(Nearly) Untouched by the Passage of Time

by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
September 14, 2021

When Acorn Hall was built for Dr. John P. Schermerhorn in 1853, it began its eventful 168-year life (and counting!) as a Georgian foursquare known as “Schermerhorn Place.” Constructed by Madison carpenter Ashbel Bruen and mason William G. Sayre in the spring of that year, it was erected on land purchased from John Hone III (neighbor and relative). Through the generations, Acorn Hall saw changes big and small, coming nearly full circle as MCHS continues to bring the Hall and grounds back to its 1860s-80s appearance.

John Josiah Crane’s house.
On the exterior of the Hall, a seam delineates the c.1857-60 addition and inside it is marked by a dramatic change in floorboard width.

Sadly, the Hall’s tenure as Schermerhorn Place was destined to be short as Mrs. Schermerhorn and a daughter died soon after the family home was completed. A few years later in 1857, Dr. Schermerhorn sold the property to Augustus Crane and returned to the City. It was instead the four generations of the Crane-Hone family that left the greatest mark – and named it “Acorn Hall.” Emulating his brother’s home in the City, Augustus reimagined the house as an Italianate-style country home highly influenced by landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing who believed that buildings and their landscape should be designed in concert. He enlarged the home by adding a dining room, art gallery, additional bedrooms, and a back staircase. In keeping with Downing’s philosophy, he also painted the exterior the same natural gray and green color scheme it is today.

Windows later added to Augustus Crane’s art gallery appear to be French doors original to the house.

Perhaps to retain their father’s vison for their country home, his children changed little during their lifetimes. Thus, it was not until 1935 when Augustus’s grandson Augustus Crane Hone inherited the Hall that any significant modernization occurred. Augustus Hone and his wife Alice electrified the house, put in running water and a steam heat system, and brought the kitchen up from the basement. To their credit, the Hones chose to leave much of the original fabric intact and made a point to select fixtures in keeping with the existing decor.  Thanks to their efforts, and those of their daughter, Mary Crane Hone, who donated the Hall to MCHS, we can experience an authentic mid-19th-century home largely unaltered by time.