WHO: Globe staff member Milva DiDomizio with her husband and daughter
WHAT: A New England summer day
WHERE: Fruitlands Museum, Harvard
Walk a labyrinth, hang out in a Native American longhouse, and sit in a Transcendentalist one-room schoolhouse, all at the same place. If that sounds good, then Fruitlands Museum is for you.
As soon as we stepped out of our car and spied the lovely views of the Nashua River Valley and Mount Wachusett, we breathed a sigh of relaxation. A guide at the Visitor Center told us about museum founder, Clara Endicott Sears, who in 1910 built a summer home overlooking the farmhouse where Bronson Alcott conducted an experiment in Transcendentalist living. Upon learning about it, Sears decided the building had to be saved. She named her museum after Alcott’s failed community, which was called Fruitlands.
After leaving the Visitor Center we set out on the downhill path, stopping first at the art gallery, which houses an impressive collection of 19th-century vernacular portraits, including some sweet paintings of children. There’s also a nice selection of Hudson River School landscapes.
Further down the hill at the Native American gallery we saw arrowheads, masks, drums, colorful Native American dress, beaver pelts, and a video on the making of a traditional pine dugout canoe. On the map of the native homeland, we saw what tribes lived where in the area. We also read educational panels about challenges faced by Native peoples including disease, war, and the imposition of European religious beliefs.
Outside, we checked out the canoe that was featured in the video and stepped into the longhouse, a replica of a Native American home made from plants, tree bark, and saplings. It was dim in there, the only light coming from the open doorway and the hole in the ceiling (think chimney). Benches made from saplings lined the periphery of the structure. Fortunately, they were more comfortable than they looked.
From there we went to the Shaker Office and learned about the Shakers’ livelihood from making herbal medicines, their skill at making furniture, and their philosophy of creating efficiency wherever possible.
Finally, we reached the bottom of the hill and the red Alcott farmhouse with its fascinating tale of failed idealism. There, you can see the attic bedroom where Louisa May Alcott lived, visit the journal writing room and write responses to questions like “What if you woke up a different color?” and “What would happen if children ruled the world?,” and learn why Alcott’s noble experiment failed after only seven months.
The 210-acre property offers several walking trails. We decided to do the short, 30-minute Yellow Loop, a delightful woodsy walk through the forest, if a bit buggy.
Having worked up an appetite, we stopped at the outdoor Fruitlands Cafe, which had fresh salads, yummy flatbreads, a decent kids menu, and a good burger. There, we sat under the tent enjoying the view, the food, and the quiet. Afterward, we made our way around the stone spirals of the outdoor labyrinth, one last stop among the birds, butterflies, and wildflowers before heading back to the city.
Fruitlands Museum, 102 Prospect Hill Rd., Harvard. Open through Oct. 28. Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Weekends and holidays 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Family activities on Sundays include Louisa May Alcott Day (Aug. 12) and Doll and Tea Party Day (Aug. 19). $12, $10 students/seniors, $5 ages 5-13, under 5 free. www.fruitlands.org