Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
The Old Manse
“Mr. Thorow dined with us yesterday…He is a keen and delicate observer of nature—a genuine observer—which, I suspect, is almost as rare a character as even an original poet; and nature, in return for his love, seems to adopt him as her especial child, and shows him secrets which few others are allowed to witness.”—Hawthorne, American Notebook, September 1, 1842
Nature writing in Concord, Massachusetts began at The Old Manse in Concord with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s first draft of Nature, published in 1836. Emerson wrote the first draft of his famous essay in the upstairs study, with its windows overlooking his grandfather’s fields, the Concord River, and the site of the famous North Bridge conflict. Another famous resident, Nathaniel Hawthorne, rented the house from 1842-1845, and lived there with his bride Sophia Peabody Hawthorne.
Because Ralph Waldo Emerson penned the first draft of his groundbreaking short book, Nature, from The Old Manse study, this is the birthplace of the American Transcendentalism movement. The essay, which laid the foundation of the movement, challenged a new generation to demand their own works, laws, and worship. The small book pinpointed nature as a source of spiritual truth, beauty, and symbol as well as a professional discipline. In the woods free from the stresses of urbanization, Emerson believed individuals restored their faith and reason.
The publication of Nature and several subsequent essays attracted a small group of highly talented men and women to Concord including Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and others who formed the leadership of American Transcendentalism. The authors found solace in the natural aesthetic of Concord, exploring local woods and rivers, ideas on nature, social justices, and connections between physical and spiritual realism. They expressed their philosophy in principled actions by writing, giving speeches, and following their own prescriptions.
The American literary movement continued to flourish at The Old Manse with the arrival of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who rented the house with his bride Sophia Peabody Hawthorne. They arrived at The Old Manse on their wedding day, July 9, 1842. Thoreau’s wedding gift to the Hawthornes was a vegetable garden, which Hawthorne described in the preface to Mosses to an Old Manse. Thoreau also described floating past The Old Manse in his first book A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers. Hawthorne made his own contributions to American nature writing in his preface to Mosses from an Old Manse, which lovingly details the pastoral beauty of The Old Manse landscape.
The Old Manse had other connections with the Massachusetts conservation movement. Ornithologist William Brewster, the first president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, owned a boathouse on the site for two years. Brewster recounted his affiliation with the boathouse in his personal journal where he described the feat of floating the boathouse downstream to a new location in 1892.
Emerson’s grandfather Reverend William Emerson built The Old Manse in 1769, and it remains relatively unchanged. During the Revolutionary War, Reverend Emerson and his family witnessed the battle of Lexington from the second floor windows. The two and one-half story home follows a center hall floor plan. On the north side of the hall are the formal parlor and dining room, while a smaller parlor and kitchen are on the south side of the home. The window panes in the dining room bear inscriptions cut by Hawthorne and his wife with her diamond ring. The second floor contains bedrooms and at the northwest corner is the study used by both Emerson and Hawthorne.
In 1939, The Trustees of Reservations purchased The Old Manse along with most of its original furnishings. The Old Manse was designated a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s.