Brown Block and Elks Block, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The buildings at the northeast corner of the Square in Bellows Falls, around 1890-1905. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, downtown Bellows Falls suffered a series of devastating fires, many of which were located here at the Square. Many large brick buildings here, including the nearby Hotel Windham and the town hall on the other side of the street, have burned over the years. Ironically, though, the three wood-frame buildings visible in this scene have survived these fires, and they are still standing at the northeast corner of the Square, well over a century after they were built.

On the far left is the corner of a three-story commercial block that was built around 1820 and extensively modified in 1890. By the turn of the 20th century, around the time that the first photo was taken, it was the home of Baldasaro’s Fruit Market. Just to the right of this building is the Exner Block, which is partially visible in this scene at 7-25 Canal Street. Built around the mid-19th century, it originally had two stories as shown in the first photo, but in 1905-1907 it altered and expanded to its current appearance.

The third wood-frame building here is the Brown Block, which occupies most of the left side of these photos. It was built in 1890 at 1-5 Canal Street, and it was originally owned by Amos Brown. It features distinctive Queen Anne-style architecture, which is uncommon for commercial buildings in Bellows Falls, including a turret on the right side of the building.

The Brown Block was heavily damaged by a fire that occurred here in the early morning hours of Christmas 1906. At the time, the building was occupied by a number of commercial tenants, including a fruit store, bakery, lunch room, a boot and shoe store, a cigar shop and restaurant, and a barber shop. In addition, there were several residents living in apartments on the upper floors. The fire gutted the Brown Block, but there was no loss of life, and the building was ultimately repaired.

Just to the right of the Brown Block is the Elks Block, which was built in the late 1880s or 1890s. By the time the first photo was taken it had a variety of tenants, as shown by the assortment of signs on the front of the building. These included a restaurant, a boot and shoe store, a drugstore, and a photographic studio. However, like its neighbor, this building would also be damaged by a fire. It was one of several buildings that burned on March 26, 1912, in the same fire that also destroyed the Hotel Windham. The building was gutted and the roof was destroyed, but it was subsequently rebuilt.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, this scene still looks largely the same. The exterior of the Brown Block is particularly well-preserved, and even the ground-floor storefront has retained its original appearance. The two lower floors of the Elks Block also look the same today, although the ornate cornice at the top of the building is gone, having been replaced after the 1912 fire. The exterior of the third floor was also probably rebuilt after the fire, which would explain why the bricks are a different shade than the lower floors. Aside from the Brown Block and Elks Block, the other two buildings in this scene are also still standing today, and all four properties are now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Railroad Station, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The railroad station on Depot Street in Bellows Falls, around the late 1800s. Image courtesy of the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

The village of Bellows Falls, which is located within the town of Rockingham, developed into an important transportation crossroads during the late 18th century. Here, the Connecticut River drops 52 feet as it passes through a narrow gorge. This was an impediment to river navigation, requiring a canal here to bypass the falls, but the width of the gorge also made it an idea spot for a bridge. For most of the 18th century, there were no bridges over the Connecticut River at any point along its 400-mile course, but the first opened here at Bellows Falls in 1785. This made it easier to travel between Vermont and New Hampshire, and it was an important link on the trade routes from Boston to Montreal.

With the development of railroads during the first half of the 19th century, Bellows Falls became the junction of several different railroads. The first to arrive were the Sullivan County Railroad and the Cheshire Railroad, which opened in 1849. At the time, though, there was no railroad bridge across the river, so passengers bound for Bellows Falls had to disembark across the river in Walpole, New Hampshire and cross the covered bridge on foot. Later in 1849, the Rutland and Burlington Railroad was opened to Bellows Falls, followed in 1851 by the Vermont Valley Railroad.

The first railroad station here in Bellows Falls was built on this site, on a triangular plot of land just south of where the four railroads converge. The railroads formed an “X” here, with the Vermont Valley Railroad heading southwest, on the far left side of the scene; the Cheshire Railroad heading southeast, on the far right side; the Sullivan County Railroad to the northeast; and the Rutland and Burlington Railroad to the northwest. This original station was used for a few years, but around 1852 it was replaced by a more substantial brick building, which is shown here in the center of the first photo.

