In 1770, the Reverend William Emerson completed construction on the Old Manse, a modest two-and-a-half-story clapboard house near the bucolic banks of Massachusetts’s Concord River. Just five years later on April 19, 1775, the Battle of Lexington and Concord—the first official military conflict of the American Revolution—erupted but half a mile away from the Old Manse on the North Bridge, which can still be seen from the house’s top floors.
The Battle of Lexington and Concord was infamously ignited by a single gunshot—“the shot heard ‘round the world,” as was described by Reverend Emerson’s grandson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1847. The poet was well acquainted with the Old Manse since childhood, and he even called it home as an adult for a time; it was in the upstairs study that Emerson drafted his seminal essay entitled “Nature.” The tiny tome, published in 1836, marked Emerson’s first musings on Transcendentalism, a once-popular philosophical movement advocating for the divinity of nature, reason, equality, and freedom of the individual.
Emerson’s placement in Concord beckoned a group of like-minded intellectuals, who respectively took inspiration from the area’s idyllic scenery. The American essayist and fellow Transcendentalist philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, was one of many notable visitors to the Old Manse. And when the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne moved in with his new bride Sophia in 1842, Thoreau surprised the newlyweds with an heirloom vegetable garden he planted for them in front of the house. The garden received an honorary mention in the preface of Hawthorne’s Mosses to an Old Manse (1844), and a recreated version of the garden greets modern-day visitors as an homage to Thoreau’s gift.
The Hawthornes lived at the Old Manse for the next three years, and the poems they etched into the window panes for one another have survived the centuries. Sophia even used her engagement ring to carve her name into the glass.
The Old Manse was eventually acquired by the Massachusetts-based conservation organization The Trustees in 1939, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s. The Trustees have preserved the house’s façade and interior, and added a shop that sells books about the history of the Old Manse, the American Revolution, 19th-century American writers, and American Transcendentalism.