The Homes of Hawthorne in Concord

Once upon a time in the small historic town of Concord, Massachusetts, there lived a budding American author named Nathaniel Hawthorne and his new bride, Sophia Peabody. Oh. Wait.  Make that twice upon a time as the author of The House of the Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter actually made his residence in Concord on two separate occasions.  On July 9th, 1842 the newly married Nathaniel and Sophia moved into The Old Manse where they lived for three years and then ten years later they returned to Concord with their three children and took up residence at The Wayside - the only house that Nathaniel ever owned.

Luckily for historic day-trippers from the Hawthorne Hotel, both Concord homes have been preserved and are open for tours providing a chance for the public to view the homes where, not just the Hawthornes, but other historic literary figures lived.

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As Nathaniel did in life, let's start with The Old Manse, shall we?

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Long before newlyweds Nathaniel and Sophia moved in, the Manse was the home of Reverend William Emerson, grandfather of Concord's most famous resident - Ralph Waldo Emerson - and his wife Phebe Bliss. Constructed in 1770 on a 22-acre parcel of land, the Georgian-style clapboard house was built to Phebe's specifications among rolling fields edged by centuries-old stone walls near the banks of the Concord River.

Reverend William Emerson had been ordained as Concord's minister in 1765 and in 1766 he married the daughter of his predecessor, Reverend Daniel Bliss. William and his wife Phebe built the house, barn, and outbuildings while renewing the fields and orchards on their property. Built with little "box-like rooms", the house was more comfortable and warm than the large house Phebe had grown up in with its' barn-like proportions and was deemed the ideal place to raise their five children.

Over the course of the next century, the Manse would become the center of Concord’s political, literary, and social revolutions but on April 19th, 1775, as Reverend Emerson observed from his farm fields and his wife and children watched from the upstairs windows of the house, the Manse was witness to the birth of the American Revolution and "the shot heard round the world" as British troops and Colonial militia faced off at the nearby North Bridge.

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A fiery preacher, known as much for his political sermons as for his religious ones, William had been very much in favor of the coming conflict and in 1776, he joined the Continental Army as a chaplain and left for Fort Ticonderoga in August, just ten days after the birth of his fifth child, Rebecca. Shortly after arriving at the fort on Lake Champlain, he fell ill with dysentery and was granted a medical discharge but on the way home, he died and was buried in West Rutland, Vermont. Upon William's death, Phebe was left on her own with a house, a 22-acre working farm and five children under the age of eight.

Needing a way to pay the bills, Phebe took in boarders to help support her young family with one of them being the man who had been chosen as Concord's new minister in 1778, Ezra Ripley - a native of Woodstock, Connecticut and the fifth of nineteen children. In 1780 he and Phebe were married, which caused a bit of talk in town as Phebe was ten years older than her new husband, and they soon added three more children to the family who were raised alongside the five Emerson children in the Manse.

Revered Ripley and his wife enjoyed a long and happy marriage as he served as Concord's town minister for 63 years. In addition to raising his large family, when William II, the oldest son of William and Phebe, died at the age of 41 in Boston where he served as pastor of the First Church, Ezra did what he could for the family and invited William II's five sons to come spend time at the Manse. In November of 1834, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who would often come to spend time in the former home of his father, wrote the first draft of "Nature" in the upstairs study. The essay, which was published anonymously, was the foundation for the Transcendentalism movement as it espoused a non-traditional appreciation of nature.

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Reverend Ezra Ripley died on September 21, 1841 and for a year the Manse stood empty until Samuel, Ezra's oldest son, decided to rent the house to Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne who made the Manse their home from 1842 to 1845.

