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Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

Unofficial, unauthorized page! See (and search for 'Old Manse') for the official page, which has more recent and more authoritative information than on this page.

Old Manse

[Old Manse]

is on Monument Street in Concord, Massachusetts

"Between two tall gate-posts of rough-hewn stone, (the gate itself having fallen from its hinges, at some unknown epoch,) we beheld the gray front of the old parsonage, terminating the vista of an avenue of black-ash trees...."

Home of....Rev. and Mrs. William Emerson, and then their son William (1769-1811), father of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882).

Reverend Emerson (1743-1776) participated in the battle between the Redcoats and the Minutemen on April 19, 1775, at the North Bridge, a replica of which is just to the north. This "Concord Fight", as it is called by the neighbors, was the first forcible resistance to British troops in the Revolutionary War, and the one immortalized by Longfellow's poem, "Paul Revere's Ride". (Actually, it was Dr. Samuel Prescott who warned Concord, since Revere was captured before reaching that destination, where the militia and minute men had accumulated arms.) See "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere: From History to Folklore," available at the Paul Revere House in Boston or the visitor's center at Minuteman National Historic Park, for more information. (We used to have it on our site, but took it off at the request of the Paul Revere House Association.)

A new e-book about the Battle of Lexington is now available. It is for Microsoft Windows computers and fits on one floppy. It takes eight minutes to play multimedia files. You can download it from

The ROTC unit at Worcester Polytechnic Institute has put online a superb "staff ride" course concerning the battle. It would be of great help to anyone wishing detailed knowledge of the military history. See The Battle of Lexington-Concord

Emerson's aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, born at the Old Manse, August 27, 1774, used to say they she too was "in arms" that day, because she was held up to witness the historic battle. [The elder Reverend Emerson was one of the first armed men to respond to the alarm bell, and it may have been Phebe Emerson (died 1825) who held up her daughter, if her husband was indeed with the colonials across the river. Hawthorne repeats the legend that the first Reverend Emerson watched from the study.] The second-story west windows of the study remain the same, though others have been enlarged. We've placed a separate page online here with photographs of the study.

During this time the property across the street, a woodlot and garden fields, belonged to the minister, and there was a large barn to the southwest of the house. Emerson on his deathbed is said to have freed the three or more slaves who worked the farm. (Free black farmers named Caesar and Peter lived across the street for many years.)

After the Reverend William died in 1776, of dystentery contracted at the siege of Ticonderoga, Ralph's grandmother took in boarders. She married one of them, November 16, 1780, Rev. Ezra Ripley , who lived in the house from 1778 until he died in 1841. Evidently the house at that time was called "the Old Ripley Mansion" because of its two stories and two chimneys, unusual in Concord at the time. Ripley was minister of Concord and one of the last of the old Puritan church. He gave the Battle Ground property to the town and citizens planted trees along its avenue in 1836.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was born and raised in Boston, moved to the house with his mother in October, 1834. He finished writing the essay "Nature" (published September, 1836) in the second-story study. He also wrote the Concord hymn sung (to the tune of Old Hundred) at the dedication of the Monument obelisk, erected on the battlefield next door on July 4, 1837, the first verse of which is inscribed on the base of the Minuteman statue by Daniel Chester French (of Concord) across the river:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The Minute Man statue, located where the colonials actually stood, was unveiled April 19, 1875, in a disastrous ceremony marked by downpours, the speakers' stand collapse, overcrowded tents, railways, and hotels, and the consequent absence of several important invited guests; and speeches by Emerson, Curtis, and President Grant.

Waldo Emerson spent only one year in the Old Manse before he remarried and moved to the large white house on the other side of Concord center, also now a museum.

After the Rev. Ezra Ripley's death, the Old Manse was rented to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who moved in after marrying Sophia Peabody in Boston on July 9, 1842. Henry David Thoreau, employed as a handyman and gardener by Emerson at that time, had dug a garden for them. (In his journal in 1842, Hawthorne recorded a visit by Thoreau to eat the melons he had planted and to go on the river in Thoreau's boat, which Hawthorne then bought.)

The Hawthornes lived an idyllic life in the Old Manse, depicted in several sketches he later published in a collection of tales, Mosses from an Old Manse, 1846. Read online "The Old Manse" (the introduction), "Fire-Worship", and "Buds and Bird-Voices". Allen French has collected some materials on the Hawthornes' stay into a little booklet online here and also for sale at the Manse bookshop.

Besides their son Julian's biography, we also have online the complete Passages from the American Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne edited by his widow, Sophia. Both contain many references to this home of the newly-married couple.

After one miscarriage suffered by Sophia, the Hawthornes' first child, Una, was born upstairs, March 3, 1844. Sophia scratched some messages in two of the western window panes of the upstairs study, and another pane was discovered in the attic and has been placed in a downstairs window.