Over the years, these various small railroads were eventually consolidated into much larger ones through a series of mergers and leases. By the 1870s, all but the Cheshire Railroad were controlled by the Central Vermont Railroad, although the Central Vermont subsequently leased the Sullivan County and Vermont Valley to the Boston & Maine Railroad by the early 1880s, and ended its own lease on the Rutland Railroad in 1896. Then, in 1900, the Boston & Maine acquired the Cheshire, which gave them control over most of the rail traffic in Bellows Falls. However, the Central Vermont retained trackage rights through Bellows Falls, and continued to operate trains here.

At some point around the turn of the 20th century, the railroad station was evidently remodeled, as period postcards show it with a very different roof than the one in the first photo. However, the old station remained in use until 1921, when it was destroyed by a fire on a cold December night. The fire started in the restaurant kitchen, and within a half hour the building was gone, thanks in part to the interior wood paneling that helped to fuel the flames. In addition, the responding firefighters had to contend with sub-zero temperatures and 60-mile-per-hour winds. One of the nearby hydrants was completely frozen, and by the time they were able to get water flowing from another hydrant it was of little use; there was no saving the station at that point, and, in any case, the strong winds only blew the water back toward the firefighters.

The present-day railroad station was completed on the same site in 1923, although it is a much more modest building than its predecessor, with only one story topped by a very low roof. It continued to be used by passengers throughout the next few decades, but inter-city rail travel saw a steep decline across the country after World War II. With more travelers preferring automobiles or airplanes, railroads steadily shrank their passenger service. The last privately-run passenger train that stopped here in Bellows Falls was the Montrealer, which ceased in 1966. However, the service was subsequently revived after Amtrak was created, and the Montrealer returned to Bellows Falls again in 1972.

Today, nearly a century after this building opened, it remains in use as a railroad station, although there is far less passenger traffic than there had been here in the 1920s. The Montrealer was eventually replaced by Amtrak’s Vermonter, which runs one northbound and one southbound train each day between St. Albans, Vermont and Washington, D.C. These two daily trains are the extent of passenger rail service in Bellows Falls today, but the historic station still stands here as reminder of the village’s railroad legacy. Another historic building here is the Railway Express Agency building, on the far right side of the scene. Built around 1880, it is the only surviving building from the first photo, and both it and the railroad station are now part of the Bellows Falls Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Old North Bridge, Concord, Mass (4)

The view looking east across the Old North Bridge in Concord, around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Old North Bridge was discussed in more detail in an earlier post, which shows the view looking west across the bridge. However, this view shows the opposite side of the bridge, facing east from directly in front of the famous statue The Minute Man. The bridge was the site of the Battle of Concord, which occurred on April 19, 1775, only a few hours after the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in a skirmish in nearby Lexington.

Although the Battle of Lexington came first, it was almost entirely one-sided, and the British continued their march to Concord with only a single wounded soldier, compared to eight dead and ten wounded militiamen. As a result, it was here in Concord that the British first encountered significant resistance from the colonists. Prior to the battle, the British had secured the bridge during their search for hidden military supplies. However, as the colonial militiamen began assembling on the west side of the river, the outnumbered redcoats withdrew to the east bank, where the monument stands in the distance of this scene.

When the battle began, the militiamen were approaching the bridge from approximately where these photos were taken. At this point, some of the British soldiers began opening fire, evidently under the mistaken impression that their commanding officer had given the order. Two militiamen at the head of the line, Private Abner Hosmer and Captain Isaac Davis, were killed, but the colonists did not break ranks. Instead, they returned fire with a devastating volley that killed three redcoats and wounded nine more. This came to be known as “The shot heard round the world,” and it was the first time that American colonists killed British soldiers in battle. It also forced the British to retreat, marking the first American victory of the war.

The original bridge here across the Concord River was removed several years after the end of the war, and the roads were rerouted to a new bridge nearby. As a result, for many years there was little evidence of the brief but momentous battle that was fought here. The first memorial here on the battlefield was the obelisk in the distance of this scene, which was installed in 1836 and dedicated a year later. At the time, there was still no bridge here, so the monument was placed on the east bank, where it was more reality accessible from the center of town. A new bridge would not be constructed until 1874, in advance of the battle’s centennial celebration. As part of the centennial, the statue The Minute Man was dedicated here on the west side, marking the colonial position during the battle.

