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Preserving the Alcott Legacy

 


House under constructionDear Friends,

As I reflect on the remarkable preservation journey of the last ten years, Mrs. Alcott’s words of 1842 resound in my heart: “Must we be robbed of our treasure to know its real value?” Robbed of our treasure by lack of a foundation? By powder post beetles? These conditions threatened Orchard House for centuries -- why would there suddenly be such urgency now?

Powder Post BeetlesFor decades, temporary repairs borrowed time for Orchard House, but were not enough for a systemic solution. With the Clinton administration’s creation of the Save America’s Treasures program, Orchard House was able to apply for funding to hire a team of experts to develop a Preservation Master Plan.  The most critical mandate of this plan was to secure the “envelope,” or outer shell, of the House.   A leaking roof, sagging ceilings, buckling walls, and rotting floorboards were urgent cries for help from “the dear old house.”

Wood to powder - click here for a larger imageMost of Orchard House sat on bare earth for over a century and a half, and was literally sinking unevenly into the ground. Simultaneously, powder post beetles were turning wood to dust, decimating its support function.  It was heartbreaking to see post after post uncovered only to crumble before our eyes.  Consultants warned that we had precious little time to undertake a more proactive approach to preservation.

Unsupported wall - click here for a larger imageInch by inch, powder post beetles, present in original construction timbers -- were destroying Orchard House. The extent of damage simply could not be known until intensive investigations began; this is the nature of preservation work. As our architect looked at one seemingly unsupported wall in utter amazement, he thought it was miraculous that it had "found" so many other places to bear the load, thus avoiding certain collapse.  Our work had truly begun in the nick of time.

Inch by inch, we painstakingly re-built posts and beams, stabilizing the House’s framework to withstand the forces of time and heavy visitation.   After this was done and the insects were eradicated, the rear portion of the House was supported on steel beams. A foundation was dug -- largely by hand -- for the first time.  Incredibly, the House remained open to avoid disappointing our global audience, even during this most dramatic preservation work.

Through the extraordinary generosity of public and private supporters, the rescue of Orchard House is well underway. Most notably, the $400,000 Save America’s Treasures matching grant enabled us to begin our multi-phased Preservation Project and ensure that future generations will experience what visitors have cherished for over ninety years:

  • intimate, informative tours -- "a real reason to visit New England," and “Simply theAnna's wedding is reenacted by Alcott descendant Tanja Baur - click here for a larger image Best,” according to Yankee Magazine

  • lively, enlightening living history programs, even occasionally featuring Alcott descendants
  • innovative youth and adult educational programs true to the spirit of the Alcotts
  • unique "meetings" of foreign exchange students and Louisa May Alcott
  • inspiring messages of strength and courage at the heart of the Alcott legacy.

Students from Novokuznetsk, Siberia meet Louisa May - click here for a larger imageWe are honored to be designated a national treasure -- an icon of the American culture.  We were proud to have won the 2005 Sustainable Tourism Award for Preservation, and privileged to have recently received substantial grants from the Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation and the Town of Concord's Community Preservation Act. And we were thrilled to be a finalist for the 2009 Partners in Preservation Award sponsored by American Express and The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

We appreciate beyond words our tireless supporters and generous contributors over the years, both from the local community and from afar.  The initial $1.5 million structural stabilization phase is complete.  We are proud of this accomplishment since we are a small, private historic site not under the auspices of any federal, state, or other agency. Except for occasional, highly competitive grants, we receive no taxpayer dollars.  Most of our funding comes through private donations from individuals like you.

We have boldly renewed our efforts to restore Orchard House by commencing Phase II of the Preservation Project, and look to the future with high hopes, indeed.  We encourage you to check back frequently to chart the progress of our journey -- or better yet, come for a visit and see for yourself!

Sincerely,

Jan Turnquist
Orchard House Executive Director


Click here
to find out more about the Save America's Treasures Project, here for plans to restore the historic landscape, and here for more about Mrs. Bush's visit to Orchard House.

Contributions can now be made on-lineClick here to donate with any credit card.  Contributions may also be made by check/money order (payable to "Orchard House").   To download and print a donation form, click here.  Mail the form to:  Orchard House, P.O. Box 343, Concord, MA 01742, or, fax the form with your credit card payment 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.  Thank you!


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