Nathaniel married Sophia Peabody on July 9, 1842 at her sister Elizabeth's book shop in Boston following which they drove out to Concord to begin their life at the Manse that same day. Before their arrival, several women of the town came out to freshen the house and place flowers for the newlyweds including Mrs. Abba Alcott, Louisa's mother; Mrs. Cynthia Thoreau, Henry's mother; and Elizabeth Hoar, Sarah's friend. Henry David Thoreau planted an heirloom vegetable garden as a welcome/wedding gift - a garden that is recreated today through the efforts of the Trustees of Reservations and Gaining Ground, a local nonprofit organization that grows organic produce for hunger relief.

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For three years, the Hawthornes spent what they called the happiest times of their lives at what they called their "Garden of Eden". While Sophia painted, Nathaniel wrote about the house and surrounding landscape in stories that later appeared in American Notebooks and Mosses from an Old Manse. It was Nathaniel who first gave the house it's name, The Old Manse, meaning "minister's home" when Mosses from an Old Manse was first published as a two-volume set in 1846 containing many of the short stories and essays that he wrote in the same study on the second floor that Emerson had used when he wrote his essays.

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On May 3, 1844, their first daughter Una was born in the Manse and the couple wrote of their happiness in notes to each other scratched into the glass panes of several of the house's windows. Using her diamond ring, in the upstairs study the Hawthornes’ love for each other was captured as they took turns using Sophia’s diamond to write words on the glass. One of those statements written there is “Man’s accidents are God’s purposes,” likely referring to a miscarriage Sophia had after falling in 1843. In the dining room Sophia inscribed a moment in 1845 when she held her young daughter, Una up to the window glass to look out on the new fallen snow, referring to the ice covered trees as “glass chandeliers”.  (The image above and two below are taken from postcards available at The Old Manse - photography is not allowed inside the house.)

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Rumor has it that the Hawthornes were not the best of tenants what with vandalizing the house by etching notes to each other in glass panes and being a bit behind on the rent so in spite of the good times, after three years of living in Paradise they moved to Nathaniel's hometown of Salem where from 1846 to 1849, he worked in the Custom House as the Surveyor of Customs.  It wasn't all bad in Salem as that's where Nathaniel wrote The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables but it sure wasn't as idyllic as Concord!

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In 1846, Samuel Ripley and his wife Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, a descendant of prominent pilgrim families and a brilliant scholar who was almost entirely self-educated, moved into the Manse after Samuel retired from his preaching and teaching duties in Waltham where he ran a boarding school for boys preparing to go to Harvard in addition to ministering to the First Church there. Samuel's later days at the Old Manse were cut short when he died suddenly of a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1847, leaving behind Sarah, seven sons and daughters, a son-in-law, and a grandchild. Sarah continued to live on in Concord for another two decades until July 26, 1867, when she died at the home of her daughter Mary Ripley Simmons, next door to the Old Manse.

Emerson-Ripley descendants owned the house until 1939 when the property was conveyed  on November 3, 1939 to the Trustees of Reservations who, since 1891, have worked to protect special places in Massachusetts and maintain them to the highest standards. The house was conveyed complete with all its furnishings containing a remarkable collection of furniture, books, kitchen implements, dishware, and other items, as well as original wallpaper, woodwork, windows and architectural features.

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In 1963 the Old Manse was designated a National Historic Landmark and a Massachusetts Archaeological/Historic Landmark in 1966.

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The Old Manse grounds, located at 269 Monument Street, are free and open year-round while the Trustees offer tours of the house year-round seven days a week by appointment.  Walk-in tours are available from 12PM to 4PM, six days a week (closed Mondays) from May 29 to October 31 and from 12PM to 4PM weekends during November and December. Weekend walk-in tours become available once more (weather-permitting) from mid-February until Memorial Weekend.

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The Old Manse Specialty Bookstore, where you can stock up on your Hawthorne (in book and t-shirt form, too!) as well as other authors along with books on the American Revolution, Women's History, Transcendentalism, and Sustainability, is open for business from 12Noon to 5PM when the house is open as well as by prior appointment. Please call 978-369-3909 for more details when planning your visit or check out their website.