By the time the first photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, the bridge had been replaced again after the 1874 one was destroyed in a flood. This one was, in turn, destroyed in a 1909 flood, and its replacement was a concrete bridge that was designed to resemble the original one. However, it sustained heavy damage in a flood in 1955, and it was subsequently replaced by the current one, which is a wooden replica of the original. Aside from the bridge, though, this scene has remained well-preserved, with few changes since the first photo was taken, and the battlefield is now part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, which was established in 1959.

Jonathan Harrington House, Lexington, Mass

The house at the corner of Harrington Road and Bedford Street in Lexington, around 1896-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

This house was built sometime around the first half of the 18th century, although it has been altered over the years. It stands at the northern end of the triangular Lexington Common, and it is most famous for having been the home of Jonathan Harrington, one of the eight Lexington militiamen who were killed in the opening shots of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775.

At the time of the battle, Harrington was about 30 years old, and lived here in this house with his wife Ruth and their son Jonathan. Just after dawn on April 19, Harrington and about 80 other militiamen assembled on the Common, less than a hundred yards directly in front of his house. Here, they confronted a much larger force of British redcoats who were on their way to Concord to seize supplies of colonial munitions. A standoff ensued until someone fired a shot on or near the Common, resulting in both sides opening fire.

The ensuing skirmish marked the beginning of the American Revolution, although it was largely one-sided. It failed to stop the British advance, and only one redcoat was wounded, compared to eight dead militiamen and ten who were wounded. Of the fatalities, Jonathan Harrington is perhaps the best-known. According to tradition, he was mortally wounded during the battle, but he managed to crawl back here to his house, where he died in his wife’s arms on the doorstep.

Subsequent owners of this house included John Augustus, a shoemaker who lived here during the 1820s. He eventually moved to Boston in 1827, where he continued his career as a shoemaker. However, he is remembered today for his role in criminal justice reform when, in 1841, he began bailing criminals out of jail and taking them under his care, including finding employment for them. This eventually led to the establishment of probation as an alternative to incarceration in Boston, and the practice later spread throughout the state and the rest of the country.

Later in the 19th century, the house was owned by James Gould, and it remained in his family until at least the early 1890s. By the end of the decade, though, it was owned by Dr. Bertha C. Downing, a physician who had her practice here in the house. A native of Kennebunkport, Maine, Dr. Downing attended public school in Boston before graduating from Radcliffe College and the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. The 1899 town directory shows her living in this house, and her office hours were listed as being from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The first photo was taken at some point during her time here, as the sign above the two front windows on the left has her name on it.

Dr. Downing moved out of here by 1902, and in 1910 the house underwent a major renovation that ostensibly “restored” it to its colonial-era appearance. The owner at the time was Leroy S. Brown, and he hired local architect Willard D. Brown (evidently no close relation) for the project. Part of the work involved removing the wing on the right side of the house, which does not appear to have been original anyway, along with the replacement of the large central chimney with two smaller ones. Other less significant changes included the addition of a pediment above the front door, as shown in the present-day scene.

In retrospect, this restoration probably did more harm to the historic character of the house than if it had simply been left alone, but it did help to ensure its long-term preservation. Today, despite the early 20th century alterations, the house still stands as an important landmark in the center of Lexington. It is one of several surviving buildings on the Common that date back to the famous battle, and the house features two signs that attest to its historic significance. The one on the right tells the story of Jonathan Harrington’s death, while the one on the left identifies the building as having been the home of John Augustus.

The Wayside, Concord, Mass

The Wayside, at 455 Lexington Road in Concord, around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

This house is best known for having been the home of three different notable authors during the 19th century, although the house itself is actually much older than that. It has been heavily altered over the years, but it dates back to at least 1717, when owner Caleb Ball sold the property to glazier Samuel Fletcher. It changed hands several more times during the first half of the 18th century, and during this time its owners included housewright Nathaniel Coleburn, who lived here from 1723 to 1730 and 1740 to 1747, and cordwainer John Breed, who lived here from 1747 to 1769.

