Quirky Wayside offers a wealth of history: the architecture

When you think about all the different people who lived at The Wayside over the years, it’s no wonder the house has gone through so many changes. Here are some of the more significant ones:

Home of a minuteman

The earliest known date for The Wayside is  c.1700 and was a typical two story, wood frame New England farmhouse (see the official The Wayside website). The front door was where the bay window in the front is now. At some point in the 1700s, Minuteman Samuel Whitney, his wife and children occupied the house. Ceilings inside were low to retain heat and as mentioned by my tour guide, must have been difficult for Whitney who was quite tall. It’s possible he have had to bend over in the rooms! Apparently three current day relatives of Whitney have visited the house and they have had to bend over in some of the rooms.

The Wayside, then known as Hillside, drawn by Bronson Alcott in 1845.

Home of the Alcotts

In 1845, The Wayside went under its first major renovation with the Alcotts. Bronson enlarged the house by taking a shed, dividing it in two, and attaching it on either end of the house. He also added a portico over the front door. He landscaped the ridge with beautiful terraces which, if you know what to look for, can still be seen today.

Louisa’s own room

The addition allowed for Louisa and Anna to have their own rooms. This was the first time Louisa had her own room and it had a door out to the back where she could run off as she wished into the meadows and up the ridge, flying kites, working off energy by running and whatever else her healthy and strong body would allow.

Louisa in her own room at Hillside, drawn by Flora Smith for Joan Howard's "The Story of Louisa May Alcott" c. 1955.

The room was small but it was very dear to Louisa who longed to have a special place of solitude where she could write her stories. When I read my first Louisa biography as a child (The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard) I remember  feeling a strong sense of empathy for Louisa and her desire for a special room of her own where she could let her imagination fly.

The room is now a hallway with a window but I could still feel the energy of Louisa there and took a snapshot of the window just to have it :-).

Home to the Hawthornes

The Alcotts occupied The Wayside for 3 years and then had to move to Boston so that Abba could find work to support the family. The house was sold to Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1852 where he lived with his family once they had returned from Europe (for a short time, the Alcotts re-occupied a portion of the house while Orchard House was being renovated. The Hawthornes were in Europe during that time.)

A sanctuary

Here’s where the Wayside changed significantly in appearance. The Hawthornes moved the front door to the side, and replaced the original front door with a bay window. A second story was added to the wing which originally housed Louisa’s room, and her room became a hallway with a staircase leading to the second and third floors (thus the window replacing her door). Nathaniel had a 3-story square tower added to the back of the house, using the third floor with its cathedral ceiling as his writing chamber. Unfortunately the troubles of the day (the impending Civil War) impeded his ability to write.

Home to a future saint?

Nathaniel’s daughter Rose Hawthorne Lathrop achieved a notoriety of her own. Rose’s life was marred with tragedy with the death of her young son, and her marriage was an unhappy one. After the death of her husband, Rose joined the convent, eventually founding a Dominican Order which cared for poor cancer patients. Known as Mother Mary Alphonsa, she is on her way to being canonized as a saint.

Home to Margaret Sidney

Nathaniel died in 1864 and the house was sold in 1870. The last major family to purchase the home were the Lothrops, who purchased The Wayside in 1883. Harriet Lothrop, also known as Margaret Sidney, wrote the 5 Peppers series for children; she was married to her publisher, Daniel Lothrop.

The Lothrops modernized the house with town water in 1883, central heating in 1888, and electric lighting in 1904, as well as adding a large piazza on the west side in 1887 (from Wikipedia, The Wayside). The home today reflects the decor of 1904 and retains many original pieces of furniture from the Lothrops and Hawthornes. There are even original light bulbs from the period.

Preserved for the ages

Perhaps the greatest contribution that both Harriet and Margaret Lothrop made to the town of Concord was the preservation of several important historical properties including Orchard House and of course, The Wayside (Margaret Lothrop saves the Wayside; Harriet Lothrop, aka Margaret Sidney, saves homes in Concord). The photo below captures a newspaper article on display at The Wayside with details of the saving of Orchard House.

