Heard It Through the Grapevine

by Anne Motto, F.M. Kirby Curator of Collections
April 23, 2024

This spring, MCHS is preparing for the stabilization of the ice house foundation still to be found near Acorn Hall’s restored carriage house (top photo), both an integral part of Augustus Crane’s gentleman’s farm which he ran for half a century. As spring approached 154 years ago, Crane was preparing for a new growing season at the Hall and letters he wrote to his son chronicle the transition of the seasons as the harvesting of ice for the ice house gave way to the planting of fruits and vegetables. His faithful correspondence until his son’s graduation in summer 1870 provides weekly updates and a never-repeated glimpse at the operation of the farm he took such pride in.

The only known photo of the Crane’s gardens at Acorn Hall.
Augustus Crane, c. 1860s

January 23, 1870
“This has been a most singular Winter,– all the storms are rain storms and the weather is always mild immediately after them.– No ice yet and but only a poor chance of getting any by and by;– you young people will have to content yourselves with fruit, puddings and pies without ice cream &c.”

January 28, 1870
“This has been an unusual season,– no cold weather – plenty of rain but no snow; unless the coming month is colder, we will be compelled to send you to Worcester next summer to get ice cream for yourself…”

February 6, 1870
“The weather has been colder this week than for any time during the past two months,– we hope to be able to fill the ice house before the close of the month, but may be prevented from doing so…  there is a storm close at hand and we hope it may be snow, for the roads have been muddy nearly all the season.”

February 18, 1870
“Some snow ice about five inches thick has been laid in by some persons,– but I didn’t think it good enough for me– today we have a warm rain that will melt away all that was on the ponds yesterday,– we will wait and run the risk, but there is only 1 chance in 6 that our ice house can be filled this season.”

February 22, 1870
“This is Washington’s Birthday and very cold weather it is– there seems to be a good chance to make ice and get it in too, for the Mercury runs down to 10° at night;– we hope to begin to cart on Friday morning next.”

March 2, 1870
“Our ice house is nearly full, and the men will finish their work on it to day;– so, my dear boy, you will not be compelled to do without ice cream next summer.– The gardener commenced work yesterday by making a hot bed, and trimming up the plants in the green house;–  as the head gardener at Acorn Hall I must hold myself in readiness to begin operations for the season.”

March 8, 1870
“The ground is covered with snow to the depth of 8 inches and I will have to wait for that to melt before beginning my work for the Spring…”

 March 16, 1870
“…thus far March has been very stormy and cold, the finest and heaviest ice of the season was carted through the town on the 12th… One of my hot beds is planted with Radishes Lettuce and Celery, but unless the weather becomes clearer and warmer I will have too plant it anew.”

March 23, 1870
“The season is very backward and our garden is still covered with snow; radishes and lettuce are growing in the hot beds, though slowly.”

March 29, 1870
“The terrible rain storm of Sunday carried away the last vestige of snow… The season is not quite as forward as usual though our radishes and lettuce in the hot beds are doing well.”

April 16, 1870
“Our gardening and farming get along nicely…”

April 27, 1870
“Working in the garden on the fruit trees has used me up… The spring season is fairly upon us– my men work faithfully and take an interest in their work– the garden is doing nicely…”

May 4, 1870
“…the garden gets along finely and this is a prospect of your having enough to do to pick the Raspberries, as both the beds are in excellent condition and give promise of a large yield.”

May 25, 1870
“The garden is about as forward as we should expect it to be; pea vines and tomato plants in blossom and other things doing about as well.”

June 19, 1870
“We have scarcely any Strawberries on our vines,– there will be plenty of Raspberries, Apples and Pears though but few grapes.– The crop of Peaches in Delaware and the Southern part of this State will be heavy.”