In 1769, Breed sold the property to Samuel Whitney. He was involved in the Patriot cause in the years leading up to to  the American Revolution, including serving as a delegate to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, which met in Concord in October 1774. He was also the muster master for the Concord minutemen, and in early 1775 he stored a cache of ammunition here on the property. The British redcoats, who had come to Concord to seize colonial military supplies on April 19, marched right past the house both before and after the Battle of Concord, although they evidently did not search Whitney’s house or outbuildings.

The Massachusetts colonial government was not the only institution that ended up in Concord because of the Revolution. From 1775 to 1776, the Continental Army laid siege to British-occupied Boston, and many of the soldiers were stationed in Cambridge. Around 1,600 were housed at Harvard, requiring the college to relocate to Concord during the 1775-1776 school year. Here in Concord, classes were held in the meetinghouse, the courthouse, and a schoolhouse, and students and faculty boarded at various locations throughout the town. This house became the residence of John Winthrop, a noted scientist who held the Hollis Chair of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard from 1737 to 1779.

In 1778, Samuel Whitney sold the house to Daniel Taylor, who in turn told it to Daniel Hoar two months later. He was a farmer, and he lived here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1814. His son, Daniel Hoar Jr., then inherited the property, which remained in the Hoar family until 1827. The house subsequently went through several more owners, and in 1845 it became the home of Amos Bronson Alcott, his wife Abigail, and their four daughters: Anna, Louisa, Elizabeth, and Abigail.

Bronson Alcott, as he was generally known, was a noted writer and philosopher who was associated with the Transcendentalist movement. A few years before moving here, he had been the founder of Fruitlands, a short-lived utopian commune in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts. This effort ultimately failed after just seven months, in part because of poor agricultural practices and strict dietary rules that prohibited all animal products and even some vegetables. The Alcotts subsequently relocated to Concord in 1844, where they lived with a friend for a short time before moving into this house.

Although Bronson Alcott was a noted figure in his own right, his fame was eclipsed by that of his second daughter, Louisa May Alcott. She was 12 years old when the family moved here, and they lived here for a little over three years before moving to Boston in 1848. However, despite her relatively short stay here, these were formative years for Louisa, and many of her experiences here were later incorporated into her best-known work, Little Women, a largely autobiographical novel that was published in 1868 and 1869.

In the three years that they lived here, the Alcotts made a number of changes to the property. Bronson did extensive landscaping work, in particular the creation of terraces on the hillside behind the house. He planted these with a variety of flowers and trees, and he grew fruits, vegetables, and grains here in order to accommodate his vegan diet. The family also made changes to the house itself, which they named Hillside. This work included the addition of two new bedrooms for Louisa and her older sister Anna. During this time, the family was also involved in the Underground Railroad, and they are believed to have sheltered at least a few runaway slaves here in the house.

In 1848, the Alcotts moved to Boston, although they would eventually return to Concord in 1857. A year later they purchased Orchard House, located immediately to the west of this house on Lexington Road. It would remain in the family for more than 25 years, and Louisa lived there for most of her literary career. In the meantime, though, their former home here was sold to another prominent author, Nathaniel Hawthorne. He had previously lived in various places throughout his adult life, including several years in Concord at the Old Manse, but this was the only house that he ever owned.

Hawthorne moved into this house in 1852, along with his wife Sophia and their three children, Una, Julian, and Rose, whose ages ranged from one to eight. When he had left Concord in 1845, Hawthorne was still a relatively unknown author who struggled to make ends meet. He subsequently lived in Salem, where he worked as surveyor at the Custom House for several years, before moving to Lenox in the Berkshires. However, by the time he returned to Concord to live here in this house, he was a well-established author, thanks to the recent publications of The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of the Seven Gables (1851), and The Blithedale Romance (1852).

Also in 1852, Hawthorne published a campaign biography of Franklin Pierce. The two men had been friends since their time at Bowdoin College, and Hawthorne helped Pierce’s presidential campaign by lending him both his name and literary talents to write the biography. It was evidently successful, because Pierce won the election and was inaugurated in 1853. Pierce then rewarded his friend by appointing him as the United States consul in Liverpool, a prestigious diplomatic post that Hawthorne held for the next four years until the end of Pierce’s presidency.