In 1853, G. P. Putnam published a charming account by George William Curtis of visiting Hawthorne in Concord.

Thoreau wrote a little poem about the Old Manse for his book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.

Thoreau sold Hawthorne the boat (the "Musketaquid", from the native name for the Concord river) he and his brother had used for their trip in the Week on the Concord and Merrimack. Hawthorne renamed it the "Pond Lily", since it served to carry those flowers back to Mrs. Hawthorne. Frank B. Sanborn bought the boat, which later decayed.

The river served as a highway for skaters from Lowell or Worcester during the winter, and journals of Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne depict them. Hawthorne used to bathe nightly where the bridge replica now stands. The "village tragedy," the suicide drowning of Miss Martha Hunt, thought to be the basis for Zenobia's drowning in The Blithedale Romance, is also recorded by Curtis and by Julian Hawthorne. It took place around the bend of the river to the north.

While Hawthorne stayed at the house, he tried to get back from George Ripley $1,000 he had lent him at the time he and Ripley were at Brook Farm, a Utopian community in West Roxbury, Mass. Hawthorne could not recover the investment and the Ezra Ripley heirs allowed the Hawthornes to stay in the house. Emerson was a friend of Mrs. Hawthorne, as well as Elizabeth Hoar, who had been engaged to Emerson's brother, who died of tuberculosis.

Hawthorne wrote in the upstairs study, where visitors can see the folding desk he constructed against the wall. Emerson's desk faces the river, and Ripley's is downstairs. Sophia practiced her art in the back parlor, which was at times used as the dining room. Many of the furnishings and furniture are original, but not all restored to Hawthorne's period. For example, the cookstove Hawthorne put in the kitchen was later replaced, and that one has been removed to restore the older fireplace and oven. The barn burned down in the 1920s.

Visitors are not allowed into the attic. The dusky portraits Hawthorne put up there have been cleaned and mounted downstairs. A 1660 book by John Calvin was found there, as well as many writings and art on the walls. Most of the thousands of books in the house are from the Ripley family, but few or none that belonged to Hawthorne.

Hawthorne didn't make enough from his magazine stories to pay the nominal rent of $100 a year. Eventually the owners, the Rev. and Mrs. Samuel Ripley of Waltham, asked the Hawthornes to let a boarder stay there too, and started some improvements and rumors they wanted the house. So the Hawthorne family moved to Salem, October 2, 1845, where he was appointed Surveyor of the Port. He wrote "The Old Manse" and, in 1849-50, The Scarlet Letter. (The Hawthornes later moved back to Concord, to a home on the other side of town they called The Wayside.

As Hawthorne wrote, the retired Reverend Ripley (1783-1847) also cleaned the moss off the side of the house and performed other improvements Hawthorne could not afford. In Putnam's book is a reproduction of a letter in which Hawthorne mentions walking by the Old Manse in July of 1852 and noticing the addition of the dormer window to the dark attic.

James T. Fields walked with Hawthorne to the house just before Hawthorne left for England in 1853, and records the "sleepy, warm afternoon" in his wonderful book, Yesterdays with Authors.

Emerson wrote after Mrs. Ripley's death in 1867, "At a time when perhaps no other young woman read Greek, she acquired the language with ease and read Plato.... She became one of the best Greek scholars in the country, and continued, in her later years, the habit of reading Homer, the tragedians and Plato. But her studies took a wide range in mathematics, in natural philosophy, in psychology, in theology, as well as in ancient and modern literature."

In the 1870's the south parlor was extended by a bow window framed with pine painted to look like oak. The kitchen behind was extended with a summer kitchen and room above. A boathouse on the river is there no longer.

Mrs. Ripley's grandson, Edward Emerson Simmons (born in 1852 in a house across the battleground), left some art work on the attic wall. He grew up to do mural decorations in the Library of Congress and many New York buildings.

In 1904, Henry James visited his brother Bob in Concord, and in 1907 published part of a chapter on Concord, including some words about the Old Manse, in The American Scene.

Some photographs from the 1909 era were published by the Detroit Publishing Co. and have been preserved at the Library of Congress. The black ash trees lining the avenue from the road had grown considerably, but made a Romantic picture then. In recent years, the trees have been cleared from much of the property to make it look more like it did in the Emerson times. The large willow Hawthorne describes outside his study window is gone, but a few large old apple trees remain near the river. An extensive flower and herb garden is well worth close examination. (Hawthorne described the avenue as comprised of balm-of-Gilead trees.)

The Emerson-Ripley-Ames family lived in the house until 1939, mostly in the summers. November 3, 1939 it was bought and restored by The Trustees of Reservations, custodians for some 70 historic Massachusetts properties.

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Last updated: Tue Sep 21 02:39:22 EDT 1999
©Copyright 1999 Eric Eldred - see license
From Eldritch Press's Nathaniel Hawthorne Home Page -

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