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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5 Replies to “Quirky Wayside offers a wealth of history: the architecture”

  1. We visited there sevveral years ago. I found those homes with their history to be fascinating. The guides did a wonderful job of “mking the homes”. I wondered what was it about those years and that location that gave birth to such imagination and enduring poerty and literature became the standard for American literature in its own right. Plus the Utopian influence.

    1. I loved that tour too! The house is kind of a mishmash of the various families and it was fascinating. I just wish the attic was open to visit since the girls lived up there. Maybe once the renovations are done they will reopen that part of the tour. Next time I go I will surely ask!

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