Even girls who haven't read Louisa May Alcott's 1868 classic novel Little Women know the story from its many film versions and the Broadway musical. The story of its author, Louisa May Alcott -- Jo in the novel -- is even more powerful when you consider that she was one of the first women to earn a living as a writer. My daughter and I were thrilled to feel her presence hovering in every room of Orchard House.
The Alcott family lived from 1858 to 1877 in this saltbox-style frame house. Not only was Little Women set here, but it also was written here by the adult Louisa, at a shelf desk her father built between two windows in her bedroom. Although Louisa was 26 when they moved into Orchard House, she modeled the March family's house on it. Other family members were the models for the characters in Little Women: Anna ("Meg"), the eldest, an amateur actress; Elizabeth ("Beth"), a gifted musician who died before the family moved to this house; and May ("Amy"), a talented artist who went to study in Europe on Louisa's profits from Little Women. Their mother, the social activist Abigail May Alcott, frequently assumed the role of family breadwinner -- her father, Louisa wrote in her journal, had "no gift for money making." Louisa herself, who never married, also helped support the family when she began to publish her short stories at age 22.
Visitors are guided through the modestly furnished house, which features many authentic heirlooms -- the family china is laid out on the dining room table, props and costumes await their amateur theatricals, half-finished needleworks lie on side tables, and some of May's drawings are still scribbled on her bedroom walls. Anna's wedding was held in the parlor here, just as Meg's was, and all the sisters took turns cooking in the spartan kitchen.
Also in Concord is The Wayside, 455 Lexington Rd. (tel. 978/318-7863; www.nps.gov/mima; Wedâ??Sun late May to Oct only), the Alcotts' prior home (the girls called it "the yellow house"), where Nathaniel Hawthorne later lived, from 1852 until his death in 1864.
Nearest Airport: Boston Logan International, 18 miles.
Where to Stay: $$ DoubleTree Suites by Hilton, 400 Soldiers Field Rd. (tel. 800/222-TREE  or 617/783-0090; www.doubletree.com). $ The Midtown Hotel, 220 Huntington Ave. (tel. 800/343-1177 or 617/262-1000; www.midtownhotel.com).