Hone Away from Home 2: Go West, Rich Man

by Anne Motto, F.M. Kirby Curator of Collections
February 20, 2024

John Hone IV spent much of his youth in Morristown and was first married to Mary Crane of Acorn Hall (1849-1876).

Fifty years after his father toured the UK’s Lake District, John Hone IV (1844-1915) traveled much of the American West by rail. Luxuriously accommodated in a private train car owned by his friend, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, he was accompanied by an illustrious band of executives intimately connected to the “Vanderbilt System” of railroads, particularly Hamilton McKown Twombly, Vanderbilt’s brother-in-law and future owner of Florham in Madison, and Chauncey Depew, president of the New York Central Railroad. Now in MCHS archives, a detailed itinerary of their two-week tour was recorded by Hone on the flyleaf of a novel he brought with him, capturing his commentary on the trip.

At 7:45am on Apr. 15, 1891, he noted the party’s departure from Grand Central Depot, built by Vanderbilt’s grandfather, the famed “Commodore.” Their first stop was Albany where Hone visited his second son, then attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, while the others attended the annual meeting of Depew’s railroad. Two hours later, they were on their way to Chicago where they “spent [the] day.” While there, the media got wind that their ultimate destination was Denver sparking rumors that they were on their way to either make a deal with the Vanderbilts’ rival, Jay Gould, whispered to be in Colorado, or outmaneuver him. Across the nation, articles with headlines like “They’re After Gould” and “Vanderbilt-Gould War” appeared in local papers. The travelers steadfastly claimed it an “inspection tour” and Hone’s notes remain noticeably light and business-free.

From Chicago they went on to Omaha, where they “drove about,” and Cheyenne, which was described as “cold & dreary,” before arriving in Salt Lake City on April 19.  Hone was glowing in his praise of the sights and scenery and was far more effusive than at any other juncture, “Charming place, beautifully located, snow crowned mountains, very prosperous.” The following day they began their final leg into Colorado, transferring to a “narrow gauge Pullman over the Marshall Pass,” which was apparently “splendid.” On April 23, they reached Denver. Despite public anticipation, no meeting with Gould, who had left the Mile High City a few days earlier, took place. Instead, the furor in the newspapers ceased with little mention aside from a few interviews with Gould who laughed off the rumors. After lunch with a Colorado senator, the Vanderbilt party began their return journey through Kansas City, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Buffalo. Upon reaching home, Hone concluded his chronicle of the journey with the words “Delightful trip. This book is wonderful,” never making mention of Gould or the speculation that swirled around them.