Dashing Through the Snow…

by Amy Curry, Executive Director
December 14, 2021

The 14-acre Hoffman property in 1910 Mueller Atlas of Morris County and photograph believed to be of the Hoffman home on Madison Ave.

Each year, MCHS lavishly decorates for the holidays with Acorn Hall’s rooms, mantels, doorways, and banisters impressively festooned. The season also marks the return of our most well-recognized exterior holiday decoration to Acorn Hall’s front lawn, a wooden “one-horse open sleigh.” This year, however, our throngs of revelers might not recognize this faithful feature. Recently and carefully restored, a “new” sleigh joined this year’s festivities, refreshed and more than ready to tell its 200-year-old story.

Like many of our restoration projects, we learn a great deal more about an object through the process; our wooden sleigh was no different. It started with pouring over the accession records and our acquaintance with the soon-to-be ubiquitous Hoffman family (See You Again?!) who moved to town around 1898. As far back as we could trace it, the sleigh seemed to maintain very local roots, possibly originating from an estate mere walking distance from Acorn Hall. Additionally, it proved to be much older than we originally thought – 50 to 60 years older – and dating to the early 19th century! But, while technology changed little, style did, and it’s likely that by the later-19th century this little wooden sleigh was relegated to winter work and transportation across the Hoffman family’s expansive 14-acre estate.

The sleigh had several layers of paint, which included shades of green, yellow, gray, and red; the earliest being green.
Note the new trim. Made to made to match the original, finger-joints were used to connect the two.

The restoration process uncovered 6-7 layers of paint that ranged from forest green to sunshine yellow and even bright red. Carefully, the layers were removed until the first was unearthed and subsequently matched. The original wooden “dasher,” (the bent piece at the sleigh’s front that protected the rider from spray from the horses) long ago cracked and broken into several pieces, was expertly repaired so as to be completely invisible. Dry-rotted floorboards, riddled with dangerous voids, were replaced. Decorative molding pieces, lost to time and use, were custom-made with finger-joint dutchmen repairs firmly connecting new pieces to old. Metal braces, installed to give rigidity as original wooden joinery failed, were removed and the wooden elements strengthened. The result was a sleigh the Hoffman family would’ve easily recognized as their family heirloom, but without the worst of its age and wear. 

Though the Hoffman sleigh’s days of “dashing through the snow” are long passed, the care and attention it received enables it to be fully appreciated once again. Soon to be permanently displayed in the safety of Acorn Hall’s restored carriage house, visitors will have a chance to see it and envision how our local ancestors traveled about town, or the far reaches of their property, 200 years ago.