Home New England Historic Houses The Pierce Manse: Memorial to a Tragic, Forgotten President

The Pierce Manse: Memorial to a Tragic, Forgotten President

The Pierce Brigade won't forget

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In 1842, Franklin Pierce, his wife Jane and their young sons Frank and Benny moved from Washington, D.C., into the Pierce Manse in Concord, N.H.

They lived there for six years, and then returned to Washington. They should have stayed in Concord.

The Pierce family was happy in their Concord home, miserable in the White House. Shortly before Franklin’s inauguration, Benny died in a gruesome railroad accident. Jane lost herself in grief and Franklin lost himself in booze.

Jane Pierce and son Benny

As president, he supported the unpopular Kansas-Nebraska Act and enforced the Fugitive Slave Act. That made him wildly hated in the North, but it did nothing to prevent the Civil War.  As a result, historians rate Pierce as one of the worst, if not the worst, presidents of the United States.

The Pierce Manse

Franklin Pierce was a born politician. Handsome, charming, sociable, he loved the rough-and-tumble of politics and the camaraderie of the tavern. Jane couldn’t have been more different. A shy, sickly, aristocratic teetotaler, she hated her husband’s political career.

Jane had good reason, especially after they moved to Washington. They arrived at the beginning of Franklin’s two terms in Congress and stayed through his six years as a U.S. Senator. The hard-drinking bonhomie of Washington proved a constant temptation to him. One day he passed out drunk at his desk in the Senate Chamber, snoring loudly. He woke up screaming, “Fire! Fire!” A colleague asked where the fire was. Pierce rubbed his belly and said, “In here.”

While in Washington, their oldest son, Frank, Jr., died in infancy. Jane insisted that her surviving two boys would not grow up in Washington with a drunk for a father. So, they moved back to New Hampshire. Franklin bought the house in Concord, the only one he would ever own. .

Life in New Hampshire

Franklin went on the wagon, practiced law and continued in Democratic Party politics. He became a political power broker and helped elect James K. Polk as president in 1844. For that, Polk named him U.S. attorney for New Hampshire.

Franklin and Jane were probably as happy in the Manse as they ever were, despite the loss of their son Frankie at age four to typhus.

When the Mexican War broke out, Pierce raised a regiment, earning a commission as a brigadier general. He fought in several battles and then returned to New Hampshire. He sold the Manse, and from then on they rented or borrowed their home.

Gen. Franklin Pierce by Matthew Brady

In 1852, the Democratic convention in Baltimore deadlocked over its presidential candidate. Pierce seemed like a good compromise. He was likable, and he didn’t have much of a political record that left him open to attack. He also had a military record. And he didn’t intend to abolish slavery, which would win him southern support.

Franklin wasn’t even at the convention. He and Jane were taking a carriage ride when a messenger galloped up with the news he’d been nominated as president. Jane fainted.

The Pierce Brigade

After his dismal presidency, Franklin and Jane returned to Concord. Many of his old friends abandoned him, with the notable exception of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Another exception: a friend who insisted they live in a much grander mansion he bought for them.

That one burned down, and the Pierce Manse got old and shabby. During the 1960s, Concord slated the Manse for demolition to make way for an urban renewal project. Outraged citizens formed the Pierce Brigade to save the building. They succeeded in moving it to donated land on Horseshoe Pond Lane. The Brigade removed a bay window above the door, reconstructed the doorway, rebuilt three fireplaces and removed modern additions to the house. They also recovered some of the Pierces’ furniture and belongings and decorated the interior an antebellum New Hampshire style.

The Pierce Manse

Today the Pierce Brigade gives guided tours of the house. Go, and you will hear about the other side of Franklin Pierce: How he ran for president out of a sense of duty. How he reduced the national debt. He modernized the army and navy, and opened trade with Japan. And he bought part of Arizona and New Mexico.

The Brigade will also explain that Franklin Pierce compromised with the South over slavery because he wanted to keep the country together.

Inside the Pierce Manse

The two-story house was built in the classic Greek Revival style, popular in Concord in the 1830s. So popular, in fact, that the Pierces’ next door neighbor’s house looked exactly like it.

Inside, the Brigade has mixed period furniture with the Pierces’ pieces, including some that saw service in the White House. The children’s bedrooms look much as they did in the 1840s.

The kitchen fireplace, discovered nearly intact in the attic by the Brigade, was reassembled in its original location.

In addition to furnishings, the Pierce Brigade has assembled historical artifacts and documents associated with Franklin Pierce. The barn attached to the Manse has a small exhibit and a carriage from the 1840s.

The family is buried in the North Cemetery nearby.


The National Park Service lists Concord’s commercial district on the National Register of Historic Places. The district includes a lively Main Street (i.e., shops and restaurants) anchored at one end by the New Hampshire Statehouse, one of the oldest in the nation and open for self-guided tours. You’ll see a giant portrait of Franklin Pierce, as well as one of his father, Benjamin, who served as New Hampshire’s governor.

New Hampshire Statehouse

Franklin Pierce served in the Statehouse as a recent college graduate elected to the House of Representatives from Hillsborough. He rose to speaker of the House before winning election to Congress.

Some of the key buildings on Main Street include the Eagle Hotel, where presidents from Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Harrison and any number of presidential wannabes have stayed. New Hampshire’s small size and early primary make it a mecca for presidential aspirants. Granite Staters like their politics, and it isn’t unusual for them to meet candidates for high office half a dozen times — if not more.

At 214 Main Street stands Pierce’s old law office. The New Hampshire Historical Society at 30 Park Street stages rotating exhibits about the state’s art, history and culture. It’s also in a building on the National Register of Historic Places, the Tuck Library built in 1911.

Five Things You’ll Remember About the Pierce Manse

Writing Desk

Pierce, a hard worker, would stay up until 3 am at the little desk writing letters and speeches. It went to the White House with him. A piece of his stationery lies on the desk.

Shaving Box

The Pierce Manse has Pierce’s ornate shaving box, including his cologne. Pierce stood six feet tall and his good looks earned him the nickname, “Handsome Frank.”

White House Sofa

The Pierces had to borrow some furniture to fill the White House. Their sofa made it to Washington and back.

Portrait of Frankie

In the child’s bedroom hangs a portrait of Frank Pierce, a poignant reminder of the tragedy that stalked Jane and Franklin Pierce. Young Frankie died painfully of typhus at the age of four.

Campaign Memorabilia

Pierce was marinated in politics, despite his wife’s hatred of his political career. Among the political ephemera on display is a sign from his presidential campaign:“We Poked you in ’44, we’ll Pierce you in ’52.”

If you visit the Pierce Manse…

Don’t confuse the Pierce Manse with the Pierce Homestead, located in Hillsborough a few towns away. Benjamin Pierce built it as a tavern, and Franklin lived there until his marriage.

The Manse is located at 14 Horseshoe Pond Rd., conveniently right off I-93 with plenty of parking near the house.

The Pierce Manse opens from late May to October, but check the website for hours. The Pierce Brigade offers guided tours during regular hours and by appointment. The barn connected to the house serves as a visitor center with a short video and exhibit.

Plan to spend an hour or two at the Manse.

People with mobility issues will have trouble navigating the house, especially the second floor.

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Read more about Pierce’s presidency in Eat Like a President, brought to you by the New England Historical Society. Click here to order your copy. 






Images: Pierce Manse exterior in summer: By Billy Hathorn – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34171152. Downtown Concord By Teemu08 at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17984194. Eagle Hotel By Warren LeMay from Covington, KY, United States – Eagle Hotel, Concord, NH, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84851070. Pierce Manse with ssign, By Craig Michaud at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17979414.

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