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After moving from Salem and living in another rented home in the town of Lenox in the Berkshires, the Hawthorne family moved back to Concord after Nathaniel finalized his purchase of a house for $1,500 from Bronson Alcott on March 8, 1852.  Formerly known as Hillside, home of the Alcott family until they moved to the South Side of Boston in 1848 and rented it out for a time, the house was renamed The Wayside as Nathaniel felt that it stood so close to the road that it could have been mistaken for a coach stop.

Nate at The Wayside

Like the Old Manse, the property had a rather extensive history before the Hawthornes moved in.  In 1717, the property and house belonged to Minuteman Samuel Whitney and from 1775-1776, during the nine months that Harvard was relocated to Concord, the house was occupied by John Winthrop who was one of the most renowned scientists in the country. On April 1, 1845 Amos Bronson Alcott and his family took up residency in the house and named it Hillside as they began to make renovations and additions.  It was in this house that Louisa May and her sisters lived many of the scenes that came to life again in the pages of her 1868 novel Little Women and where she also began work on her first book, Flower Fables.

Louisa May Alcott statue at Amos Bronson Alcott Statue at

The new home - the only house they ever purchased - that Nathaniel and Sophia would be moving into along with their three young children, Una, Julian, and Rose, was only about two miles away from where they began their married life together. Arriving in June, the family only spent a year there before Nathaniel was appointed United States Counsel at Liverpool and they moved to England where the family spent the next seven years. During that time, they leased The Wayside to family members including Sophia's sister, Mary Peabody, who later married Horace Mann. During her time in the house, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, a member of the Secret Six, or "Committee of Six", that funded the militant abolitionist John Brown, stayed at The Wayside for a night while hiding his connection to John Brown's raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

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Returning to the United States in 1860 (complete with a mustache that he grew in 1857 while visiting Italy), Nathaniel considered moving to Boston, noting "I am really at a loss to imagine how we are to squeeze ourselves into that little old cottage of mine." That plan was squashed though as the consulship position didn't pay as well as he thought it would and his new novel, The Marble Faun, was not as well received as he had hoped either. There was nothing for it but to try to build on to The Wayside and to that end the family made several changes to the home, most notably the three-story tower on the back of the house. Named the "Sky Parlor", the top room became Nathaniel's study where he stood at his desk to write but the tin roof made the room very hot in summer and very cold in winter necessitating his use of the front parlor for his writing during those times.

Mini-Nate and a statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne at Statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne at

Former homeowner and now next-door neighbor at Orchard House, Bronson Alcott cut paths and planted gardens for the Hawthornes, which included fir trees and larches imported from England, while Henry David Thoreau surveyed the property for $10. The Hawthornes also added a second story over the west wing, enclosed the bay porch, and moved the barn to the east side of the house but Nathaniel was not entirely pleased with the result saying in January of 1864:
"I have been equally unsuccessful in my architectural projects; and have transformed a simple and small old farm-house into the absurdest anomaly you ever saw; but I really was not so much to blame here as the village-carpenter, who took the matter into his own hands, and produced an unimaginable sort of thing instead of what I asked for."
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Hawthorne spent the last four years of his life in the house with his family from 1860-1864 while his finances dwindled and his health failed. In the late spring of 1864, Nathaniel took ill and traveled with his friend, the former President of the United States Franklin Pierce, to the White Mountains of New Hampshire where he died on May 19, 1864. Following Nathaniel's death and unable to bear living at The Wayside without her beloved husband, Sophia and the three children moved to England; selling The Wayside in 1870.

Following several other sales of the home, in 1883 it was bought by Boston publisher Daniel Lothrop and his wife, Harriett, who wrote The Five Little Peppers and other children's books under her pen name Margaret Sidney. The Lothrops greatly admired Hawthorne's writing and wanted to make as few changes as possible to his only home even going so far as to buy some of the Hawthorne's old furniture to put back in the house.

