Heating Acorn Hall, A Tepid History

by Amy Curry, Executive Director
January 11, 2022

In 1865, August Crane paid to have a “hot air furnace” installed at Acorn Hall. This advertisement from the time shows what it may have looked like.
Baltimore stove (aka Latrobe) After Augustus Crane’s death in 1906, two stored in the carriage house were auctioned off. They likely would have been used in the Hall’s fireplaces (like that in the library, top photo).

Suffice it to say, today we don’t give much thought to how our homes are heated and many thermostats can be programmed or controlled remotely. But, a trip to Acorn Hall during the winter months will remind one of earlier days when staying warm was not as easy. In addition to providing guests an extremely rare opportunity to see original furniture, fine, and decorative arts, Acorn Hall also provides winter-month visitors a chance to experience the heating limitations of a bygone era in spite of attempts to modernize.

By the mid-19th century, homes in Morristown were becoming increasingly larger, ceilings higher, and windows more plentiful. Cooking shifted to the newest “modern” convenience, the stove, and fireplaces evolved to serve the primary function of heating the home and warming its occupants. Acorn Hall was warmed by coal, the most efficient fuel available, and was purchased by the ton several times each year. But eight coal-fueled fires proved insufficient and the first two generations of Crane’s depended upon both a Franklin Stove and Latrobe Stove (or Baltimore Heater), as well as a “hot air furnace,” possibly all at the same time, to aid in keeping the home and family comfortable during the long winter months.

In August 1866, Augustus Crane noted the purchase of 22 1/4 tons of Lehigh coal from Morristown’s W.C. Caskey & Bros. in his checkbook.

As the 20th century dawned and local families increasingly moved to “automatic” heating systems, Acorn Hall remained a vestige of the past, adding only a small “steam plant” with 11 radiators scattered among some of the 27 rooms. But, when the third generation took residence in 1935, the existing austere level of comfort was well beyond consideration. Within a few short months after taking ownership, Crane’s grandson, Augustus Crane Hone and wife Alice, contracted for a modern heating system to be installed. The plan included an additional 16 radiators and oil-fueled steam boiler, as well as a one thousand gallon oil tank to be buried in the yard. As electricity and plumbing were also part of this modernization, it seemed as though Acorn Hall had nearly caught up with the times.

Pruden & Burke, a longtime coal business in Morristown sold both Lehigh and Scranton coal.

Some 78 years later, under MCHS’s stewardship, modernization began once-again. Generations of oil tanks were removed from the property as the steam-heat system was updated and converted to natural gas, though some relics were by necessity preserved. Thus, while boasting modern and efficient equipment, today, the heat throughout the Hall’s 8,000 sq ft is all regulated by one thermostat, leaving certain areas cold enough to give visitors and staff alike a solid-like-ice insight into the lives of Acorn Hall’s earliest residents.