Louisa at the "Wishing Wheel", drawn by Flora Smith for The Story of Louisa May Alcott by Joan Howard c. 1955.

An important home for Louisa

The Wayside captured my imagination and was as interesting to visit as Orchard House. The “Hillside” period of Louisa’s life was always my favorite part of her childhood as she truly began to recognize her gifts as actress, playwright and author. That strength of character that made all of her dreams possible began to exert itself in those teenage years. Joan Howard writes that Louisa made 3 wishes on the “Wishing Wheel”, an old wheel found in the meadow at the top of the ridge. Those wishes were for money, fame, and a tour of Europe, all of which were realized in her lifetime. “Hillside” was the site of many of the escapades in Little Women; seeing this house made those stories come alive even more.

Answers to the quiz

Here are the answers to the quiz from the last post:

  1. Name the minuteman who occupied The Wayside in the early 1700s. Samuel Whitney
  2. How many of the published authors out of the 12 can you name (I’ve only been able to name 6 so far)?
    These are the 6 I could think of: Louisa May Alcott, Bronson Alcott, May Alcott Nieriker, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Margaret Sidney
  3. Who was the woman who would eventually become one of the first social workers in Boston? Abba May Alcott
  4. Name the two women activists. Mother and daughter: Abba and Louisa May Alcott
  5. Who would eventually go off to service in the Civil War as a nurse? Louisa May Alcott
  6. Name the philosopher. Bronson Alcott
  7. Which daughter of a famous author was to become a nun on the road to sainthood? What was her name as a nun and what order did she found? What charitable work did they perform? Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Mother Mary Alphonsa, Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, caring for poor cancer patients
  8. Which two women fought to preserve several key historical homes in Concord? Which homes were saved? Harriet and Margaret Lothrop (Harriet Lothrop is the author Margaret Sidney)
  9. One of the women preservationists taught at a famous college – who was it and what was the name of the college? Margaret Lothrop, she taught for many years at Stanford University.


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Quirky Wayside offers a wealth of history: introduction and quiz

Last Friday I finished out my vacation by visiting a home in Concord I have been drawn to for years: The Wayside. And it was SO worth the wait! In fact, it was such a stimulating visit that I need to split my thoughts into a couple of blog posts.

This house is a total mish-mash architecturally, showing the distinct personalities of all the folks who lived there. The luminaries begin with a master militia minuteman and then include 12 published authors (as told to me by the tour guide), a philosopher, one of the first social workers (which happened after she moved from The Wayside to Boston), women activists, a civil war nurse, two women preservationists, and a daughter of a famous author destined to become a nun and a saint!

Let’s see how good your trivia is by answering the following questions:

  1. Name the minuteman who occupied The Wayside in the early 1700s.
  2. How many of the published authors out of the 12 can you name (I’ve only been able to name 6 so far)?
  3. Who was the woman who would eventually become one of the first social workers in Boston?
  4. Name the two women activists.
  5. Who would eventually go off to service in the Civil War as a nurse?
  6. Name the philosopher.
  7. Which daughter of a famous author was to become a nun on the road to sainthood? What was her name as a nun and what order did she found? What charitable work did they perform?
  8. Which two women fought to preserve several key historical homes in Concord? Which homes were saved?
  9. One of the women preservationists taught at a famous college – who was it and what was the name of the college?

Looking forward to seeing your answers!


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Rest in peace, my dear sweet cat

Louisa May Alcott was once accused of having an “inordinate love of cats.” Count me guilty too. There is nothing as sweet and wonderful as a cat (except children).

Today I lost my elderly cat, Bacci. I adopted him a year and a half ago from the assisted living home where my mom had lived. She passed away a year ago April.

