We took a drive out to Fruitlands on Sunday on the premise that the weather was going to be sunny and warm and that there would be a fall festival of some sort to see in addition to the site itself. Neither thing was entirely true, but we enjoyed the visit anyway.
The Fruitlands Museum, in Harvard, Massachusetts, is sort of a conglomeration of things: the place itself was the site of Bronson Alcott’s failed utopian community of the same name that he established in 1843 and there is a recreation of the farmhouse where he and his family lived for the half a year they were there. Then there are several other rather unrelated small museums — an art museum that focuses on 19th century portraiture and Hudson River School landscapes, a Shaker Museum that features the handicrafts of that erstwhile religious community, and then a museum of Native American-related art. Oh, and there are hiking trails through the woods as well. It’s a little schizophrenic, yet somehow all seems to tie together.
The farmhouse is an entirely modern recreation and has very little provenance from the original building. In this regard, it pales in comparison to Orchard House in Concord, the house where the Alcotts lived when Louisa May Alcott wrote “Little Women”, even though that house is not entirely authentic itself. A docent did a good job, though, of telling the story of Alcott’s failure to create a vegan utopia. I got the impression that they built the building because people expected to see it, more than out of any sense of historical relevance.
The art museum was small, especially considering the sizeof their collection, but featured three good exhibits — a temporary one featuring late 19th-early 20th Century leisure clothing, a gallery with a very small selection of their massive collection of portraits, and a gallery of landscapes mainly comprised of paintings by Hudson River School artists. I particularly liked this one, which shows Mount Ascutney in Vermont as seen from Claremont, NH (which is where my mother grew up). We opted to skip the Shaker and Native American museums to save for another visit.
The “Harvest Festival” turned out to be not much to speak of. Some 4H kids were there with some adorable goats, but the poor goats were raised to be sold for meat and were only a few pounds away from being market weight. Seemed more than a little ironic for them to be there on the site of Alcott’s no-animal-products farm. Ditto for the alpacas, but at least they were only being raised for the wool.
Lunch overlooking the “Seven Sisters” mountains of western Massachusetts was delightful — no goat on the menu, I am pleased to say. I think if lunch hadn’t been good, we would have chalked up the whole thing as a bit of a bust, but instead we went away with a very positive impression and the expectation to visit again.