Historic Preservation Fund to Preserve Nationally Significant Intellectual and Cultural Artifacts and Historic Structures and Sites

The house amazingly rested upon ten tons of steel support beams
as a foundation was painstakingly dug, largely by hand.

Background on Save America’s Treasures
Save America's Treasures was originally founded as a public-private partnership that included The White House, National Park Service, and National Trust for Historic Preservation. Dedicated to the preservation and celebration of America’s priceless historic legacy, Save Americas Treasures works to recognize and rescue the enduring symbols of American tradition that define us as a nation. Prior to the creation of the Save America’s Treasures, there were few major funding sources available to help small, independent house museums like Orchard House. Honorary Chair Laura Bush currently leads this effort along with co-chairs Richard Moe (President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation), and noted author Susan Eisenhower (granddaughter of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower). Mrs. Bush succeeds former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who continues to support the program as its Founding Chair.

Background on Orchard House

A National Registered Historic Landmark, Orchard House is most noted as the home of Louisa May Alcott and her family. It was here in 1868 that Louisa wrote and set her autobiographical novel, Little Women, one of America’s most beloved and significant contributions to world culture, seminal to feminist and American family life studies. A “second home” to close friends Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Orchard House also witnessed the development of the only truly American philosophy, Transcendentalism.

The circa 1690 home has tremendous integrity of original design as Louisa’s father, a Transcendentalist philosopher and educational reformer, was an early preservationist who rescued the house -- once occupied by a Minute Man -- from certain destruction in 1857. Remarkably, 80% of the collection is authentic to the Alcotts, with a vast store of archival materials comprised of family papers, books, and original artwork and photographs. One of the earliest historic house museums in this country (opened in 1911), it draws a worldwide audience from all 50 states and more than 30 foreign countries. Orchard House was the first stop of the Emperor and Empress of Japan during their 1989 visit to the United States, and was visited by First Lady Laura Bush on June 20, 2002 in her first appearance as Honorary Chair of Save America’s Treasures.

Pre-Preservation Status

Unfortunately, heavy visitation to a structure originally built for light to modest residential use, years of significant overstress, deferred maintenance, the cumulative effects of moisture/freeze/thaw cycles, and a leaking roof threatened the home, which was literally sinking unevenly into the ground due to lack of any foundation under the rear portion. The precious collection was in jeopardy of being lost or irreparably damaged due to lack of climate control, improper storage, and water damage. Decades of re-active, stopgap, and “temporary” rehabilitation were only interim measures to defer the ultimate destruction of significant structural members which had experienced accelerated. Many posts required additional wear, insect damage, and an extremely large number of loading cycles. It was determined by preservation consultants that the best way to provide for the next 300 years of existence was to adopt a pro-active position toward completely upgrading the structure’s condition. temporary supports, like this one pictured in the Upstairs Hallway.

Phase One Begins

We knew that ensuring the safety and stability of the structural envelope would allow this historic home to be accessible for generations to come, and that without prompt action, irreparable damage would result. For example, unique Art Studio wall drawings by May Alcott (pictured at left) were in real danger of being lost forever. .For the past twenty years, consultants had studied physical and environmental aspects of the structure; now the varied reports and observations were integrated into a practical Master Plan to direct a comprehensive program of restoration and conservation. Fortunately, the Save America’s Treasures Grant allowed Phase One of the Preservation Project to begin. Although public access was at times limited to protect the vulnerable historic fabric’s sagging ceilings, and fatigued floors, Orchard House did remain open throughout this dramatic process to not disappoint its global audience.

Key Project work elements of Phase One included: lifting the home (which sat directly on unstable bare earth) onto steel support beams so that a foundation could be dug -- largely by hand; complete structural upgrading of walls near collapse; mechanical/electrical upgrading (including plumbing, septic, and climate control); and creating muchneeded connected work/storage space.

Plaster conservator Andy Ladygo (pictured at right) was one of many experts who made urgent repairs during Phase One.

Phase One culminates with the visit of First Lady Laura Bush on June 20, 2002!

[click here to read more]
Click here to find out more about the Preservation Project, here for plans to restore the historic landscape, and here for the text of Mrs. Bush's speech at Orchard House.

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!

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