Mr. Hawthorne will see you in his study now
A selfie with Bronson Alcott, a chance to relax on the previously closed-off piazza, and a close-up look at Nathaniel Hawthorne’s bedroom are some of the new experiences visitors will have at The Wayside in Concord.
The house, which was once called home by literary figures Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Sidney, and Hawthorne, has been closed for more than three years while undergoing major renovations inside and out. A reopening celebration was held June 25.
“It looks great from the outside and is so inviting,’’ said Michelle Blees, a park ranger at Minute Man National Historical Park, which owns the Lexington Road home.
Workers replaced all of the cedar roof shingles, repaired the metal roof on “Hawthorne’s Tower,” and replaced the metal roof on the porch.
They also replaced gutters and downspouts, repointed the stone foundation, repaired the chimneys, and restored ceilings and walls. In addition, historic wallpaper and carpets were replaced.
Hawthorne, author of “The Scarlet Letter’’ and “The House of the Seven Gables,’’ lived at The Wayside from 1852 until 1870. It is best known as the only home Hawthorne ever owned and the place where he wrote his last works, but it has also been the home of several noteworthy women.
The Wayside was once the childhood home of Louisa May Alcott, author of “Little Women.” She lived there with her parents, Bronson and Abby Alcott, and three sisters from April 1845 to November 1848, during her early teenage years.
The Wayside barn, which today serves as a visitor center and exhibit area, was used by the Alcott girls to stage plays.
The Wayside exhibit and tour make note of the many events that are recalled in “Little Women,” as well as real-life experiences the Alcott family had here, such as their sheltering of a fugitive slave in 1847.
Just down the road is Orchard House, where the Alcotts lived when Louisa penned her beloved classic in 1868.
The Wayside also pays tribute to the lives of two women responsible for its preservation: Harriett Lothrop, whose pen name was Margaret Sidney, and her daughter, Margaret Lothrop. The home was in the Lothrop family from 1883 until it was purchased by the park service in 1965.
The park did a major renovation in 1969 and 1970 and had conducted mostly minor maintenance since then, officials said.
“The house looked horrible,’’ Blees said. “It was not a good representation.’’
While renovations were taking place over the past few years, park officials took time to revamp the programs and tours in an effort to draw more visitors and better engage them, Blees said, adding that the number of visitors has been down at The Wayside for several years. Attendance is a challenge at historical properties, so it’s important for sites to be more engaging and fresh, particularly for younger visitors.
“In general across historic homes, visits are decreasing steadily,’’ she said. “It’s trying to figure out how to get them engaged and excited so they return for different events. You want your local audience coming multiple times.’’
Blees said the interpretative staff met with community partners, conducted research, and visited other historic properties to get ideas for house tours. Among others, they visited the Mark Twain House and Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford, and the Jackson Homestead and Durant-Kenrick House and Grounds in Newton.
After their research, they came up with several ideas for The Wayside and made a few changes.
They opened up the piazza, allowing visitors to sit on the wicker furniture and browse through books written by authors who lived in the home.
“We want to put more emphasis on the writings of the authors, because I think they still have something to say to people today,’’ said Leslie Obleschuk, chief of interpretation and education at Minute Man.
Three life-size author figures were also moved from the visitor center in the barn to the house. Hawthorne is now at his desk in the study tower; Bronson Alcott is in the piazza room, which had been his study, and Harriett Lothrop is in the sitting room. Louisa May Alcott remains in the barn, where she and her sisters acted out plays.
“When we moved them it was, ‘Oh my God, they are at home!’ ’’ Blees said. “People can take selfies with them. It brings it a little more to life.’’
Blees said many of the furnishings were also moved around to make the tour more accessible so people can go in and out of rooms. Hawthorne’s bedroom is now open, as is a guest bedroom that was frequented by Franklin Pierce, the 14th US president.
“You’re coming to Hawthorne’s house, you should see his bedroom,’’ she said.
Obleschuk said the changes are a work in progress. She said interpreters will see what works and what doesn’t and make other improvements as necessary. She said they may do some writing activities in the barn, and are looking to develop a youth volunteer program for next summer.
“We’re not finished with our changes yet,’’ she said. “We’ve tried to reevaluate our interpretive program — renovate it, reinvigorate it, and make it more modern to meet the needs of today’s audiences. It will be a little different from what people might remember from the past.’’
The Wayside will be open until Aug. 13 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, and 11:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Sundays.
It’s closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
It will be open from Aug. 14 through Oct. 30 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sundays, Mondays, and Fridays.
Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students. Children 16 and younger enter free.