For quite some time now, I’ve been wanting to visit Concord, MA and wander the historic battle field and surrounding areas. I remember taking a field trip in fifth or sixth grade to the site of the North Bridge, mostly just excited for a day away from the confines of the school building, and certainly not fully appreciative of what took place there. I do remember purchasing a replica musket ball from the gift shop, turning it round and round in my palm on the bus ride home, feeling disconnected yet connected all at once. I figured it was time again for another visit, in which I knew I would appreciate much more.
As I started to plan my trip, I was excited by two things: the weather was looking fairly warm & sunny considering it was the first day of December, and secondly that there was a historic home that I did not remember from my visit years ago. So, I set off to visit The Old Manse, and am still overwhelmed by the number of historical events that this one house was a part of.
Grab a cup of coffee or tea for this one, there is so much early American History tied to this house!
- The Old Manse was built in 1770 for Reverend William Emerson and his wife, Phebe Emerson, and is a great example of the Georgian style of architecture. Reverend William Emerson was the town Minister, and therefore a very prominent & powerful figure within Concord and beyond. After meeting with General George Washington (not yet President), he accepted a job as chaplain to the Continental Army in Fort Ticonderoga, and on his way back home from that appointment he succumbed to illness and died in October 1775, leaving Phebe a widower with eight children, one of which was only three weeks old. Phebe would remarry another Reverend, Ezra Ripley, and their family would continue to expand and reside at The Old Manse.
- While I knew that the infamous North Bridge where the start of the American Revolution took place was nearby, I did not realize that it was within sight from The Old Manse. And by within sight, I mean that the bridge is essentially in their backyard. On the morning of April 19, 1775, Phebe Emerson was woken around 5 am by the sound of over 700 Red Coat soldiers on her front lawn. She then gathered her children, and watched the entire battle from the second floor study, where she had a perfect view of the action. I can’t imagine how scary that must have been.
- A second William Emerson was the only son born to the original owners of The Old Manse, Reverend William & Phebe Emerson, and was to be the father of the author & leader of the American transcendentalist movement – Ralph Waldo Emerson. While Ralph Waldo Emerson (who preferred to be called Waldo by close friends & family) did not grow up at The Old Manse, he later returned to stay in the family home that he visited as a child. In the second floor study, the very same room that his grandmother witnessed the start of the American Revolution, he wrote two of his most famous pieces: an essay called Nature in 1836, and The Concord Hymn poem, which was read on July 4, 1837 and immortalized the phrase “The Shot Heard Round the World”.
- As Ralph Waldo Emerson’s fame grew, so did the company he kept. He became friendly with up-and-coming Nathaniel Hawthorne, and his new bride, Sophia. They rented The Old Manse from the Emerson family for three years for $100 a year. In the very same room that Phebe witnessed the start of the American Revolution, and that Waldo wrote Nature and The Concord Hymn, Hawthorne authors the very popular Mosses from an Old Manse, where much of the known history about the home is drawn from – along with it’s namesake, which actually means “Minister’s House”, and is not short for “mansion” as one may think.
- Descendants of the Emerson/Ripley family owned The Old Manse up until 1939, and continued to use it as a summer home up until that point. The Trustees of Reservation purchased the property at that time, and did a great job with restoring the property to what you see today when you visit.
My Favorite Spots
Phew! If you made it through the above Historical Highlights – you know a lot took place in this one room. It’s surreal to look out the same window that Phebe did that early morning in April 1775; to sit at the replica desk that Waldo would have used to pen Nature; or to see the small desk next to the fireplace that Hawthorne wrote Mosses from an Old Manse at. It is an unassuming room just looking at it, but the energy still remains. Alongside those three major historical events in this room, there is also a quiet, humanistic, and tangible piece of history that could easily be missed – find out more below in the Eye Spy section.
Rev. William Emerson & Phebe would have designed this room in 1770 to be their main entertaining space, especially with all the meetings and discussions a powerful reverend would have had at that time. Two of my favorite features include a piano from 1864 (which they allow you to play, should you like!), and the standing desk at which the Reverend would have written his sermons. The floral geometric wallpaper is a reproduction of what was found during the restoration process, and is thought to be similar to the original that was in that room.
I love old kitchens in homes, and The Old Manse did not disappoint. I was a bit surprised to see the black & white almost chevron-style designs on the wall (far left in the photo above), however found out that it was reproduced based on a small sliver next to a window that was uncovered, and believed to be original to the late 1700’s. Home owners in that day would have painted the kitchen with a bold design, so that you could see the pattern underneath all the soot the stoves would have produced. A basic color on the wall would easily have been masked until a thorough spring cleaning, so a bold striking pattern would have been the only thing to show thru the soot!
The Boat House & Hawthorne Rock
I was lucky to enjoy The Old Manse on a 45+ degree December day, however it has been a very rainy fall, and the Concord River was simply bursting at the seams and has taken over quite a bit of the walkway of The Boat House. It’s said that Nathaniel & Sophia Hawthorne spent many late afternoons sitting on the rock nearby The Boat House, hence the name of the rock, watching the sun set over the Concord River. Sounds quite lovely if you ask me.
- Nathaniel & Sophia Hawthorne were newly-weds when they moved into The Old Manse, and Sophia was sporting a sparkly diamond ring. In two rooms of the house, Sophia used this diamond ring to etch words into the glass panes, which remain clear to read (but horrible to photograph). Her penmanship is beautiful, and upstairs she left an almost haunting note after falling in the woods and suffering a miscarriage: “Man’s accidents are God’s purposes. Sophia A. Hawthorne, 1843”.
- In the secondary entertaining room on the first floor, there is a clock from 1741 that Rev. William Emerson purchased for $20,and it is still in great working condition – it was so neat to hear it ticking away loudly!
- Books were considered a luxury item, and were very expensive to purchase. This is why book shelves at The Old Manse were built next to windows, so that in case of a fire they could easily be tossed right out to be saved.
- In the front parlor room sits Rev. William Emerson’s green chair, which was one of his favorites. So much so that he had a small hole drilled in the left arm of the chair that would hold a candle for him while he continued to read into the night.
- The brick oven in the kitchen was quite big for it’s time, and cooks would determine how long things would take to cook by how long they could stand to keep their hands inside the oven – glad we have thermometers & gauges today! An entire weeks worth of bread could fit inside the oven at once.
- Hung along the staircase were original fire buckets made of leather, which would not hold much water as they were leaky, so sand was usually what one would carry in it. When the alarm sounded in town, every homeowner was expected to drop what they were doing to assist with putting out the fire with the rest of the brigade – and if you didn’t? You could expect a hefty fine, and likely wouldn’t expect your neighbors to help you under similar circumstances.
- As a wedding gift, fellow friend & leading American transcendentalist author, Henry David Thoreau, created the garden that you see today for Nathaniel & Sophia Hawthorne.
- The great news about this home? It’s open year round! I can only imagine how busy it must be surrounding Patriot’s Day and 4th of July, however the Minute Man National Park is a perfect place for a picnic afterwards and the visitor center there has tons of information on the historic battle that took place – so I would plan extra time to enjoy the entire area!
- Tours were taking place each hour, only from 12 noon – 4 pm during the winter, but the tour guide was super knowledgeable and answered any & all questions!
- This house didn’t have heat and therefore likely no AC in the summer, so just a word to the wise while planning your trip there.
Here is a small collection of some of my favorite photos from my visit to The Old Manse – but make sure to like us on Instagram and Facebook as more photos from all my stops will be shown there regularly!