Locals know the Macculloch Hall Historical Museum as one of Morristown’s gems.
Now the country knows it, too.
For the first time, Macculloch Hall has received accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums.
“It’s like the industry’s Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” said Macculloch Hall’s executive director, Tricia Pongracz.
Macculloch Hall is in good company: Only nine other museums in New Jersey are accredited. The list includes the Morris Museum in Morris Township, the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island, the Newark Art Museum, and the Princeton University Art Museum.
Accreditation lasts for a decade. For Macculloch Hall, the process began before the pandemic. It involved reviews of the nonprofit’s fiscal health and all aspects of its planning, from interpretation and management of its holdings–including the world’s largest collection of works by 19th century political illustrator Thomas Nast–to surviving disasters.
Staffing and community support also were big factors.
“While the collections are impressive, the museum is interesting, and the grounds are beautiful, the biggest asset of Macculloch Hall is the seemingly boundless/unlimited energy of the staff, board and volunteers. We were very much impressed by their joyous approach to their work,” the Alliance wrote in its letter of accreditation.
Alliance members inspected Macculloch Hall last November.
‘EVERYDAY AMERICAN HISTORY’–GOOD AND BAD
Established in 1950 by the late W. Parsons Todd, the museum preserves the Federal-style brick mansion built in 1810 for George and Louisa Macculloch, and a public garden.
George Macculloch conceived the Morris Canal, an important commercial thoroughfare of the 19th century, and also raised pears and other crops on what was then a 26-acre site in Morristown.
In its early years, the building housed a prep school for boys, and it would be home to generations of descendants of George and Louisa. The couple were instrumental in establishing St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, just around the corner.
“This is the local place to experience everyday American history, where it happened,” said Pongracz, who oversees four employees and a budget of about $500,000, mostly from foundations and county and state grants.
This is the only venue where one can see The Last Ditch and The Palace of Tears, massive, newly restored “caricaturamas” once featured in a Thomas Nast road show, a political precursor of today’s Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver.
(Nast wowed audiences at those narrated shows by whipping up illustrations on the spot, as Bob Ross would do on television more than a century later, Pongracz said.)
Nast, whose magazine covers skewered Tammany Hall and gave us the Republican elephant, the Democratic donkey and a jolly Santa Claus, lived across the street from Macculloch Hall. Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain were among his visitors.
The first item Macculloch Hall guests see is a Tiffany sterling silver “testimonial canteen,” a gift to Nast from soldiers and sailors grateful for his editorial support.
The Maccullochs and many of their heirs were well to do, and those trappings are on display, too.
One parlor boasts George Macculloch’s wood-and-leather Campeche Chair–the Aeron Chair of its day. Overlooking the living room harp and hearth is Fowl in Landscape, a circa-1665 oil painting by Melchior d’Hoedecoeter. A pair of hard-paste Porcelain birdcage vases from Germany date to 1730.
You also can see the wooden desks where some of the era’s best and brightest learned their Latin–and carved their names. (Their monikers are etched in the brick walls outside, too. Boys will be boys.)
Macculloch Hall’s history isn’t all benign. A display reflects the lives of four slaves who toiled there until 1819.
NINETEENTH-CENTURY RECIPES, SERVED ON ZOOM
The pandemic lockdowns were put to productive use. The museum’s website was revamped, with virtual tours substituting for the real thing. Community Outreach Curator Cynthia Winslow’s Zoom sessions showcasing 19th century recipes proved so popular, they have become baked into the museum’s programs.
In another nod to the 21st century, the museum also offers guided audio tours. Guests can use their mobile phones for descriptions of museum items and flowers in the backyard garden, a place of pastoral respite maintained by the Garden Club of Morristown.
Since 2020, Macculloch Hall has distributed more than 4,000 art kits — small projects-in-a-box — to children. That program was extended to seniors last year.
Macculloch Hall also has created sensory-friendly tours for families and care partners with neurodiverse children and teens. Caregivers may schedule visits for loved ones with dementia.
Select items have been designated for hands-on exploration–a no-no in most museums where “Please Touch!” signs would be heresy. Pongracz anticipates this will be a hit with school field trips…if and when they resume, post-pandemic.
She also is re-introducing historical lectures, which drew healthy crowds, pre-COVID. C-SPAN came to Macculloch Hall to film a well attended February talk by Civil War historian and author William Styple.
Pongracz hopes to add a weekday soon to the public schedule. The museum, at 45 Macculloch Ave., now is open on weekends from noon to 4 pm, and by appointment on weekdays, 973-538-2404. The garden is free, and open from 8 am to dusk.
In its accreditation letter, the Alliance praised Macculloch Hall for upholding “high professional standards for education, public service and collections care.
“By achieving this mark of distinction, you are a leader in the field—exemplifying the best museums have to offer and reminding both your peers and the public how much museums really matter to communities.”
After achieving such recognition while struggling to stay afloat in a pandemic, Pongracz, one suspects, might wish to sit back and savor this historic moment.
Say, in George Macculloch’s roped-off Campeche Chair.
Pongracz scoffed at the mere suggestion.
“That’s why we’re accredited!” she reminded her guest, flashing a big smile.