The Old Manse

Crossing over the North Bridge the first time, we couldn’t fail to notice the world’s most charming boat house sitting on the south side of the river.

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So on the way back to the parking lot from the North Bridge Visitor Center, we stopped to take a look at it and at the beautiful, New England clapboard house that went with it. There may have been more houses around North Bridge during the Battle of Concord, but the clapboard is the only one there now.

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I want this stone wall.  I need this stone wall.

The house is called the Old Manse and was built in 1770 for the Reverend William Emerson, the grandfather of Ralph Waldo. He and his family watched the fighting on North Bridge out of the second floor windows at the back of the house. Those are the ones that you can see in the photo above.

William joined the Continental army as a chaplain. He died young of an unnamed illness while stationed at Fort Ticonderoga and left his widow with five small children.   She rented out rooms to make ends meet and married one of her boarders, local Concord minister Ezra Ripley, a few years later.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was the son of one of those five children, and he spend time at the manse with his grandmother. It was there that he finished his first work, Nature.

After Ezra Ripley died, the house was rented to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who moved there with his new bride, Sophia.  Nathaniel and Sophia lived at the Old Manse for the first three years of their marriage and he drew on many of his experiences there for his writing.

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When a local girl committed suicide in the Concord River, Hawthorne helped to retrieve her body. He used that experience to describe a drowning in his novel The Blithedale Romance: “She was the marble image of a death-agony. Her arms had grown rigid in the act of struggling, and were bent before her, with clenched hands; her knees, too, were bent….[I]t seemed as if her body must keep the same position in the coffin, and that her skeleton would keep it in the grave, and that when Zenobia rose, at the Day of Judgement, it would be in just the same attitude as now.

The house stayed in the Ripley family until 1939, when it was bought by the Trustees of Reservation and made a house museum. “Do you want a tour?” asked the attendant in the gift shop. “We have a school group coming but I think we can squeeze you in before they show up.” Ah yes. Those ubiquitous school groups.

Turned out that the arrival of the school group was still a couple of hours away, so we got our tour with no squeezing.  Kathie and I were the only ones on the tour, lead by a young man (wish I could remember his name, which I asked about 100 times) who seemed a museum professional. “Yes, you can take photos,” he responded to my standard query. “We just changed that policy.” Yes!!

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Nathaniel and Sophia scratched poems to each other in the window panes. If you make the photo, above, larger, you should be able to read the writing.

Man’s accidents are GOD’s purpose
Sophia A Hawthorne 1843

Natn’ Hawthrone
This is his study

The smallest twig
Leans clear against the sky

Composed by my wife
and written with her dia-

Inscribed by my
husband at sunset
April 3d 1843

On the gold light  SAH

The scratches may be charming to us but probably did not endear them to their landlords.  No rent deposit back for them.

My favorite part of the house was this neat chevron design in the kitchen. I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

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“It’s nice having visitors who are genuinely interested,” said the understated guide, at the end of the tour. We’d spent the entire tour throwing one question after the other at him, nonstop. It might have been sarcasm, but he seemed a genuinely nice fellow, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

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1 Response to The Old Manse

  1. nerdtrips says:

    What an amazing find – a connection to Emerson and Hawthorne! Thanks for sharing.

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