As a result of this appointment, the Hawthornes only lived here for a little over a year before moving overseas, and they would not return here until 1860, after an extended tour of Europe. Hawthorne would continue to reside here for the last four years of his life, until his death in 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire, while on a trip through the White Mountains with ex-President Pierce. His widow Sophia remained here in Concord until 1868, when she and her children moved to England. She ultimately sold the house in 1870, a year before her own death.

Although Hawthorne lived in this house for a relatively short period of time, he made some substantial alterations to the house. Upon returning from Europe, he added a third-story tower to the rear of the house, which became his study. Other changes included the addition of a bedroom above the wing on the left side, and a bay window where the front door had originally been. During his ownership, he also changed the name of the house, from Hillside to The Wayside.

In the 1870s, after Sophia Hawthorne sold the property, it was owned by Mary C. Pratt, who operated the Wayside School for Young Ladies out of the house. Her neighbor Bronson Alcott, who was still alive and approaching 80, was a frequent visitor here during this time. He often lectured at the school, and he also gave tours of the grounds, telling stories to visitors about Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The school ultimately closed in 1879, and that same year the house returned to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s family when it was purchased by his daughter Rose and her husband, George P. Lathrop. They resided here intermittently for the next four years, and during one of their absences Rose’s brother Julian lived here with his family. George was the editor of the Boston Courier newspaper, and he also wrote several novels, although his works never received the same attention as those of his famous father-in-law. Rose would later go on to have success in a completely different field. After George’s death in 1898, she founded a Catholic religious order, the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, and became Mother Mary Alphonsa.

In 1883, the Lathrops sold the house to Boston publisher Daniel Lothrop and his wife Harriett. As with so many of the previous residents of this house, Harriet was an accomplished writer. She was best known for The Five Little Peppers, a children’s book series that was published by her husband’s company starting in 1881, under the pen name Margaret Sidney. She eventually took over the operation of the publishing company after Daniel’s death in 1892, and she continued writing children’s books into the 1910s.

The Lothrops had one child, Margaret, who was born here at The Wayside in 1884. Both George and Harriett were interested in literature and historic preservation, and they recognized the historical significance of their house. Margaret grew up with a similar appreciation, and she eventually inherited the property after her mother’s death in 1924. At the time, she was an economics professor at Stanford University, but she arranged to have the house preserved and open to the public for tours starting in 1928. She eventually returned to Concord in 1932, residing here at The Wayside while also organizing the tours of the house during the summer months.

Margaret’s goal was to sell the house to an organization that would preserve it for the future. She even wrote a book, The Wayside: Home of Authors, about the history of the house. It was published in 1940, and she hoped that it would generate interest in the property, but no prospective buyers came forward. She ultimately lived here for the next 25 years after writing the book, and she continued to give tours and conduct research throughout this time.

In 1963, she successfully lobbied for the house to be declared a National Historic Landmark, the highest level of federal recognition for a historic site. Two years later, she finally found a buyer in the National Park Service, and in 1965 the house became part of the recently-established Minute Man National Historical Park. The house has remained a part of the park ever since, and it is still open to the public, nearly a century after Margaret Lothrop first opened her house for tours.

The first photo in this post was taken sometime around the 1890s, during George and Harriett Lothrop’s ownership. Thanks in large part to their daughter’s efforts, the exterior has remained well-preserved since then. The shutters are gone, and there have been some changes to the wing on the right side, but otherwise the house hardly looks any different from this view.

Overall, the only other significant difference between the two photos is the front lawn, which was once shaded by two large trees that probably dated back to Hawthorne’s time. Both the elm on the left and the pine tree on the right are long gone, perhaps as a result of the 1938 hurricane or, in the case of the elm, to Dutch Elm Disease. However, there is at least one tree still standing from the first photo. On the left side of the house, in front of the porch, is a hawthorn tree that was, appropriately enough, planted by Nathaniel Hawthorne during his residence here. Despite its unassuming size, it is now more than 150 years old, and it survives today as a living reminder of the home’s famous occupant.

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.