Concord River from Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass

Looking north on the Concord River from the middle of Old North Bridge in Concord, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These photos were taken facing north from the middle of the Old North Bridge in Concord, looking downstream on the Concord River. The river forms about a half mile upstream from the bridge, at the confluence of the Assabet and Sudbury Rivers, and it flows north from here for about 16 miles, eventually entering the Merrimack River in Lowell.

This site here is probably the best-known spot on the Concord River, as it was the site of the Battle of Concord, which occurred on April 19, 1775. Along with the Battle of Lexington, which had occurred several hours earlier, it marked the beginning of the American Revolution. During the battle, the colonial militiamen had assembled on the west bank of the river, on the far left side of the scene, in an effort to prevent British forces from seizing colonial military supplies. The British, on the east bank, opened fire, resulting in the militiamen returning fire with what came to be known as the “shot heard round the world,” as it resulted in the first British fatalities of the war and forced the redcoats to retreat back to Boston.

During the 19th century, the battlefield was marked by two famous monuments, with one on each side of the river. Since 1874 there have also been a series of commemorative bridges built on the site of the original bridge, which had been removed in 1788. The photographer of the first photo captured this scene from the second such bridge, which was built in 1888 and was destroyed in a flood in 1909, about a year after the photo was taken.

In the center of this photo is the boathouse for the Concord Canoe Club, which stood on the east side of the river on what was known as Honeysuckle Island. The club was established in 1902, and the boathouse was probably built around the same time. However, in 1909 the club built a new boathouse just to the south of this one, closer to the foreground on the far right side. The club existed until at least the 1920s, but both boathouses are now long gone, and the present-day scene actually looks more like its 1775 appearance than it did in the early 20th century.

Today, the bridge and the surrounding battlefield, including the land on both sides of the river in this scene, is now part of the Minute Man National Historical Park. This park, which was established in 1959, preserves important sites and buildings related to the battles of Lexington and Concord, and in recent years it has drawn upwards of a million visitors each year. However, years after the demise of the Concord Canoe Club, the river remains popular among recreational paddlers, and on summer days it is not uncommon to see groups of anachronistic kayaks passing through an otherwise colonial-era setting.

Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass (3)

Looking west across the Old North Bridge over the Concord River in Concord, around 1875-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene around 1900-1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in an earlier post, the Old North Bridge over the Concord River was the site of the Battle of Concord at the beginning of the American Revolution. It occurred on April 19, 1775, only a few hours after the opening shots of the war in nearby Lexington, and it was the first American victory of the war, resulting in the British abandoning their search for colonial munitions and returning to Boston.

Because of its historical significance, the battlefield is now marked with two monuments. On the east side of the river, directly behind the spot where this photo was taken, is a granite obelisk dedicated in 1837, and on the west side of the bridge is the statue The Minute Man, visible in the distance of all three photos. This statue was the work of prominent sculptor Daniel Chester French, and it was dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the battle on April 19, 1775, in a ceremony that included dignitaries such as President Ulysses S. Grant.

Aside from the monuments, the most significant landmark here on the battlefield is the bridge. The original one was removed in 1788, and from 1793 to 1875 there was no bridge on this site after the roads were rerouted. However, as part of the centennial celebrations of 1875, a new one was built around the same time that the statue was installed. This bridge, shown here in the first photo, bore no resemblance to the original one. It was designed by noted architect William R. Emerson, and it featured a rustic Victorian-style design, with cedar logs for railings and two half-arbors at the middle of the bridge.

The centennial bridge was ultimately destroyed in a storm in 1888, and it was replaced by a simpler yet sturdier wooden bridge, as shown in the second photo. It was similar to, although not identical to, the original bridge here at this spot, and it stood here until it too was destroyed in 1909. Its replacement, built later in 1909, lasted until 1955, when it sustained serious damage in a flood. The current bridge was completed the following year, and it was designed to be a replica of the original colonial-era bridge.

In 1975, this bridge became a focal point for the bicentennial celebrations here in Concord. As was the case a century earlier, the event included a visit from the president, with Gerald Ford speaking from a platform here at the eastern end of the bridge, which was located just out of view on the right side of the scene. Since then, very little has changed here. The battlefield has been well-maintained in its 1775 appearance, and today the site probably looks more like it did on the day of the battle than in either of the two earlier photos. Much of this is due to the efforts of the National Park Service, which has administered the battlefield since 1959, when the bridge and the surrounding area became a part of the Minute Man National Historical Park.

Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass (2)

The Old North Bridge over the Concord River, with the memorial obelisk in the foreground, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, this is the site of the Battle of Concord, a short but significant skirmish between British redcoats and the colonial militia on April 19, 1775. Along with the Battle of Lexington, which had occurred several hours earlier, this marked the beginning of the American Revolution, and it was here at Concord that the British suffered their first fatalities of the war. This was also the first American victory of the war, as it forced the British to abandon their efforts to seize colonial munitions and retreat back to Boston.

The major landmark here at the battlefield was the North Bridge, which crosses the Concord River about a half mile north of downtown Concord. Prior to the battle, the British forces controlled both sides of the bridge, but they ultimately retreated to the east side, here in the foreground of the photo, as a larger colonial force approached from the west. By the time they exchanged fire, the redcoats were standing here on the east bank, while the militiamen were across the river on the west bank.

The original North Bridge was removed in 1788, and it was replaced by a new bridge that stood here until 1793, when the road leading to the bridge was rerouted. For most of the 19th century, there was no bridge here, and the only significant marker on the battlefield was this obelisk, which was installed in 1836 here on the east side of the river. It was dedicated a year later, on July 4, 1837, and the ceremony is best known for the poem “Concord Hymn,” which was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson and sung here during the event. Emerson, who had not yet achieved widespread literary fame at this point, was the grandson of the late William Emerson, the town minister who had witnessed the battle from his nearby house. The poem is particularly remembered for its opening stanza, in which Emerson describes the farmers-turned-soldiers firing “the shot heard round the world” here at the the bridge.

The bridge itself was not replaced until 1874, when a new one was constructed as part of the 100th anniversary celebration of the battle. This also coincided with the dedication of a new monument on the other side of the river, located just out of view beyond the trees on the left side of both photos. Known as The Minute Man, it was designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French, it has since become one of the major symbols of the American Revolution, with its image forms the basis for the United States National Guard logo.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, the 1874 bridge had been destroyed and replaced by a new one that was completed in 1888. This one was destroyed in 1909, and a new one was constructed later in the year. The current bridge here was built in 1956, and underwent extensive restoration in 2005. Unlike the earlier bridges, it is intended to be a replica of the original bridge that stood here during the battle.

Today, this area is now part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, a largely linear park that stretches along the route that the British took from Lexington to Concord and back. As a result, the Concord battlefield has remained well-preserved in its colonial-era appearance, with few changes in more than a century since the first photo was taken. The neighboring Old Manse, where William Emerson and his family watched the battle, has also been preserved, and it stands directly behind the spot where this photo was taken.

Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass (1)

The Old North Bridge over the Concord River, with the memorial obelisk in the foreground, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This view shows the scene looking west across the Concord River, at the site of the Battle of Concord, which occurred on April 19, 1775. Along with a brief skirmish in Lexington earlier on the same day, this battle marked the beginning of the American Revolution, and the site is now marked by several monuments and a replica of the original Old North Bridge that stood here at the time of the battle.

The battle was the result of a British attempt to seize colonial munitions that were stored in Concord. Late on the previous night, a force of some 700 British soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith had left Boston, bound for Concord. This prompted Paul Revere and several other messengers to make their famous midnight ride, warning the minutemen in the surrounding towns. By dawn, the British had reached Lexington, where a group of minutemen had assembled on the Lexington Green. The two sides exchanged fire, the first shots of the war, and the result was eight colonists dead and ten wounded, compared to one British soldier who received a minor wound.

From Lexington, the British continued on their way to Concord, where they began searching for the hidden supplies. Three of the companies ended up here at the North Bridge, which they guarded while other soldiers continued to search. However, by this point the colonial militiamen had begun assembling in a field on the west side of the bridge, visible in the distance on the right side of this scene. This led the outnumbered British to withdraw across the bridge to the east side of the river, here in the foreground. They briefly attempted to tear up the planks of the bridge, but they soon abandoned this effort.

