Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, MA – 8/26/16

Fruitlands Museum in the central MA town of Harvard is home to a variety of historic collections on 200+ acres of farm and woodland, plus well-marked hiking trails. Double-click any photo to enlarge.

This land on Prospect Hill was the summer retreat and working farm of Clara Endicott Sears overlooking the Nashua River Valley. The only original building still standing in its place on the property is the Fruitlands homestead, which she preserved and opened to the public as a museum in 1914. Fruitlands was the 1843 communal Transcendentalist experiment – to live off the fruits of the land — led by Bronson Alcott. The entire Alcott family, including 10-year-old Louisa May, lived in the house, a total of about 20 people.

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Fruitlands homestead

They were hard-core principled folk, refusing to benefit from the enforced labor of animals or humans. So, their diet was vegan – no meat, eggs, dairy, fish – and they wouldn’t even use animal labor to plow the fields. With such a small group, many of whom were children, they didn’t get the seeds into the ground until June – too late to grow much to eat for a full year. They also wouldn’t wear wool (from animals) or cotton (from slaves), so they were bitterly cold and hungry by December. When Mrs. Alcott took the girls and left, for food and warmth, Bronson dejectedly followed and the experiment ended after only 7 months. But Louisa May Alcott got material for Little Women and Transcendental Wild Oats out of the experience. The kitchen had period tools like candle-making forms and a popcorn popper. The wall in one room had a health-food book, Treatise on Bread and Break Making, promoting whole grain bread, by Sylvester Graham – the inventor of the Graham cracker!

kitchen

kitchen

Fruitlands is now home to a Shaker Museum – they moved the Shaker community house from Harvard to Clara Sears’ land when they disbanded (celibate community, so they grew only through conversion) in 1920. The house holds historic simple Shaker-style furniture, and informational panels about the community.

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When Clara found arrowheads in the earth of her farm, she became interested in preserving artifacts and learning more about the Native people who had lived and hunted there. She created the Native American Museum in 1928 to house what they found locally, and brought in Native artifacts from throughout the country including the Plains, Southwest, and Northwest tribes. An honored relic is reputed to be King Philip’s (Metacom’s) club.

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Fruitlands also has an art museum, opened in 1939, with a large collection of landscapes from the Hudson River school as well as one of the largest collections of early 19th century portraits in the country. But it was closed for a few days – between exhibits – so we’ll have to go back.

But we did enjoy hiking the property – woods, field, stone walls, the foundations of 1700s farm buildings and a brickworks, with a few bricks lying around.

Fruitlands also has a visitor center and gift shop with local artists crafts, and a cafe, landscaped terrace, fountain, and tented patio with gorgeous views, suitable for weddings.

We spent four hours there, and that’s without the Art Museum! Fruitlands is now part of the Trustees of Reservations family, so our Trustees membership got us free admission into Fruitlands. Both – visiting Fruitlands and joining The Trustees – are well worth it.

Thoreau bench

Thoreau bench

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