
Owner description: Family home where Louisa May Alcott wrote and set "Little Women."
Los Angeles, California, United States
1 review
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
“Critical Museum Review of Orchard House Museum”
Reviewed July 13, 2013

Orchard House Museum

Orchard House, located in Concord, Massachusetts, is the former home of the Bronson Alcott family where daughter, Louisa May Alcott, wrote Little Women. Bronson Alcott, an educational reformer, joined two eighteenth century houses to create the existing home. The home is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and is included in the "Save America's Treasures" program. According to its website, the museum is only open from April to November. I was thrilled to learn, while visiting the Concord Museum, that Orchard House was open to the public in March. I was given directions to Orchard House, by the Concord museum staff, which is less than a mile away and passed one sign directing to it.
The big idea of the museum is Alcott’s seminal novel Little Women. The guided tour begins with a fifteen-minute introduction video that is partly narrated, but mainly told through a first-person interpreter portraying Louisa May Alcott. Little Women is based on Louisa's family and the video separates fact from fiction. The book was written in two parts with the first book ending with all of the fictive Alcott sisters remaining single. Louisa’s publishers received an untold amount of letters from fans wanting to know the sisters’ fate. Thus, the publishers requested a sequel and insisted that all of the women be married at the end of part two. Louisa was an ardent feminist and reformer who choose a career over marriage, and being forced to write a neat, happy ending displeased her, yet resulted in the Little Women we know today,
Orchard House is a unique, historic house museum in that there are no barriers to separate the visitors from any artifacts in the house. At the beginning of the tour, instructions are given not to touch anything; otherwise, visitors are free to get up close and personal to any of the artifacts on display. Also there is no labeling, however none is necessary. The tour guide did an excellent job of describing the history of both the family and its furnishings and knowledgeably answered any question asked. Eighty percent of the house is decorated with the Alcott's personal furniture and artifacts. Shabby chic would best describe the décor, with an emphasis on shabby, despite the considerable amount of wealth accrued by Louisa who was the highest paid author of her time, per the tour guide.
The house is in poor condition and a new foundation was put under it to keep it from sinking further into the ground in 2002. An archeological dig was conducted in conjunction with the restoration of the foundation and revealed glass and pottery artifacts dating to the early 1800s, prior to the Alcott family’s residence who lived there from the 1860s to the 1880s. The archaeology artifacts found are housed in a small case in the tiny visitor’s room that was formerly an art room. The dig also revealed a seventeenth century stone well that can be seen through Plexiglas placed on the floor above the well. Apparently, the Alcotts were aware of the well since a soapstone sink had been placed directly adjacent to it. Other features of interest are the desk Mr. Alcott built for Louisa in her bedroom, during an era when it was thought to be improper for a woman to have a desk of her own. The desk is built around a post on the wall facing the street and is quite small considering that Louisa stood five feet and ten inches tall. One of Louisa’s sisters was an accomplished artist who provided another unique feature on the walls of the house with her pencil etching, paintings, and pyrography, evidence of the Alcott’s true tolerance and support for their individual artistic freedom. The artwork is protected by Plexiglass panels.
The tour guide made it clear that Louisa M Alcott was an independent woman, however the home is interpreted through the lens of Little Women, however, the book is only one of her many accomplishments. There is no mention of Louisa’s significant involvement with the suffrage and other reform movements, a point that should be highlighted in the tour as it is in the gift shop where a considerable amount of scholarly literature on Alcott and her reform movement participation is for sale along with the products of her own literary endeavors.
In addition to the house, there is a large restored structure that looks like a barn that Bronson Alcott used as a classroom and it is still utilized for educational programs today. The building was locked and not included in the tour. I imagine there would be space there for a small exhibition addressing Louisa’s political life, if not on a permanent basis, at least something might have been presented there in recognition of Women’s History Month and Louisa’s contributions. Perhaps a lack of funds prohibits any additional interpretation of Orchard House at this time. Despite federal assistance, the museum seems to struggle under the weight of the considerable amount of the conservation and restoration required to maintain Orchard House as a viable institution.

Copyright @2013, Pamela Byers. All right reserved.

Visited July 2013
1 Thank Pamela B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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367 reviews from our community

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English first
Windsor, Canada
Level 2 Contributor
9 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
“Worth a visit”
Reviewed July 11, 2013

Enjoyed the tour but thought it was a bit pricey at $10 apiece. There were a lot of dark elements to Louisa May Alcott's life and they were glossed over. Plus we didn't get to see the school where Alcott's father taught. But the house has been carefully curated to depict the various members of the family and their personalities.

Visited July 2013
1 Thank DelightfulDuo
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Somerville, Massachusetts
Level 6 Contributor
107 reviews
24 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 49 helpful votes
“What a disappointment”
Reviewed July 10, 2013

I had looked forward to visiting Orchard House, but what a disappointing tour I had. The house itself is of course of great interest to anyone who cares about literature or history. But the tour was awful. Whoever directs the tour programs there apparently thinks it is fine to have very young adolescents lead the tours-- unfortunately, although I am certain the young girl was doing her best, the result was, well, adolescent, jokey, and a bunch of memorized material delivered in very annoying Valley girl fashion. Sort of like a middle school show and tell. ALso, the tours had up to 15 people and so we were crammed in first the tiny room where you watch an introductory video (standing room only!) and then in various tiny rooms in the house. Really, be forewarned. Also the reception/gift shop staff seemed pretty blasé and not welcoming. I have gone to MANY historic houses and thoroughly enjoyed most of the tours, whether by professional or volunteer staff. The Orchard HOuse is taking advantage of its large audience and has all the appearance of a tourist trap. The Alcotts are rolling over in their graves. Orchard House leadership should check out how things are done over in Lexington at Buckman Tavern, etc. and set higher standards, reduce tour size, etc.

Visited July 2013
3 Thank historylover3
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Melbourne, Florida
Level 3 Contributor
24 reviews
3 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 13 helpful votes
“Well worth the money”
Reviewed July 6, 2013

We hesitated paying the money for the tour, but are so glad we did. The knowledge displayed by the tour guide of the Alcotts and the rest of the rich literary history of Concord was detailed and informative. The house is modest, yet impressive and to stand next to the desk where "Little Women" (and so much more) was written was an amazing experience. My family and I now consider Orchard House a "must see" landmark.

Visited June 2013
1 Thank kmoc777
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Portland, Oregon
Level 4 Contributor
31 reviews
12 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 9 helpful votes
“Outstanding historic house”
Reviewed July 1, 2013

Concord if full of interesting landmarks, museums and other historic houses, but do not miss Orchard House. Home of the Alcott family, it reflects how a family lived in mid-19th century New England through original furniture and decor. The docent who led our tour was very knowledgeable, providing details about the Alcott family and their famous Transcendentalist neighbors like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. If all you know about Louisa May Alcott is "Little Women," you will be impressed to learn of the many accomplishments and successes of the Alcott sisters.

Visited July 2013
Thank Mary M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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