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Orchard House stewards celebrate 100 years

Posted by Sarah Thomas  April 14, 2011 01:41 PM

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Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association


Recreating the April 15, 1911 founding of The Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association, stewards of Orchard House, some of them descendants of the original founders, pose in period dress along with the current board president, the executive director, and an Alcott family descendant. From left to right: Beth Kubacki, current board president; Alice Smith; Alma Gilbert Smith; Russell Robb; Scott Smith; Peter Smith; Sandy Smith; Jan Turnquist, Executive Director; Sally Sanford; Bill Smith; Eric Robb; and Fritz Kussin, Alcott family descendant.

The Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association is celebrating its centennial anniversary, marking 100 years since the group formed to purchase and restore the beloved Concord author's home of Orchard House.

Celebrations will kick off this July, with a weeklong conversation series featuring local authors, and continue to the official 100th anniversary next year of the grand opening of Orchard House, according to a release from the association.

On April 15, 1911, a group of Concordians gathered to sign Articles of Incorporation for a new charity: The Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association. Its mission would be education and preservation achieved by saving Orchard House from likely demolition and officially opening it to the public.

The modest home on Lexington Road was built in the late 1600s, witnessed Redcoats and Minutemen marching past it in 1775, and had its fame assured in 1868 when Louisa May Alcott penned her beloved classic, "Little Women," in her upstairs bed chamber.

Translated into over 50 foreign languages, "Little Women" began attracting visitors from all over the world to Orchard House when Louisa was still in residence. Years later, families were seen going from window to window to peek inside the vacant house despite posted “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” signs and its derelict condition.

When a "For Sale" sign appeared, Members of the Concord Woman’s Club asked next-door neighbor and wealthy author Harriet Lothrop to purchase Orchard House. The former Alcott home was in extremely poor condition, causing speculation that a private sale would mean its demolition to make way for a new home.

Some of the Woman’s Club members, along with other interested parties, then formed the Association in order to raise private donations to reimburse Mrs. Lothrop and make necessary repairs to the House and open it to the public.

May 27, 1912, marked the Official Orchard House Opening with a formal celebration of over 250 people that included Alcott descendants, other notable Concord families, and people from across the globe inspired by the ideals and works of the Alcotts. John Alcott spoke at the ceremony, reminiscing about his Aunt Louisa and Grandfather Alcott.

Interestingly, the Board had already purchased a Guest Book, which bears a July 13, 1911, date -- nearly a year before the official opening -- continuing the decades-old tradition of accommodating “unofficial” visits.

From that July 13, 1911 date, roll forward 100 years almost to the day: to July 10, 2011. This is the start of a weeklong Summer Conversational Series and Teacher Institute to which all are invited. One can attend the entire session or just a part.

The topic this year will be “Creating a Vision, The Power of Place: A Centennial Celebration of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.” Authors such as Jane Langton will join scholars from around the world to discuss the power of place in their own writings and in other contexts, including the abiding inspiration found in places such as Orchard House.

All year, monthly Centennial updates will appear in The Concord Journal, including collaborations with other Concord sites joining the celebration. The official centennial celebration will take place Sunday, May 27, 2012, which marks 100 years to the day since the opening of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House as an historic house museum.

For more information, visit the memorial association's website, www.louisamayalcott.org, or follow the Memorial Association on Facebook and Twitter.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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