The colonial forces, under the command of Colonel John Barrett, advanced on the bridge from the west, although they were under orders to not fire unless fired upon. Captain Walter Laurie, who commanded the British forces here at the bridge, never gave an order to fire, but some of his men opened fire, killing two militiamen. This prompted the colonists, who were by this point positioned on the west bank of the river, to return fire. In the process, three British soldiers were killed, nine were wounded, and the rest of them began retreating back to the center of Concord. The entire battle took less than three minutes, but it marked the first victory of any kind for the colonists during the war, and the first British fatalities of the war.

This battle would prove to be the only military engagement in Concord during the war, and within less than a year the British forces had evacuated Boston, never again to return to Massachusetts. Here in Concord, life steadily returned to normal after the war, and in 1788 the original North Bridge was demolished and replaced with a new one, evidently without much regard to its historic significance. However, this new bridge did not last very long; it was removed in 1793 when the nearby roads were rerouted.

With the bridge gone, and the old road becoming pastureland, there was little visual evidence of the battle that had occurred here. Probably the first major celebration here at this site came in 1824, on the 49th anniversary of the battle. The event was marked by a parade to the battlefield, and a speech that was delivered here by Ezra Ripley, the pastor of the First Parish Church. He lived right next to here, in a house that later became known as the Old Manse, and his wife Phebe had witnessed the battle from the house, back when she lived here with her first husband, William Emerson.

Despite this celebration, though, it would be more than a decade before the site of the battle was marked by a permanent monument. In 1835, Ezra Ripley donated some of his property here at the spot where the bridge had once stood, and the following year an obelisk, shown here in these two photos, was added to the site. It stood 25 feet in height, and it was designed by Solomon Willard, whose other works included the much larger Bunker Hill Monument in Boston. It was mostly comprised of granite, with the exception of a marble slab here on the eastern face, which reads:

Here on the 19 of April, 1775, was made the first forcible resistance to British aggression. On the opposite Bank stood the American Militia. Here stood the Invading Army and on this spot the first of the Enemy fell in the War of that Revolution which gave Independence to these United States. In gratitude to God and In the love of Freedom this Monument was erected AD. 1836.

The monument was formally dedicated on July 4, 1837, with a ceremony that included a keynote speech by Congressman Samuel Hoar. However, the event is best remembered for “Concord Hymn,” a poem that was sung here. It was written for the occasion by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the grandson of William Emerson, and it was among his earliest notable literary works. Although he would later be known primarily as an essayist and founder of the Transcendentalism movement, the poem remains perhaps his single best-known work, particularly the opening stanza:

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.

At the time, there was still no bridge here, and it would be several more decades before one was finally reconstructed. This ultimately occurred in 1874, in advance of the 100th anniversary of the battle. As part of this project, a new bridge was designed and a new monument was dedicated on the west side of the river, marking the militiamen’s position during the battle. This monument, visible in the distance of both photos, features a bronze statue designed by noted sculptor Daniel Chester French. Known as The Minute Man, it consists of a colonial militiaman leaving behind a plow and carrying a musket, representing the farmers who came to the defense of their country. Beneath the statue is a pedestal, designed by James Elliot Cabot, with the first stanza of Emerson’s poem inscribed on it.

The 1874 bridge was destroyed in a storm in 1888, and it was subsequently rebuilt. This bridge, which is shown in the first photo, stood here until 1909, when it too was destroyed. The next bridge here was a concrete structure, completed later in 1909, and it survived until 1955 before being severely damaged by a flood. Its replacement, which was built in 1956, is still standing today, although it underwent a major restoration in 2005. Unlike the earlier bridges, it is a replica of the original one, and it has remained here at this site for longer than any of its predecessors.

In 1959, the bridge, the monuments, and the surrounding battlefield became part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, which encompasses a number of historic sites relating to the battles of Lexington and Concord. The park gained significant attention during the American bicentennial celebrations, and in 1975 President Gerald Ford gave a speech here at the bridge to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle. Today, under the administration of the National Park Service, this scene has remained well-preserved, with few significant changes since the first photo was taken more than a century ago. The site of the battle continues to be a major tourist destination, and the park as a whole draws upwards of a million visitors each year to Lexington and Concord.

