Clara Endicott Sears

Clara Endicott Sears was a visionary, writer, historian, preservationist, and founder of Fruitlands Museum.

“Clara Endicott Sears seems to regard the past as having been lived chiefly for the benefit of the future. The present she regards as a convenient work season arranged for her by Father Time in which she can make the future still more aware of the past.” -New York Sun, 1941

Born in 1863 of Boston Brahmin lineage, Sears was cosmopolitan, cultivated, and independent. She preferred artistic and intellectual pursuits to the conventional roles expected of a lady of her social stature. Instead, she chose a life of the mind, nurtured by extensive travel, illustrious friendships, and her own curiosity and spirit.

In 1910, Sears built a summer residence known as the “Pergolas” on Prospect Hill in Harvard, Massachusetts. The house (now gone) and property commanded dramatic views of the Nashua River Valley, originally settled by the Nashaway Indians.

This spectacular site turned out to have historical associations that dovetailed with Sears’ passionate interest in the great minds and spiritual seekers of America’s past. Along with this extraordinary property came the farmhouse site where Bronson Alcott had founded his Transcendentalist community known as, “Fruitlands.”

Alcott’s utopia was short lived, but Sears was drawn to Transcendentalist writings, and their experiment in communal living. In 1914, she had the vision to turn Alcott’s farmhouse into a museum housing a treasury of original artifacts and furnishings.

It was the beginning of Sears’ career as a preservationist, historian, writer, and curator of the four distinct collections she built over the next thirty years. Fascination with Alcott led Sears to the Harvard and Shirley Shakers, whom she befriended and admired for their ingenuity, spiritual devotion, and industry.

When the Shaker community closed in 1917, Sears brought the eighteenth-century Shaker office to Fruitlands, furnished it with Shaker artwork, implements, and artifacts, many donated by the Shakers themselves.

Sears went on to develop a small but exquisite Native American collection (with help from the Peabody Museum at Harvard), and later still, she built the Picture Gallery to house her Hudson River School landscapes and 19th-century vernacular portraits. Each museum: Fruitlands Farmhouse; the Shaker Museum—the first in this country; the Indian Museum and the Picture Gallery celebrate a unique spiritual encounter with the New England landscape, with the mind, and with the heart.

Come celebrate the life of Clara Endicott Sears, and explore all the Fruitlands Museum has to offer.