Baci (the newest edition, and the oldest kitty at 14)

Bacci had lived an exceptionally sheltered life in the lower level of the home. His owner had passed on and the staff took care of him. He never saw the outdoors (no windows in the lower level room where he lived) nor other cats. He was friends with a dog but other than that, there was little stimulation except for attention from the staff and residents who lived on that level.

On one of my first encounters with Bacci, I knew he had chosen me. He took his paw and tapped me on the leg. Bacci had exquisitely huge double paws that looked like mittens. I was hooked.

When I found out the staff was looking for a new home for him, I opted to adopt Bacci. My hope was to expose him to those things that cats love, so he could remember that he too, was a cat.

Bacci was a very sweet gentleman but he was not up to living with other cats. At the time I had 2 other cats, a ginger male (Spencer) and a torti (Jenny). Spencer was the first to bully Bacci and Bacci was no match for him. I made it my goal to make Bacci feel safe. I picked him up often and cuddled him so that he would know he was safe. Eventually he took to it and purred whenever I would pick him up. He soon began to greet me with little chirps and meows.

Spencer passed on last summer and while I was heartbroken at his sudden passing, I thought things would finally get better for Bacci. Jenny took over the role of bully (and diva) and gave Bacci an even harder time of it! Still, I managed to make him feel safe, adding lap times to cuddle times.

As Bacci grew more used to our active household, he began to explore more. He discovered the family room with the glass doors to the deck and the wonders of the multiple bird feeders. He began to enjoy basking in the sun and watching the birds. My dream of him remembering that he was a cat was coming true.

I wanted him to experience the exquisiteness of summer nights and the wonderful smells of the grass and flowers that drift through the summer breezes. I would hold him up to the open window and let the breeze rustle his fur. Bacci loved to smell and enjoyed that immensely.

I celebrated Bacci’s 14th birthday on Thanksgiving and looked forward to a good year together but it was not to be. He developed a thyroid condition and his gums were very irritated. He was slowly deteriorating physically even as he was getting better emotionally.

Because he was so sensitive emotionally, the last visit to the vet really did him in. A little over a week after that visit, he spiraled downward and I had to put him to sleep. But before this past horrible week, Bacci was at his best – sweet, friendly, enjoying the lap times and cuddle times more and more. We had many nice times together and it was hard to say goodbye.

While I would not adopt an elderly cat again, I do not regret one minute having adopted Bacci. He was my sweet gentleman and watching him reawaken as a cat was worth all the hard work. I loved covering my Bacci with a multitude of kisses.

Bacci was my last physical connection with my mother and it felt like losing her all over again. But I am comforted at the thought that both are free from pain and suffering. I like to think of my mom receiving Bacci into her arms in heaven as he passed from this world into the next. I think of Mommy now, showing him the birds, flowers and nature she loved so well while giving him the lap times and cuddle times that I will miss so much.

Bacci is truly a cat now.


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A clear introduction to Transcendentalism . . .

. . . and in only about 500 words! This is from the Spiritual Travels blog:

The Hippies of Nineteenth-Century America

Posted on August 19, 2011 by lori

Spending time with Bronson Alcott yesterday made me realize that before moving forward we need to get a bit clearer on what that ten-dollar word “Transcendentalism” means. Spoiler alert: abstract ideas ahead.

I’ve asked my philosopher husband, Bob Sessions, to tell us everything we need to know about Transcendentalism in 500 words (how hard can this be?). Here’s his response:

As Lori has written in previous posts, there’s a school of philosophy lurking behind the Concord stories she’s been telling. Emerson gathered artists and intellectuals to discuss, develop, and live Transcendentalism.

So what is this home-grown philosophy with such an imposing title? Having come of age in the 1960s I recognize many familiar themes in their project.  One might say, in fact, that the  Transcendentalists were the hippies of their day.  They believed in free love and being close to nature, they turned away from both traditional religion and materialism, and their central goal was self-realization of the individual by transcending the ego to attain union with the whole.

