Hone Away from Home

by Sara Weissman, MCHS Volunteer and Reference Librarian (Ret., Morris County Library)
November 27, 2023

Stock Ghyll Force, Ambleside, England

During his over two decades in Morristown, John Hone III (1819-1891) was a pillar of the community. A co-founder of both Church of the Redeemer and the Morris Female Institute (later Miss Dana’s School), he owned a swath of downtown around Macculloch Avenue along with his residence next to Acorn Hall. However, long before his move to Morristown, Hone was a 19-year-old rambling around the UK with his sister and widowed mother. His travel diary of 1838, now in MCHS archives, gives a fascinatingly detailed view of his time abroad and glimpses of the cultured and civic-minded country gentleman he would become.

His home base during his trip was Liverpool, the shipping center of the day, but he enjoyed an extensive trip through the English countryside, touring the picturesque Lake District on his way to Scotland. A native of another major port, NYC, he claimed the Hudson River Valley and Indian Falls at West Point as his scenic benchmarks, and all that he saw along the way either exceeded them or did not. “Stock Gill,” a series of waterfalls which he was so taken with that he visited three times, was begrudgingly admitted to be their equal.

Diary entries also hint at a developing decisiveness in architecture in the young man who would go on to build a school and three houses in Morristown. Of the district’s distinctively cylindrical manor house, Belle Isle, he said simply “stupid looking place.” Farther north, Wordsworth’s cottage in the little village of Grasmere, which was in best Austen fashion open to visitors, was dubbed “extensively rustic.” However, he was clearly awed by the area’s scenery (top photo), remarking that it was not a surprise Wordsworth was a poet, rather that he was not a better one with such landscapes for inspiration. He was far more impressed with Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford in Scotland, a “splendid mansion” to which he dedicated six whole pages in his diary.

Hone also gave his thoughts on Thomas Sully’s commissioned portrait of the new queen, Victoria, who was exactly Hone’s age, “That it is a magnificent painting is beyond a doubt, but, in my humble opinion, it is not very flattering to the ‘illustrious original’.” Portrait courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the evenings, Hone’s considerations ran to social concerns. He reported reading aloud to his family the newly published part four of Nicholas Nickleby, and mused on his uncle’s remark that conditions of the poor were even worse than Dickens’s representations. The civic-minded founder of the future could also be seen in his page-and-a-half contemplation on the dangers and low pay for workers in the area’s slate industry.

Silhouettes of John Hone and Jane Perry from around the time of their marriage. Hone’s diary notes visiting his future father-in-law, who was on a fact-finding mission, in London.

After Hone’s return stateside, in 1841, he married Jane Perry, daughter of then Commandant Matthew C. Perry. About ten years later, he and Jane moved their family from NYC to Morristown, where they raised their seven children and became active members of the community. He made at least two other trips to Europe after leaving Morristown, but after scattering from the Philippines to Florence, he, Jane, and most of their children are buried locally in Evergreen Cemetery.