Foursquare & 170 Years Ago

by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
June 27, 2023

Exactly 170 years ago, construction of the residence that is now known as Acorn Hall was nearing completion. A modest Foursquare, the home was built not for the Cranes, but Dr. John P. Schermerhorn and his wife Louise on land they purchased from family friend and neighbor, John Hone III. Madison builder Ashbel Bruen and Morristown mason William Y. Sayre were hired for the job, and according to the surviving contracts, each was to finalize work by July 1, 1853.  Little is known about “Schermerhorn Place,” but through the contracts and an inventory of furniture drawn up by the doctor, a vague image of the home emerges.

The newly built residence seems to have caused confusion for 1853 mapmakers. In some editions, the house is unlabeled. In another, a labeled residence is placed on the wrong side of the adjacent Lindsley property.

Bruen was the first to be employed by the Schermerhorns. Their February 1853 agreement specifies that he was to build the young couple a “two story frame dwelling house with finished attic and basement” according to plans by Clerk & Bacot of Jersey City. Payment was to be rendered in installments: $500 on the first day of March, $1000 when the house was raised, $1000 when the house was enclosed, $1000 when the floors were laid, and $650 when the house was “completed to the satisfaction of the owner.” That April, they drafted a similar agreement with Sayre to build the stone foundation and chimneys for $1400.

Schermerhorn furniture list, 1857

The contracts do not reveal any information about the house’s layout during the Schermerhorn’s short residency, but one more puzzle piece provides some insight. Sadly, Louise Schermerhorn died months after their new home was completed. Dr. Schermerhorn remained in Morristown only for three more years, and then sold the house to the Cranes in June 1857. Along with the sale, he composed a list of furniture and household items to be included, organized by room: kitchen, dining room, back parlor, drawing room, three rooms (likely bedrooms), and the third floor attic. While the two parlors remain to this day, the inventory is otherwise the only record of the design and function of Schermerhorn Place’s interiors.

Following additions built for the Cranes in 1860, much of the home was transformed, expanded, and repurposed, leaving little trace of the former Foursquare. Therefore, despite all the information we have on the Crane-Hone family’s 114 years at the Hall, much of “Schermerhorn Place” will likely always remain a mystery.