Good Fences Make a Good Neighborhood

by Amy Curry, Executive Director
May 23, 2023

When Augustus Crane purchased the house and property that became Acorn Hall and his gentleman’s farm in 1857, he no doubt was already eagerly planning how he would develop both. Along with expanding his new home to an Italianate residence and planting orchards and gardens, the proud owner of nine acres in the “country,” faithfully followed the cultural and social practices of the day, erecting a proper front yard fence.

Acorn Hall’s comparatively lightweight and open fence can be seen in this photograph from 1870.

During the latter half of the 19th century, the American landscape changed rapidly as cities exploded with industrialization and ever-expanding populations. Fences became part of a complex answer to the anxieties brought by the pervasive development of the country’s rural and semi-rural landscapes. First used simply as a means of livestock control, they transformed into a barrier against the social, moral, and aesthetic concerns of the encroaching industrialization and development. Crane’s own cast stone and wrought iron fence therefore not only delineated his family’s private space from the public thoroughfare of Morris Avenue, but also in providing for their comfort and security, exemplified the prevailing views and values of his community.

Rest Harrow’s stone wall across the street from Acorn Hall still stands.

While Andrew Jackson Downing, noted mid-19th-century landscape architect whose highly influential tenets are reflected in Acorn Hall, felt that fences were only appropriate as necessary for practical purposes, other architects, landscapers, and gardeners noted their desirability along the front of homes. They especially lauded those like Crane’s that were largely invisible or at least unobtrusive (from the homeowner’s view), particularly if hidden behind a hedge. However, by the 1870s, Morristown had grown significantly, and philosophies evolved, as illustrated by the solid, more imposing stone wall constructed for his daughter’s new home across the street. The following generations of millionaires that flocked to the area would erect even more towering barricades between their estates and the outside world. Ironic then, that in the 20th century, as Morristown developed even further, the front yard fence was erased from the landscape, eliminating Crane’s emblematic delineation of his nine-acre kingdom.

As a part of our ongoing efforts to preserve Acorn Hall and its landscape to how Augustus Crane would have known it, we look forward to restoring the original front yard fence.