by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
September 5, 2023
Once again this summer, MCHS closed at the end of August for what is internally dubbed “cleaning weeks.” Ironically, it is a time that staff uses to make a big mess, forming an obstacle course of boxes, ladders, and newly built shelving. This year, in addition to other interior restoration projects, MCHS spent cleaning weeks transforming how certain spaces on the second floor are displayed, but also how they are interpreted, to more comprehensively tell the story of all four generations of the Crane-Hone family.
One aspect of Hall history has always been – and will likely always be – hazy: where its various occupants slept. Architectural and decorative elements hint at answers for some individuals, but unfortunately MCHS’s archival documents are largely silent on the matter. There is, however, one notable exception, the Hall’s last resident, Mary Crane Hone retained a bedroom at her family’s ancestral home until donating it to MCHS in 1971. As such, “Ms. Hone’s bedroom” is identifiable on early inventories of the interiors. In fact, her bed still remains in what MCHS typically called the “master bedroom.” Now, with only slight adjustments to the items on display, the space is dedicated to telling her remarkable journey from socialite to Broadway stage actress to local historic preservation advocate.
The 2022 donation from a descendant of a bedroom set original to the Hall presented second opportunity for MCHS to further interpret an integral chapter in the family’s history. The tragic story of Mary Crane Hone’s grandmother (also Mary Crane Hone) has long been reflected in her Chickering grand piano which was transported from her marital home to her childhood one after her untimely death in 1876. Around that time, her three young sons also came to stay with their grandparents. A room that for several years has been displayed as a sewing room is now, thanks to that donation, a boy’s room likely similar to what they had at the Hall.
Through the display of these recent donations and growing insight into the family, MCHS can now provide an even more authentic interpretation of one of NJ’s best preserved historic house museums. So, while by design much of Acorn Hall has remained unchanged over the years, as cleaning weeks come to an end, and the Hall reopens to the public, there will be new things to see and learn, even for the most seasoned visitor.