- Historic Sites
The idealists who founded this Utopian colony were singularly well versed in mystical philosophy— and singularly ignorant about farming
February/March 1986 | Volume 37, Issue 2
Returning to Concord the next year, the Alcotts eked out a living as before. Bronson tilled his garden, took on odd jobs, conducted his “conversations,” and eventually got an appointment as Concord’s superintendent of schools, a post that gave him standing, if not much money (one hundred dollars a year). For a while Abby earned a salary as a pioneer social worker in Boston’s Irish slums, and later she took in sewing. Thus, with the help of friends, they got by, until at length Louisa May wrote Little Women and put them all on easy street.
Lane returned to England, where he did an about-face, made a modest fortune with a financial paper, remarried, and fathered five more children. Joseph Palmer, who lived to see the beard come back into fashion, bought the Fruitlands property and kept open house for a continuing stream of seekers, eccentrics, and common tramps.
Of all the brave Utopian colonies that sprang up at the time, Fruitlands had perhaps the most impractical direction and the shortest time span. But sooner or later the others also disappeared or lost their character. They were sand castles built in the face of a rushing tide. In the same year that Bronson Alcott drove his wagon fourteen miles west from Concord, whole trains of covered wagons were setting out to cross the Rocky Mountains. At the edge of the Fruitlands property, within a few years, railroad tracks would push down the Nashua Valley. The locomotive, the telegraph, the Colt revolver, the steel plow- all were coming forth to serve an aggressive industrial nation.
The philosophic farmers had failed in their experiment. But their dream of a simpler, sweeter life lived on, through all the stress of industrialism, to sustain the dreamers of later times. Let Louisa May have the last word on the starry spirits of Fruitlands: “They said many wise things and did many foolish ones.”