Minimalists in History: Fruitlands

© 2014 Christy King

“I perceive that I am neither a planter of the backwoods, pioneer, nor settler there, but an inhabitant of the Mind, and given to friendship and ideas.”

– Amos Bronson Alcott

I mentioned that I would be discussing transcendentalists in more detail. Today’s post is about transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa May, who created a Utopian agrarian commune along with Charles Lane.

The commune, called Fruitlands because they intended to live off the fruit of the land, was established in Harvard, Massachusetts on the 90-acre Wyman farm. Alcott and Lane planned to strengthen their spirituality through simple living and self-reliance.

Fruitlands was a small commune, consisting mostly of Alcott and his family and Lane and his son. Additional participants, not all of whom were at Fruitlands at the same time, included H.C. Wright, Samuel Bower, Isaac Hecker, Christopher Green, Samuel Larned, Abraham Everett, Anne Page, Joseph Palmer and Abraham Wood.

“Even salt was considered a useless luxury and spice entirely forbidden by these lovers of Spartan simplicity.”

– Louisa May Alcott, Transcendental Wild Oats

Since they were trying to be healthy and self-sufficient, residents avoided coffee, tea, spices, alcohol, tobacco and cotton.

Fruitland residents ate a vegan diet (mostly fruit) and did not use animal products (not even manure for fertilizer) or animal labor. They bathed in unheated water. They didn’t use any artificial lighting either.

“None of us were prepared to actualize practically the ideal life of which we dreamed. So we fell apart.”

– Amos Bronson Alcott

Unfortunately, the community had arrived at the farm too late to plant on time, and only about 11 acres were arable. With no animal labor and residents preferring to philosophize rather than work the farm, little food was grown.

Fruitlands lasted only 7 months, failing because of food shortages, cold weather and disputes among its members. Lane and his son joined a Shaker community. The Alcotts moved to a nearby village for a time, later relocating to Concord.

 Want to visit Fruitlands?

The old farmhouse, restored to appear as it did during the 1840s, is now part of Fruitlands Museum. It includes exhibits about transcendentalism and the Alcotts. The museum also has walking paths as well as other museum spaces featuring Native American, Shaker and Hudson River School style art.


6 thoughts on “Minimalists in History: Fruitlands

  1. Hello Christy, Fruitlands is one of my favorite places in Massachusetts. Not only are the exhibits interesting, the views are quite beautiful. Picture rolling hills and Mount Wachusett in the distance. The Alcott home in Concord is nearby, and in fact Concord has a lot to offer as well!

    • Thanks, Carol. Maybe someday we’ll make it to that area for a vacation. I’ve not spent much time “back East,” as they say here, since it’s so far away. Not that we’ll ever complete the list of places we’d like to visit out West.

  2. My husband manages to take cold showers, but it is a comfort I can’t seem to convince myself to give up – especially in the winter. Thanks for sharing this information, it’s interesting. 🙂

  3. Thanks, Lois. A fruitarian diet would certainly get boring fast in Massachusetts – I’d be much happier in the tropics. That would solve the cold bath problem too, though I suppose it could create plenty of new problems.

  4. Christy, I so look forward to your historical minimalists and learn something each time. If I were going to live as a fruitarian, which I have considered a few times as there is nothing more delicious than fresh ripe fruit, I would have chosen a much warmer climate than Alcott and Lane. But cold baths in winter make me happy to have the comforts I have kept.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.