There are 123 reservations trust properties in Massachusetts, covering nearly 27,000 acres. It is the world’s first non-profit land conservation and preservation organization and the largest in Massachusetts. We’ve visited many trust properties across the state and agree that Fruitlands is a strong contender in the best view category. Yet, as pretty as they are, we didn’t come for the view. We were very intrigued by the history of this hilly agricultural site, located on 210 acres. It was here that philosopher and educator Amos Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott, and his friend Charles Lane, attempted to live a life of transcendental subsistence. And later, where Clara Endicott Sears, a wealthy New England curator, historian and author, lived. Sears would restore the 1820s farmhouse and eventually open the Fruitlands Museum, including his personal art collection.
We hopped on a farm tour and learned that Alcott and Lane’s transcendent experience didn’t last long. They were released on bail after seven months.
They started at the wrong time, arriving at the property in early June, a little late for plot preparation and planting. And they weren’t farmers, they were writers and philosophers, who lured other writers and philosophers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, to their utopian-inspired property.
“Can you imagine the interesting conversations that took place here? asked our guide Carole Blew as we entered the lounge. “There was a lot of thinking, talking and writing here.”
But not much agriculture. And the farming that was done was by hand because they didn’t believe in using animals. When winter came, they stormed off (no judgment here!). The failed attempt apparently pleased Mrs. Alcott, who came from a wealthy family. “She was used to the finer things in life,” Blew said. “She once said that living here was like running an inn for ungrateful guests.” Some furniture and personal effects of the Alcott family are displayed in the farmhouse.
In 1910, Sears purchased the farm and adjacent acres for its summer estate. In 1914, she opened the grounds to the public, establishing a museum in the property’s 1820s farmhouse.
Today, the museum includes the Fruitlands Farmhouse, the Shaker Museum, the Native American Museum, the Art Museum, and the Wayside Visitor Center, along with a cafe and gift shop. There is also a network of nature trails suitable for dogs.
The guided tour included an overview of the Shaker Museum, an original building from 1794 that served as the office of the Harvard Shaker Village. Sears moved it to the Fruitlands Museum in 1920 after the Harvard Shaker Village closed.
We followed the yellow and orange trails, a roughly 1.6 mile loop through woods and wetlands. We could have continued on the red trail adding another 0.9 miles to the hike. Instead we did a loop around the art museum. Typically, the galleries display the permanent collection of more than 100 Hudson River School landscape paintings and more than 230 19th-century folk portraits, the second largest collection in the country. This year, through September 10, the museum is hosting the “2022 New England Triennial,” showcasing the works of 25 contemporary New England artists at two sites. This is a very first collaboration between the Fruitlands Museum and the fromCordova Sculpture Park and Museum at Lincoln.
We also visited the Native American Museum, with a collection of art and artifacts – like a Bear Claw necklace – showcasing the culture and history of early Americans.
Our tour ended at the on-site cafe The Hyve at Fruitlands Café, run by local chefs Tom Fosnot and Ruth-Anne Adams, well known for their “clean”, simple, farm-to-table cuisine. “There’s a real meaning and commitment to caring for the earth,” Adams says. “For Tom and me, it was an important bond to work here.”
We took our red quinoa salad and chicken wrap outside, again overlooking the Nashua River Valley and the historic buildings, art galleries and rolling acres of Fruitlands.
“This place offers a unique opportunity to combine nature and art,” says Busack. “We hope an outdoor enthusiast can develop a love of art, or vice versa.”
If you are going to . . .
Fruitlands Museum, 102 Prospect Hill Road, Harvard, 978-456-3924, www.fruitlands.org. The museum and park are open until November 6: Monday, Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat. and Sun. 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Reservations are recommended. Adult $12, child $6, senior/student $10. The Fruitlands Farm and Shaker Museum are only open through guided tours (additional $5 admission). The Hyve at Fruitlands Café is open Wednesday through Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The museum hosts a variety of special events, including a summer and fall concert series. The 10th Annual Craft Festival returns this year, September 24-25, with 48 selected artisans.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be contacted at [email protected]