There are 123 reservation trustee properties in Massachusetts covering nearly 27,000 acres. It is the world’s first and Massachusetts’ largest nonprofit land conservation and preservation organization. We’ve been to many of the Trustees properties across the state and agree that Fruitlands is a solid contender in the Best View category. Still, as beautiful as they were, we didn’t come for the sights. We were most intrigued by the backstory of this rolling 210-acre farmland. This is where philosopher and educator Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott’s father, and his friend Charles Lane attempted to live a transcendentalist, living. And later, where Clara Endicott Sears, a wealthy New England conservationist, historian and author, lived. Sears would restore the 1820 farm and eventually open the Fruitlands Museum, including her personal art collection.
We went on a guided tour of the farm and learned that Alcott and Lane’s transcendental experiment didn’t last long. They were released after seven months.
They started with bad weather, 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 attracted other writers and philosophers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, to their utopian homestead.
“Can you imagine the interesting conversations that took place here?” asked our guide, Carol Blue, as we entered the lounge. “There was a lot of thinking and talking and writing here.”
But not much farming. And the farming that was done was manual as they did not believe in using animals. When winter came, they got out of there (no judgement!). The failed attempt apparently delighted Mrs. Alcott, who came from a wealthy family. “She was used to the finer things in life,” Blue said. “He once said living here was like keeping an inn for ungrateful guests.” Some of the Alcott family’s furnishings and belongings are on display at the farm.
In 1910, Sears purchased the farm and an acre of adjoining land for his summer estate. In 1914, she opened the grounds to the public, creating a farm museum on the 1820 property.
Today, the museum includes the Fruitlands Farmhouse, the Shaker Museum, the Native American Museum, the Art Museum, and the Wayside Visitor Center with a cafe and gift shop. There is also a network of dog-friendly nature trails.
The guided tour included a peek inside the Shaker Museum, an original 1794 building used as an office in Harvard’s 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 loop of about 1.6 miles through woods and wetlands. We could have continued on the red trail, adding another 0.9 miles to the hike. Instead, we headed back to 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, featuring the works of 25 contemporary New England artists across two sites. This is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Fruitlands Museum and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln.
We also visited the Native American Museum with a collection of art and artifacts — like a bear claw necklace — showing the culture and history of the First Americans.
Our visit ended at The Hyve Cafe in Fruitlands, a place run by local chefs Tom Fosnot and Ruth-Ann Adams, who are well known for their ‘clean’, simple farm-to-table cuisine. “There’s a real sense and commitment to caring for the land,” Adams says. “For Tom and I, it was an important connection to working here.”
We took our red quinoa and chicken wrap salad outside, again overlooking the Nashua River Valley and the historic buildings, art galleries, and rolling acres of the Fruitlands.
“This place offers a unique opportunity to combine nature and art,” Busak says. “We hope that an outdoor enthusiast develops a love of art, or vice versa.”
If you go. . .
Fruitlands Museum, 102 Prospect Hill Road, Harvard, 978-456-3924, www.fruitlands.org. The museum and grounds are open until November 6: Monday, Wednesday-Friday, 10am-4pm; Sat. and sun. 10:00am-5:00pm Reservations recommended. Adult $12, Child $6, Seniors/Students $10. The Fruitlands Farmhouse and Shaker Museum are open by guided tours only ($5 admission fee). The Hyve at Fruitlands Café is open Wednesday through Monday, 11:30 a.m.-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, featuring 48 juried artisans.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at [email protected]