102 PROSPECT HILL ROAD
PORTRAITS & PENMANSHIP: THE APPLETONS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
THROUGH MARCH 28, 2018
A NEW VIEW: LANDSCAPES FROM THE PERMANENT COLLECTION
THROUGH NOVEMBER 4, 2018
By James Foritano
When we first parked and stepped out on grounds overlooking the Nashua River Valley, I felt a lot like skipping. Whether it was the beauty of the panoramic view, the leisurely 40-minute drive from Boston, or the fact that we had simply pulled up and parked — a maneuver that at locales any closer to Boston always occasions a great deal of trepidation — I felt we had arrived. Clara Endicott Sears arrived here in 1910 with not only a double-barreled Puritan heritage, but also, evidently, a great deal of personal “moxie.” After establishing herself in a mansion that she christened “The Pergolas” at the top of Prospect Hill Road, she also must have taken in the view and then set out to do something about it.
She didn’t have to look far. Perhaps peering downhill through the ivy-covered columns of a pergola, she could see the farmhouse built in the mid-1800s (now a national heritage site), where Bronson Alcott — author, educator and Victorian “hippie” — established a commune to teach his family, his acolytes and, not least, a yearning America to reach their highest ideals by living close to the land and its fruits.
“Fruitlands” lasted a reported seven months as a going concern. The short of it is that winter arrived to chill balmy aspirations; the long of it may be found in daughter Louisa May Alcott’s book “Sowing Transcendentalist Oats.” Sears took the story further at the start of the 20th century by refurbish- ing the Fruitlands Farmhouse as her first project after establishing herself at “The Pergolas.”
When we visited in late September, a guide gave us a tour from top to bottom, including a history lesson, of this noble but ill-starred experiment with an alacrity one can imaging Ms. Sears approving of with a firm nod.