The Fruitlands Farmhouse is a National Historic Landmark built in 1826. It takes its name from the transcendentalist experiment that took place here in 1843. Led by Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane, they called this place Fruitlands because they intended to live off the "fruits of the land." Alcott brought his wife and four young daughters, including a 10 year old Louisa May Alcott. Other participants included Charles Lane and his son William, H.C Wright, Samuel Bower, Isaac Hecker, Christopher Green, Samuel Larned, Abraham Everett, Anne Page, Abraham Wood and Joseph Palmer.
At Fruitlands, the idealistic group wanted to withdraw from society, commerce, and social conventions to explore the relationship between the individual and the world. “Neither coffee, tea, molasses, nor rice tempts us beyond the bounds of indigenous production ... No animal substances neither flesh, butter, cheese, eggs, nor milk pollute our tables, nor corrupt our bodies”. To sustain the fledgling community, the group planned to grow fruits, vegetables, some grains, and gather wild nuts. Over the course of the summer, they had made a good start, planting about 11 acres: 4 acres of maize, 1.5 acres of rye, 1.5 acres in oats, 1 acre in barley, 2 acres in potatoes and another 1 acre in beans, peas, melons, squashes, buckwheat and turnips (an additional area was prepared for carrots). However, by the fall the group began to shrink as their excitement waned and the realities of farming without animal labor or products became apparent. The conditions took their toll and the group officially disbanded in January 1844.
While the experiment was short-lived, its role in the transcendentalist movement and influence on a young Louisa May Alcott are undeniable. Several years later, Alcott’s close friend Henry Thoreau would live out his own experiment living closer to nature at Walden. Many visitors may also recognize the Farmhouse attic as the inspiration of those now iconic scenes from Louisa May’s famous book Little Women.
On Exhibit Now
The Fruitlands Farmhouse is set up like a period house with interpretive panels that describe the experiment and the transcendentalist movement. There are family friendly activities relating to journaling, art and 19th century games.
The Shaker Museum at Fruitlands was originally constructed in the Harvard Shaker Village in 1794 as an office for the Church Family. It was the point of contact for the village with, what Shakers termed, “The World.”
Shakers devoted their lives to God and lived in cloistered religious farming communities. The Harvard and Shirley Shaker experience began in June of 1781 when founder, Ann Lee and a group of early Shaker leaders were invited by those communities to visit on a proselytizing journey from the first community in Watervliet, New York. They lived communally, practiced equality between the sexes, developed distinctive agricultural and manufacturing practices, and forms of worship.
At their height in about 1850, the Harvard Shakers had 150 members, and was considered the spiritual center of the Shaker world. Other Shaker communities existed in New York, elsewhere in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. Fruitlands founder, Clara Endicott Sears was friendly with the Shakers and they came to visit Fruitlands on at least one occasion in 1914. The Harvard Shaker village closed in 1918, and the office was purchased by Miss Sears. It was moved it to its current location in 1920 and opened to the public in 1922.
On Exhibit Now
The Shaker Museum contains exhibits relating to the Harvard and Shirley Shakers, along with Shaker furnishings and materials from other communities. The interpretive focus in the building is on the 1850s and 60s, as the Harvard & Shirley Shakers struggled to remain viable communities as America society developed.
Native American Museum
The Native American Museum opened in 1928 to celebrate the history of America’s indigenous people. For thousands of years, Native Americans inhabited this region and after arrowheads were found in the iris patch, Clara Endicott Sears was inspired to preserve the Native American past at Fruitlands.
The Native American collection includes over 1000 objects from New England, the Plains, Southwest, and Northwest Coast. The Museum continues to collaborate with Native American groups from all across the country to interpret this important part of America’s history.
On Exhibit Now
One Thousand Generations
This exhibit tells the history of Native Americans in southern New England, developed with generous support of the Wampanoag and Nipmuck communities of Massachusetts. The display of the ancient past tries to blend the view an archaeologist has of the past 10,000 years with the way some Native people think about the past. Other exhibit sections describe the effects of colonization on Natives in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries: epidemics killed thousands, broken treaties led them to distrust the settlers, and forced enculturation like John Eliot’s ‘praying towns’ tore them away from their traditional beliefs and homelands.
Objects and Meaning: Multiple Perspectives on Native American Art and Culture
Do objects hold meaning, or does the meaning only lie in the interpretation of the observer? This exhibit was designed as a collaborative interpretive effort to present Native American culture for several points of view: the Native perspective, the art dealer and the anthropologist. Filled with ethnographic materials from all across North America, the exhibit is organized into three regional cultural areas: Plains, Southwest, and Northwest Coast.
The Art Museum was created in 1939 and expanded in 1947 to highlight two distinctive artistic styles that developed in 19th century America, primitive portraits and Hudson River School landscape paintings.
With roots in European Romanticism, the Hudson River painters set about to define a distinct vision for American art. These serene and awe-inspiring vistas were intended to evoke elevated thoughts and feelings. Through their art these distinctive group of artists they celebrated the awe inspiring natural resources and a feeling of optimism present in nineteenth century America.
Fruitlands holds one of the largest collections of vernacular portraits in the country. During the nineteenth century, New Englanders became increasingly interested in the concept of self-representation through art. New England saw a rise in itinerant painters with no formal artistic training who traveled from town to town painting affordable likenesses of rural New Englanders. These primitive, or vernacular, portraits often contain symbolic clues and insights into the daily lives, values, and customs of rural New Englanders of the nineteenth century.
On Exhibit Now
Exhibits in the Art Gallery include materials from the museum’s permanent collection as well as rotating shows of interest to our community, including photography and contemporary art.
The story of Fruitlands is the history of an evolving landscape. Located in rural Harvard, Massachusetts, Fruitlands has an unparalleled view across the Nashua River valley. Our 210 acre grounds are composed of varying cultural traditions and ecological habitats which tell stories about the New England past. Native Americans, Shakers,Transcendentalists, and nineteenth century artists each represent an important moment in the history of our New England landscape.
Of Fruitlands’ 210 acres of land, about 150 acres are forested, while 60 are open fields. Our land management philosophy balances the needs of educational and interpretive programs, with wildlife habitats and the needs of a healthy forest. We also make land management decisions based on the historic resources located on the property. Passive recreation, people who just want to take a relaxing walk in the woods, is the last major concern we try to balance into our land management program.
When visitors explore the landscape at Fruitlands, they can find examples of the tremendous changes wrought by nature and human culture on the landscape over time. Sometimes these changes are dramatic, other times they are subtle because they happen more slowly.
On Exhibit Now
The Living Collection - Self-guided tour
Visitors to the museum can pick up a copy of the trail guide which highlights about 20 locations on the trails and provides interpretive information on the history and ecology. From glacial geology to reading the forested landscape to understand land-use history, this self-guided tour of our living collection explores the land as an evolving historical object.
Willard Farm Site
The Willard Farm is a self-guided archaeological site. Originally built in 1756, it was the homestead for Phinehas and Rebecca Willard and their descendants until the house burned down in August of 1852. A series of interpretive signs guide visitors around the site and describe the archaeological and historical evidence that has enabled us to retell some of the story of this quintessential New England family.