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Though they made few architectural changes to the house, the Lothrops added modern conveniences like town water in 1883, central heating in 1888, and electric lighting in 1904, as well as adding a large piazza on the west side in 1887. The first floor sitting room that, after 1860, had served as Julian Hawthorne's bedroom became Harriett's dining room.

Porch at The Wayside

In 1904, the Lothrops helped oversee a several-day celebration in honor of Nathaniel Hawthorne's birthday centennial where speeches were given, letters were read in public, and a tablet was dedicated by Beatrix Hawthorne (daughter of Julian) marking the larch path where the author often walked (shown above).

Though she was known for her Little Pepper series of books as Margaret Sidney, Harriett Lothrop achieved her most enduring memorials as a preservationist. She is responsible for the preservation of the Grapevine Cottage just down the road from The Wayside (home of Ephraim Wales Bull, the man who developed the Concord Grape), one of the oldest buildings in Concord - the Tollman house in Concord's Monument Square, and Orchard House, next door to The Wayside, where Louisa May Alcott wrote her classic, Little Women.

After Harriett's death in 1924, the home was inherited by her daughter Margaret, a 40-year-old professor of sociology at Stanford University in California, who completed the preservation work that her parents had begun at The Wayside. Opening the home to the public in 1927 for tours which she conducted herself, for the next 45 years until her death in May of 1970, Margaret Lothrop devoted the major portion of her life and energies to saving the "Home of Authors" as she called The Wayside. While proud of all the Wayside's history, Margaret Lothrop sought, above all other reasons, to preserve Hawthorne's only home - the main reason that her parents who were huge admirers of Nathaniel Hawthorne had originally bought the house.

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In 1963 the house was designated a National Historic Landmark and stayed in the family until 1965 when Margaret Lothrop donated it to be part of Minute Man National Historical Park as the very first literary site to be acquired by the National Park Service. After extensive restoration, the house was opened to the public in 1971 and in 1985 it was designated a National Historic Landmark for the second time.

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Visits to The Wayside begin in the Visitors Center and Exhibit Area which was used by the Alcott girls to stage the plays that were created when they lived at Hillside; including "Roderigo" from Little Women. In addition to the years that Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family resided at the home, The Wayside exhibit and guided tour makes note of the many other interesting events that occurred at Hillside some of which are recalled in Little Women; as well as real life experiences that the Alcott family had here such as their sheltering of a fugitive slave in early 1847.

Located at 455 Lexington Road, as part of Minute Man National Park, the house is administered by the National Park Service who offer guided tours of the house during designated dates and hours.  Generally the house is open Wednesday through Sunday from late May to late October with tours lasting 40 minutes.  The exhibits in the Visitors Center are free; there's a nominal charge for the 40-minute guided tour of the house.  For more information, you can call 978-318-7863 or check the Minuteman National Park Service website.

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It should be noted that as of this writing, The Wayside will remain closed throughout 2013 for repairs; please contact Park Headquarters at 978-369-6993 for further information.

Copyright © - Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel is strictly prohibited.


  1. Great article. Loved how you combined pictures from several visits.
    My favorite part of the story of the Hawthornes there is about etching with her diamond into the window panes.
    Glad I got to experience this with you, and thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. An interesting post, and made all the more interesting by having read The Peabody Sisters. Highly recommend it!

  3. The history is fascinating - and the picture of Nathaniel in the outhouse is hilarious!

    1. Uhm, Stacey ... That's a birdhouse - not an outhouse!

      Glad you enjoyed the post though!

  4. Wow. That was just wonderful. And I'm not much for history, as you know. I LOVE the diamond etchings... So romantic. Makes Nathaniel seem even more endearing! And how wonderful that they've survived!

    umm... I thought it was an outhouse, too. My bad, little Nathaniel. :)


Thank you for your feedback; it is greatly appreciated!
~ Nathaniel and Linda