Discover Concord Fall 2021 Issue

Page 48

Experiencing The Wayside as Hillside, Home of the Alcotts

ADDITIONS AND RENOVATIONS / OLDER GIRLS’ BEDROOMS AND BRONSON’ STUDY Initially, Hillside was a small 145-yearold colonial with two to three bedrooms. Bronson enlarged the structure using a wheelwright shop on the property. Along with his carpenter friend Edmund Hosmer, Bronson cut the shop in two and grafted the halves onto the east and west sides of the house. He added a porch to the front and a peak to the center of the roof.1 The western 46

Discover CONCORD

| Fall 2021

The Wayside as it appears today

addition created two first-floor bedrooms, one for Anna and the other for Louisa, plus a study for Bronson. The east wing included a bathing room, laundry area, and woodhouse. According to Abba Alcott, the bathing room accommodated a “tub and shower bath fixed with weight and pulleys so that even Elizabeth [could] give herself a bath without help.”2 KITCHEN Enlarging the kitchen requiring removing a wall between two smaller rooms (one of which could have been a bedroom). The fireplace with an oven, since rebuilt, represents the area where Abba did her cooking. She noted that “I have had the water brought into the kitchen and a new pump—had the well cleaned out and stoned round it.” Lizzie frequently wrote in her journal “of cleaning the knives and from time to time of ironing, of sweeping the sitting room and washing the hearth, or of washing the dishes.”3 UPSTAIRS BEDROOMS The original entrance (since closed off with a bay window) opens to a stairway built

by Bronson that leads to the east chamber where all four girls slept until Anna and Louisa got their own rooms. The sisters played out parts of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress on these stairs, carrying their burdens. The bedroom contains an old colonial fireplace which conceals a space that the Alcotts may have used to hide slaves making their way north.4 Bronson and Abba occupied the west chamber, a favorite play space for Lizzie and Abby May, as noted in Lizzie’s journal: “We played have a ball and danced;” “We played with our dollies in mother’s chamber;” “After dinner, I washed the dishes and Catherine, and Abba and I played in Mothers’ chamber. I was a sick lady and Abba was a doctor.”5 DINING ROOM Back on the first floor, the dining room (presently the sitting room) stands to the left of the stairs. Willis recalled Bronson’s “table talks” during meals where the former educator made metaphysical topics understandable to the youngest listener.6 During breakfast, Bronson read scripture and

All images courtesy of the author

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Nothing brings historical figures to life more than visiting where they lived. The popularity of house museums such as The Wayside and Orchard House attest to that premise. By peering through windows, touching the walls, walking the floors, and observing artifacts, the tour can transform into a pilgrimage. Although the setting of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is Orchard House, The Wayside is where much of the action takes place. The Alcotts owned the property from 1845-1852, naming it Hillside. Because the house has been renovated many times since 1852, it is difficult to imagine how it appeared during the time of the Alcotts. Fortunately, because of the work of Margaret Lothrop and Minute Man National Historical Park, writings describe Hillside in detail, both inside and out. Another vital document by ten-year-old Elizabeth Sewall Alcott provides an eyewitness account of daily life at the home. Her record of the three years she lived there is her only surviving journal and provides another look at how the “little women” lived. So that you, too, can envision Hillside, this article includes a plan of the first floor labeled to conform to how the Alcotts used each room. Anecdotes from Lizzie’s journal, other family members, and their student boarder, Frederick Llewellyn Willis, add some color. Armed with the knowledge mentioned above and a little imagination, one can piece Hillside back together into the glorious and much-admired Alcott homestead.

BY SUSAN BAILEY