5. T.S. Lewis (Cambridgeport). Stereoptic photograph of the Old Manse, 1875.
William Emerson’s Manse was built on what started out as Blood family property and in time passed to the Browns. The deed documenting the conveyance of the property from David Brown to William Emerson is dated April 16, 1770. From William Emerson’s time, the Manse remained in the hands of Emersons, Ripleys, and Ripley descendants, until signed over to the Trustees of Reservations in 1939.
After William Emerson’s death in 1776, his widow and family stayed on in the house. Ezra Ripley was head of the household from his marriage to Phebe Bliss Emerson in 1780 until his death in 1841. From 1842 to 1845, Nathaniel and Sophia Peabody Hawthorne rented the Manse, which Hawthorne made famous through the collection of stories titled Mosses from an Old Manse (first published in 1846).
Ezra Ripley’s son Samuel retired from his pastorate in Waltham and returned to live in the Manse, his childhood home, in 1846. His wife Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, a woman widely renowned and respected for her learning, stayed on after Samuel’s sudden death in 1847. After Sarah died, the house was occupied by Thayer and Ames descendants of the Ripleys. Cordial family relations between the Manse and the Emerson household on the Cambridge Turnpike continued until and beyond Emerson’s death in 1882.
Ezra Ripley was known as a hospitable man. In his biography of Ripley for The Centennial of the Social Circle in Concord (1882), Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “His hospitality obeyed Charles Lamb’s rule, and ‘ran fine to the last.’” During Ripley’s residence in the Manse, the house was always open to friends and family. The peripatetic Mary Moody Emerson and her brother William’s widow and children were frequent visitors. Ruth Emerson and her brood stayed at the Manse for an extended period from November, 1814, until the following April.
In October of 1834, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his mother moved back into the Manse as Ripley’s boarders. Between that time and his 1835 purchase of his own house, Emerson found the atmosphere of the Manse congenial to writing his long-developing book Nature. In a letter of August 6, 1852 to George William Curtis, he commented, “The best part of the tract ‘Nature’ was written in that house … when I boarded with Dr. Ripley … ”
In a July 8, 1842 letter to his Aunt Mary, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s brother William conveyed the deep meaning that the entire Emerson family attached to the Manse. William wrote of the recent move of the newly-married Hawthornes into the house: “ … the old Manse, which has undergone some changes … was waiting the arrival of new tenants. What a history in those silent walls! … In the little attic room, my father’s, Edward’s, & Charles’s handwriting are still plainly to be read on the wall. Some wood & stone seems holier than the rest … I am sorry to see the old house going into stranger’s hands.”
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