Henry David Thoreau (Wikipedia Commons image)

For those of you who recall the 1960s counter-culture, there’s a lot that is familiar about the Concord scene of the 1840-50s: Bronson Alcott’s refusal to accept the idea of private property, his commune Fruitlands, and his radical vegetarianism; Thoreau’s desire to follow the guidance of nature; and Hawthorne’s searing critiques of the dominant religion.

Even if reference to the 1960s doesn’t resonate for you, much of what the Transcendentalists sought remains central to the spiritual lives of many seekers today.  Thoreau is famous for suggesting that beneath the surface of everyday life there is a deeper, more coherent reality that can only be accessed by a kind of intuition, and that if we use this natural intuitive faculty we will gain a conscious union of our individual psyche (Atman in Sanskrit) with the world psyche (Brahman).  You can see that Emerson and his friends learned much from Eastern thought, which was just becoming known in the West during their day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (Wikipedia Commons image)

Like many people in our time, members of Emerson’s “genius circle” were not atheists, but their focus was on the individual as the spiritual center of the universe. They believed that if we truly know ourselves we will have the knowledge we need to comprehend nature, history, and, ultimately, the cosmos itself.  Like Neo-Platonists, Transcendentalists believed that the structure of the universe literally duplicates the structure of the individual, and that nature is a living mystery full of signs.

Our 19th-century Transcendentalists knew full well the suffering and evils of human life, but rather than buy the Original Sin perspective of the Calvinists and Puritans, they believed that if people lived up to their promises—that is, if they attained self-realization—much suffering and evil would disappear.

Concord’s Transcendentalist community ended with the onslaught of the Civil War and the deaths of its charismatic and brilliant stars.  If you’re like me, though, a century and a half later their attempts to live fully human lives still resonate.  I highly recommend you re-visit their writings even if you cannot travel to Concord.  They got a lot of things right.


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Tapping into my inner Thoreau; play-acting as Sylvia Yule

It’s vacation time again with more opportunities to visit Concord. The more times I visit, the more I want to see.

A trip down the Sudbury River to Great Meadows

Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

I enjoy kayaking very much and so took a trip down the Sudbury River, launching from the bridge off of Lowell Road, just off of Concord center. My plan was to paddle to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, a prime place to go birdwatching. I used to go there as a child with my parents to watch birds, and in later years, traveled with the bird group from our parish, led by our parish priest! He was a true birder, visiting Plum Island on the North Shore of Massachusetts in March – great time to see ducks and shore birds, but the weather can be most inhospitable! Only the serious birder goes there. :-)

Introducing the “Sylvia Yule”

The “Sylvia Yule” begins its trip on the Sudbury River in Concord

I bought my own kayak this summer so that I could get out more and decided to christen it the “Sylvia Yule.” The chapters in Moods that Louisa May Alcott devoted to the boat/camping trip of Sylvia, Adam, Geoffrey and her brother Max (and where Adam and Geoffrey both fell in love with Sylvia) described to perfection what it is like to paddle a boat on a river like the Sudbury. The kayak appeals to me because it places you so close to the water. I feel like I am one with the water.

Practicing Thoreau’s methods

Needless to say, Thoreau too was very much on my mind. His discourse in his “Walking” essay, about becoming one with nature and allowing it to penetrate your inner being certainly was a reality during this trip.

Sites of interest along the way

About to pass under the Old North Bridge, site of the first battle of the American Revolution

As an extra treat, I was able to travel under the Old North Bridge, the place where the first battle of the American Revolution took place. I was also able to dock and take a tour of Minuteman National Park. The Old Manse was conveniently next door and I got to see it too. Nathaniel Hawthorne and his new bride Sophia Peabody lived there for a time and legend has it they proclaimed their love for each other by carving their initials into the glass of a window with her diamond ring.

