05 October 2014

Becoming a Steward of the Alcott Legacy

Turning the key in the front door of Orchard House each morning, the guides set about breathing life into the quiet house. They flutter through the rooms, waking up the house and turning on the lights. No two are alike: one is push-button, one turns to the right, one has a hanging cord. This is the house’s subtle charm, and the memorized movements of the ritual recalls a feeling of familiarity. Orchard House opens every morning, ready to greet visitors from around the world and to welcome them into the Alcotts’ home, a place that feels already familiar from Louisa's stories and books.

Often, the charming presentation of the house conceals the complexity of the system that supports it, and I don’t simply mean the finicky light switches or the expensive and up-to-code foundation put underneath the house in 2001. The guides give a voice to the lives of the Alcotts, of course, but many of the required roles that give Orchard House its charm and magic are tucked away from view. Many of these roles are also entirely voluntary, falling into the hands of stewards of the museum who act only out of their love and appreciation for the Alcotts and the many causes they upheld.

The gardens and landscape, for example, are lovingly tended by neighbors and volunteers, many of whom know with intimate detail which plants are possible descendants of those planted by Mr. Alcott in the nineteenth century and what varieties of apples once grew in the orchard. Culminating in the annual Fall Gardens and Grounds Clean-Up—taking place this year on November 15th—the important task of maintaining the landscape falls into the hands of these friends. Anyone who has enjoyed a picnic lunch under the shade of a tree on the lawn can appreciate their hard work and dedication.

Like the apples in the garden, stewards of the museum come in all varieties. Many of Orchard House’s most well-received events are enhanced by the presence of the Alcott Helping Hands and Hearts, a group of children who donate their weekends in December to participating in the annual Holiday Program, some of whom travel great distances to partake in the living history and make this experience more enjoyable for our guests. Their lively energy and youth—not to mention their charming singing voices—are a particular favorite during the holiday season, but they also appear at many of Orchard House’s events throughout the year. This volunteer group offers the opportunity to grow into many different roles at the museum.

Supporting this whole operation are the museum members, who introduce Orchard House to family and friends, and who make possible the continuing preservation efforts necessitated by the 300-year-old structure, which, while charming, requires regular maintenance. Becoming a member offers many benefits, including free admission to the museum and a museum shop discount, while supporting Louisa’s legacy.

Because Orchard House has been open to the public for more than 100 years, there are many who feel they have grown up at Orchard House and experienced its many stages. These stewards often return to the museum after years away, bringing myriad talents that continue to promote awareness about the Alcott family, their writings and work, and their messages about charity, equality, and creativity. These particular stewards offer their expertise in fields such as creative writing, public relations, and web design to keep the Orchard House as current as it is historic.

Stewardship is an especially pertinent and personal subject for me; I came to Orchard House as a volunteer in the garden several years ago, as a recent college graduate looking to explore different fields of work. I never imagined that the gardening I offered would blossom into a passion for the lives of the Alcott family that has influenced so much of my life. I was weeding under the lilacs one day when a visitor left the museum enthusiastically talking about the communal experiment at Brook Farm. “Where was it?” she asked her friend, who did not have an answer.

“In Roxbury, Massachusetts,” I offered, peeking out from under the tree and shaking the dirt off my gloves, and as we delved into conversation about the relationship between Brook Farm and Mr. Alcott’s Fruitlands experiment, I realized that I had an irreplaceable opportunity while surrounded by this historically rich environment. In the past several years, I have worn many hats at Orchard House (including blog-writer), and Orchard House always leaves the door open for me, offering new capacities for me to give back to the place the has given so much to so many.

This is the place I return to, the place I call home.

As a part of the documentary about Orchard House, you too have the opportunity to become a steward of this beloved place, to perpetuate a legacy that began hundreds of years ago. To call Orchard House "home." This opportunity is fully explained at our Kickstarter Campaign page and on our website.

Without an entire network of people dedicated to the support of Louisa May Alcott’s museum, including donors, volunteers, and stewards of all sizes and types, Orchard House could not be home to so many, or to show its bright face every morning to a new crowd of visitors. Through the dedication of our stewards, Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House retains its cohesiveness of vision as generations pass, preserving our history and the Alcott legacy, and opening the door for years to come.

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