Museum History

Fruitlands Landscape

Fruitlands Museum, founded in 1914 by Clara Endicott Sears, takes its name from an experimental Utopian Community led by Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane which took place on this site in 1843.

The Fruitlands campus includes:

• The Fruitlands Farmhouse, the site of an experiment in communal living led by Alcott and Lane in 1843
• The Shaker Museum, home to the largest archive of Harvard Shaker documents in the world
• The Native American Gallery, which houses a significant collection of artifacts that honor the spiritual presence and cultural history of the first Americans
• The Art Gallery, containing 100 Hudson River School landscape paintings, and significantly, over 230 nineteenth century vernacular portraits, the second largest collection in the country. The Art Gallery also hosts an variety of rotating exhibits throughout the year.

The Sears Summer Estate

Sears maintained a summer estate and “gentleman’s farm” here along with the museum complex from 1914 until her death in 1960. During her lifetime, Miss Sears published several books, wrote popular songs for WW1, and ran a cannery and food drying charity which sent 2 tons of food to the troops in the trenches of France. In 1930, Fruitlands Museum, which continues her work in historic preservation, was incorporated.

Ancient Glacial Landscape

 Fruitlands has a rich history and has been host to some of the most famous people in America. Thoreau walked Prospect Hill and admired its view. Emerson visited Alcott here, and Louisa May (then 10), would relate her experiencesat Fruitlands in Little Women.  


Native American

Native American people inhabited the Nashua River valley for the last 11000 years. They invited the first colonists to the area in the late 1600s. The second generation of these people began ‘improving’ what is now the museum property when the second division lands of Lancaster were laid out in about 1700.

These property lines are still visible on the Fruitlands campus and several of the old Yankee farms survive on our site today, along with archaeological remains of others. In 1805-1818 entrepreneurs in Harvard built the Union Turnpike which ran through the property and was created to link Harvard with Leominster. The railroad at the base of the hill, started in 1847, is still in use today.

When Miss Sears looked out over the landscape at Fruitlands, decades after Thoreau, she imagined the Nashua River valley and recalled the past people who contemplated that same vista. Sears believed that our common experiences link us together across time.

We hope you’ll experience that same sensation when you visit Fruitlands Museum, whether for the first, or 400th time.