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Orchard House Executive Director Jan Turnquist as “Miss Alcott,” National Trust President Richard Moe, & First Lady Laura Bush

AP World Wide Photo

This house may have a lot of needs, but it has a lot going for it, too ... This is a story that we're going to take around the country, believe me ... Orchard House is truly one of America’s treasures, and I can't tell you the admiration that I have for Jan Turnquist, her Board, her staff, her volunteers.

~from remarks of National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe, Orchard House, June 20, 2002

I want to urge every one of you ... to be as generous as you possibly can be and ask a few of your friends and neighbors to also contribute to the ... restoration of Orchard House.

~from remarks of First Lady Laura Bush,  Orchard House, June 20, 2002

Laura Bush, Honorary Co-Chair of Save America's Treasures, visited Orchard House on Thursday, June 20, 2002 to celebrate the literary legacy of Louisa May Alcott and highlight the first phase of Orchard House’s multimillion dollar Preservation Project.

TentOrchard House Staff and preservation workers mobilized for the most unprecedented event in the historic site’s ninety-one year history. The exterior of the house, still in the midst of massive structural reinforcement, was “prettified” to the greatest extent possible with virtually round-the-clock efforts. The interior, still accentuated by holes in walls created for structural investigations -- and seemingly endless amounts of dust everywhere -- was cleaned from top to bottom. The grounds, torn apart by bulldozers, backhoes, and dump trucks, were landscaped in a whirlwind of effort to prepare for the installation of a large tent which would hold hundreds of invited guests.

First Lady and Junior VolunteersOrchard House Board members and dozens of volunteers readied preparations for a thoroughly “ Alcottian” reception, baking thousands of cookies and creating period appropriate displays of flowers for the tent and within the House. Extensive technical assistance was provided by the National Park Service, Hanscom Air Force Base, and the Concord Police Department. These thorough preparations assured that Mrs. Bush -- who asserts no one be inconvenienced during one of her visits -- would not be disappointed.

June 20th dawned with the prospect of glorious weather. Seemingly effortlessly, over 400 people assembled on the grounds to await Mrs. Bush’s arrival. During Mrs. Bush’s private tour of Orchard House, particular attention was paid to aspects of the Preservation Project. Approximately 100 invited guests then met her in The Concord School of Philosophy. At approximately 2:20 p.m., Mrs. Bush entered the large tent and took her place on stage with National Trust President Richard Moe, WBZ-TV anchor and master of ceremonies Liz Walker, Concord Board of Selectman Chair Gary Clayton and Orchard House Executive Director Jan Turnquist.

Laura Bush's speechAfter a “surprise” visitor -- in the form of “Louisa May Alcott,” as portrayed by Jan! -- and remarks by Clayton, Moe, and Jan (now as her modern self), Mrs. Bush told the audience that Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, written at Orchard House in 1868, was read to her by her mother before Bush could even read herself. “It’s the first book I really remember,” she said. “I cried when Beth died, and my mother cried -- I'll always remember reading Little Women with my mother.” Mrs. Bush also spoke of the practical accomplishments of each of the real-life Alcott daughters, and of the influences of their mother and father: “America’s children can learn a lot about character by studying the characters in our literature and our history,” she said.

In her remarks, Mrs. Bush also urged guests to support preservation of the 300-year-old Alcott home. “The preservation needs of Orchard House really seemed overwhelming,” Jan noted. She told Mrs. Bush she was “deeply grateful for making this a priority.” Jan also asked Mrs. Bush to thank Congress for maintaining funding for the Save America's Treasures program, and expressed gratitude to Moe and McCarthy. “I know we will succeed -- look who’s on our side!” she concluded. (The complete text of Mrs. Bush’s remarks is also available on our website: click here to read them.)

The afternoon was enhanced by a strong local presence. Members of the nationally acclaimed Concord-Carlisle Regional High School Mixed Chorus provided musical interludes and led the audience in singing “God Bless America” immediately after Mrs. Bush’s entrance into the tent. Selectman Clayton’s remarks further accentuated town pride by noting how passionate Concord is about its numerous historic treasures and how seriously it takes its stewardship role. He particularly referenced the example of town-wide support for Orchard House from the Merchants Association, which donated proceeds of sales to Orchard House’s Preservation Project.

The event concluded with a ceremonial heirloom apple tree planting by Mrs. Bush and several of the youngest Alcott descendants. This act was symbolic of the beginning of restoration of the landscape to the time of the Alcotts, who had over forty apple trees on the property during their residence and appropriately named their home for this natural feature. Mrs. Bush then once more went into The School of Philosophy, where she conducted six media interviews. After emerging over an hour later, she graciously agreed to be photographed with Alcott descendants, Orchard House Staff, and event volunteers.

The unprecedented nature of Mrs. Bush’s visit to Orchard House and the imprimatur this gives to the Preservation Project will never be forgotten, and will be further facets of the rich legacy “the dear old house” will offer for generations to come.

Contributions to the Preservation Project can now be made online. Click here to donate via Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. Contributions may also be made by check or money order (payable to Orchard House). For a printable version of a donation form, click here. Mail the form to: Orchard House, P.O. Box 343, Concord, MA. 01742 or if you prefer, fax the printed form to 978-369-1367.

All contributions to Orchard House are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. You will receive acknowledgement of your contribution in the mail and be listed in our annual donor recognition newsletter. Thank you!

Click here for more on the preservation project.

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