Old Manse, Concord, Mass (2)

The view of the Old Manse facing the southeast corner of the house, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, the Old Manse is an important historic landmark in Concord, with connections to the American Revolution and to two of the most important 19th century American writers. It was built in 1770 as the home of William Emerson, the pastor of the First Parish Church. Only five years later, the American Revolution started quite literally in his backyard, when the Battle of Concord was fought at Old North Bridge, which was located just 150 yards behind the house. Emerson subsequently joined the Continental Army as a chaplain, although he fell ill and died in 1776 while serving in the army. However, the house remained in his family for many years, and its later residents included his grandson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lived here for about a year from 1834 to 1835.

In the meantime, William Emerson’s widow Phebe remarried in 1780 to Ezra Ripley, who had become the new pastor of the church after Emerson’s death. Phebe died in 1825, but Ezra lived here until his death in 1841, and his son Samuel then inherited the property. For several years, Samuel rented the house to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his newlywed wife Sophia. They lived here from 1842 to 1845, and during this time Hawthorne wrote Mosses from an Old Manse, a collection of short stories that was published in 1846 and named for this house. However, by 1845 Samuel Ripley decided to return here to live in his childhood home, and the Hawthornes subsequently relocated to Salem.

Samuel Ripley died less than two years later in 1847, but his widow Sarah continued to live here. After her death in 1867, her daughter Sophia Thayer inherited it, and she still owned it when the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century. The photo shows the southeast view of the house, revealing its elegant Georgian-style architecture with its large gambrel roof. The Old North Bridge over the Concord River is located just beyond the house, although it is hidden from view by the trees in the distance.

By the early 20th century, the Old Manse was used primarily as a summer residence, and after Sophia’s death in 1914 the property went to her daughter, Sarah Ames, the wife of Boston architect John Worthington Ames. She owned it until her death in 1939, and her husband subsequently sold the house and its contents to the Trustees of Reservations. This organization, which focuses on historic preservation and land conservation, owns a number of historic properties throughout Massachusetts, although the Old Manse is perhaps one of its most important ones. More than 80 years later, the Trustees still own the house, which is open to the public for guided tours. During this time, the house has remained well-preserved, and there are few differences between these two photos aside from the large tree on the right side, which hides much of the house in the present-day view.

Old Manse, Concord, Mass (1)

The Old Manse on Monument Street in Concord, around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

The Old Manse is one of the most important historic buildings in Concord, with connections to the American Revolution and to two of the most important authors in 19th century America. It dates back to 1770, when it was constructed as the manse, or parsonage, for the First Parish Church. The church itself was located in downtown Concord, while the Old Manse is about three-quarters of a mile north of there, along the banks of the Concord River and adjacent to the Old North Bridge.

The first pastor to live here in this house was William Emerson, the grandfather of future Transcendentalist author Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was about 27 years old at the time, and he had served in the church since 1766. It was during his pastorate that, in October 1774, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress met in his church after the British authorities had formally disbanded the colonial legislature. The delegates, who were presided over by John Hancock, continued to meet anyway, and during their time in Concord Emerson served as the chaplain of the congress.

Within six months, Concord was again at the center of revolutionary activity when, on April 19, 1775, British forces left Boston to search for hidden caches of munitions in Concord. After a brief skirmish in nearby Lexington, which marked the beginning of the American Revolution, the British arrived in Concord, where they began searching the town. They ended up at the Old North Bridge, which was quite literally in Emerson’s backyard, just beyond the trees on the far right side of this scene, about 150 yards from the house. It was here that the redcoats engaged with the local militia forces, and where the famous “Shot heard round the world”—as Emerson’s famous grandson later termed it—was fired.

Reverend Emerson and his family witnessed the battle from the house, although he was not directly involved in the fighting. However, he subsequently joined the Continental Army as a chaplain, and he is generally considered to have been the army’s first such chaplain. He traveled north to Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York during the summer of 1776, but he subsequently fell ill and died in Rutland, Vermont on October 20, at the age of 33.