I hope you enjoy the slide show I’ve assembled of my tour of the Sudbury in beautiful Concord.

p.s. if any of you know flowers, I’d love if you could identify the flowers I photographed at Great Meadows. I’m sure they’re quite common but my knowledge of flowers is pitiful. :-)

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We have a winner!

Thanks to everyone for participating in the latest giveaway on the Louisa May Alcott is My Passion blog – a print of May Alcott’s painting of an owl, something she painted in Louisa’s room directly over the fireplace.

And the winner is?

Jillian!

Congratulations to our winner!

A haven for Alcott enthusiasts

Thanks so much for all your words of encouragement. I look forward to continuing to build this blog into a premier place where Alcott enthusiasts can live their passion for our favorite author.

Upcoming series on Abba Alcott

In the weeks to come I will begin a series about Abba Alcott. I just finished Sandford Salyor’s book, Marmee, the Mother of Little Women and am now going back to each page I turned down to take some notes. This was a wonderful book and my thanks to Gina for recommending it. I was able to buy a copy from Amazon, an original copy in its dust jacket. I am thrilled. :-). The author (a man) had some wonderful insights into Abba who was a pioneer for women and a very important influence on Louisa. She was Louisa’s champion.

p.s. I found an awesome free program that is great for getting ideas down on paper that synchronizes your computers, smart phone, iPod Touch, etc. It’s called Evernote. I can jot down ideas on my iPod and it will be available on any computer that I have Evernote loaded on. I can also take photos with my iPod or make an audio recording and they too will be made available on all my devices. It’s really easy to use. Guess I’m retiring my notebook and favorite pen for now. :-)

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One year old today! Celebrating with a special gift for you!

I recently watched again the PBS film Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women  and thoroughly enjoyed it.  To see Louisa portrayed on the small screen is just as thrilling as ever. This reminded me of how I started my blog 1 year ago today after reading the book. What a wonderful year it has been with all of you, my readers.

Writing this blog has opened up a whole new world of reading and writing, and has given me, the first time, a way to indulge in my passion for history and biography. My vision is expanded and  my mind sharpened by the exercise. And I’ve rediscovered my childhood love of writing.

I have loved reading, writing and learning about Louisa,  members of her family, and the Concord Transcendentalists. The more I read, the more I want to know!

I would never have guessed that in the span of a year I would meet and/talk to/correspond with authors and scholars like Daniel Shealy, Harriet Reisen, Amy Belding Brown, Gabrielle Donnelly, Susan Cheever, Kelly O’Connor McNees, Richard Francis and Jeannine Atkins. Meeting Jan Turnquist, executive director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, and Nancy Porter, director of the aforementioned film, was a tremendous pleasure too.

And I’ve found wonderful blogs such as A Room of One’s Own, Silver Threads, Joyfully Retired and many  more, introducing me to the Classics. I will never forget the thrill of reading Gone With the Wind. :-).

I never would have dreamed that I would have had the opportunity to attend the ALA workshop for the Louisa May Alcott initiative  and meet so many other Alcott enthusiasts and scholars. And I will never forget the day I held in my hands letters written by my favorite author. Being able to touch her handwritten words is frankly, beyond words.

This blog has certainly opened up my life. Thank you so much to all of you who have read, commented and supported this blog. My learning deepens, my joy grows fuller and my reading binge continues. Thank you!!

168 posts, 14,337 views, 615 comments . . . Happy 1st Birthday, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion! May there be many more to come.

A birthday gift – for you!

And as I celebrate this day, I would like to give away a gift to one of you – this beautiful notecard from Orchard House featuring a painting by May Alcott Nieriker of a screech owl baby, painted over the fireplace in Louisa’s room (I learned on my last trip that there used to be a big tree outside Louisa’s window that house a family of owls – May painted one of them).

Simply comment on this post and I will pick a winner at random. Contest ends Monday at noon.

Long live Louisa May Alcott!