by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
August 29, 2023
In the summer of 1863, the Cranes of Acorn Hall did what many of 19th-Century NYC’s most fashionable did: went down the shore to Long Branch. While individual family members traveled to far-flung destinations during their lifetimes, their sojourn to the Jersey Shore would be their only recorded family vacation. Little is known of their itinerary, but, then as now, the shore was cherished as a place to relax and enjoy the surf and sea breeze.
One of the country’s premier destinations during and after the Civil War, Long Branch served as the destination of the social elite. Mentioned in the same breath as society mainstays such as Newport, the seaside community greeted thousands of NYC’s rich and famous each summer via train and steamboat. The Governor of New York was expected there that August, and Mansion House, the grand oceanfront hotel where the Cranes spent their holiday, had gained particular cachet after Mrs. Lincoln came for a visit in 1861. Operated by a Samuel Laird, Mansion House could proudly host as many as 600 guests and its ads were ubiquitous in NYC newspapers beginning each May. As the New York Herald flippantly noted in its June 6, 1863 issue, “The Summit House at Summit New Jersey; Belmont Hall, Schooley’s Mountain… the Bellevue House, Newport; the Half-way House on the Catskill Mountains; the Lake Mohegan House and Pleasant House at Mohegan Lake; [and] the Mansion House, Long Branch… announce their opening days and their varied attractions through our advertising columns. The long list is before our fashionable whence to choose. The choice must be made soon; for not to go to a watering place this summer is to relinquish all claims to be considered as belonging to our best society.”
The Crane’s two-week excursion was likely at the close of summer. To accommodate the influx of visitors after the first lady’s visit, Laird kept his establishment open into September. On September 10, Augustus Crane paid him $157.20 (approximately $3,800 today) for his families stay. For three more decades almost everyone who was everyone escaped the stagnant heat of New York – or Philadelphia – each year to enjoy its pleasures throughout its halcyon summer days.