The Fruitlands Museum Historic District, assembled by early preservationist Clara Endicott Sears, is a collection of four outdoor museums dedicated to topics in American history. Gathering properties from 1910 to 1947, Sears was among the first to assemble a personal collection of buildings and artifacts and open them to the public. In 1910, when she selected the hills near Harvard as the location for her mansion, the Pergolas, Sears was already an accomplished philosopher, completing The Power Within, a book "for those who had lost their bearings," in 1911. In 1913, she purchased the parcel adjacent to her new home and soon discovered that the unsightly house on the property was part of Bronson Alcotts' (Louisa May's father) Fruitlands, a Transcendental communal village. Sears began research on Fruitlands and other communal villages, restored the building, and opened it to the public in 1914. Sears' interest in the history around her encouraged her to publish works of New England fiction and history, landscape and material culture, and even about the processes of assembling and preserving buildings. Research next led Sears to the nearby Harvard Shaker Village. The Shaker elderesses, realizing their village was slowly dying, asked her to preserve their first office building, which had been built in 1794. Sears moved the Shaker building to her land, restored it, and opened it to the public in 1916. After evidence of Native American activity was discovered in her fields, Sears began collecting Native American artifacts and established the American Indian Museum in 1928, expanding it in 1932. Her final museum was the Picture Gallery, built in 1941 for her collection of "primitive" and intinerant painters. Sears' home, the Pergolas, was demolished in the 1960s after her death. The museums that survive at Fruitlands demonstrate the quality and innovation of Sears' accomplishments and represent the roots of the outdoor museum of today.
The Fruitlands Museum Historic District is located at 102 Prospect Hill Rd., just off Route 2, in Harvard, MA. The museum and grounds are open to the public from mid-May through October on weekdays from 11:00am to 4:00pm, and on weekends and holidays from 11:00am to 5:00pm. There is a fee for admission. Call 978-456-3924 of visit Fruitland Museum's website for further information.