His death left his widow Phebe with five young children to care for, including a newborn daughter. She subsequently remarried in 1780 to Ezra Ripley, who had succeeded her late husband as pastor of the church. This was not an uncommon practice for young pastors to marry the widows of their predecessors, although there was a bit of an age difference here, as Ezra was ten years younger than Phebe. The couple had three more children together, and they continued to live here at the Old Manse for the rest of their lives. Phebe died in 1825 at the age of 83, and Ezra continued to serve as pastor of the church until his death in 1841 at the age of 90, for a total of 63 years in the pulpit.

In the meantime, Phebe’s eldest son, William Jr., followed his father into the ministry, graduating from Harvard in 1789 and eventually becoming pastor of the First Church in Boston. Like his father, though, he also had a short life, dying in 1811 at the age of 42. His son, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was seven years old at the time, coincidentally the same age that William had been when his father died in 1776. Ralph would continue the family tradition by attending Harvard and becoming a pastor, serving in Boston’s Second Church starting in 1829. However, his young wife Ellen died two years later from tuberculosis, causing a crisis in faith that led him to resign from his position in 1832.

In 1834, when he was about 31 years old, Ralph Waldo Emerson moved into the Old Manse, where he lived for about a year with his elderly step-grandfather. Although he was not yet a published author, Emerson did some writing while he lived here, including working on his famous essay “Nature,” which was published in 1836. During this time, he also became engaged to his second wife, Lidian Jackson. They married in 1835, and they subsequently moved into their own house, which still stands at 18 Cambridge Turnpike in Concord.

After Ezra Ripley died in 1841, his son Samuel inherited the property. He was also a pastor, serving in Waltham, Massachusetts, but starting in 1842 he rented this house to newlyweds Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne. At the time, Nathaniel Hawthorne was about 38 years old, and he had enjoyed only moderate success as a writer. However, during his time here in Concord he continued to write, and in 1846 he published Mosses from an Old Manse, a collection of short stories that were, for the most part, written here in the house. The title of the book also provided the name for the house, which continues to be known as the Old Manse today.

Aside from writing a number of short stories here, Hawthorne also took inspiration from a tragedy that occurred in 1845, when 19-year-old Martha Hunt drowned herself in the Concord River near the house. He was part of the search party that recovered her body, and he later incorporated the incident into his 1852 novel The Blithedale Romance. In the book, one of the main characters, Zenobia, meets an identical fate, and Hawthorne provides a lengthy description of the search and the discovery of her body, which is described as “the marble image of a death-agony.”

In the three years that the Hawthornes lived in the Old Manse, they had several notable visitors, including future president Franklin Pierce, who came here in the spring of 1845. He and Hawthorne had been classmates at Bowdoin College, and they would remain lifelong friends. Several years later, in 1852, Hawthorne would publish a campaign biography of Pierce, using both his name recognition and literary talents to promote Pierce, who had earned the Democratic nomination for president. Pierce ended up winning the election, perhaps in part because of Hawthorne’s efforts, but his presidency ultimately failed to live up to the abilities that his friend had described in the biography.

In 1845, Samuel Ripley was looking to return to this house and live here, so by the end of the year the Hawthornes had relocated to Salem. They subsequently lived in Lenox before returning to Concord in 1852, purchasing The Wayside on Lexington Road. In the meantime, Samuel Ripley resided here at the Old Manse for only a few years before his death in 1847. However, his widow Sarah continued to live here for another 20 years. She was a noted scholar who, in the days before widespread higher education for women, had been almost entirely self-taught. She was an expert in a wide range of subjects, and over the years she tutored a number of college students, including a young Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Sarah Ripley died in 1867, but the house remained in her family for several more generations. Her daughter Sophia Thayer inherited the property, and after her death in 1914 it went to her daughter, Sarah Ames. During the early 20th century, the house was used primarily as a summer residence, and Sarah Ames owned it until her death in 1939. Her husband, architect John Worthington Ames, then sold the property to the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit organization that focuses on historic preservation and land conservation.

The first photo was taken sometime around the 1890s, during Sophia Thayer’s ownership. Very little has changed in more than 120 years since then, and in both photos the front view of the house is largely obscured by the trees on either side of the long driveway. Today, the Old Manse continues to be owned by the Trustees of Reservations, and it is open to the public for guided tours. Much of the surrounding area, including the battlefield site at the Old North Bridge, has also been preserved as part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, which was established in 1959 and is administered by the National Park Service.