Restoration and Discovery:
Gomez Foundation received a matching New York State EQBA grant in 1999 for several individual restoration projects on the manor house and several outbuildings. The dry laid stonewall was taken down to the ground and rebuilt using a 1923 photograph as a guide. The chimneys from Ackerts time were restored. The mortar, in some places, around the handmade Ackert bricks was replaced. Another phase of the project was the removal of the modern 1950s bathroom in the second story hallway. The removal of the bathroom returned this section of the hallway to the 1772 designs of Acker. In addition to restoring the plan and revealing the 1772 Palladian window, other discoveries were made. Sections of wall stenciling from the Arts and Crafts movement dating to the turn of the 20th century were found trimming the top and bottom of the walls; these date to the last significant occupant of the house, papermaker Dard Hunter. As well, 1772 wall and woodwork trim surfaces and finishes were discovered, including excellent examples of the 1772 mud/clay mortar and plasters. At the end of the hallway, covered by the modern bathroom, the masonry opening and remnants of the wooden frame and trim of the Palladian window and sidelights designed by Ackert were uncovered. The series of complex alterations to the Palladian window between 1772 and the 1860s cover-up, with much assessment, were determined.. To further define the 1772 configuration and detailing of the Palladian window, The Gomez Foundation applied for and received a Technical Assistance grant from the New York State Council of the Arts for paint analysis of the area. John Vaughan, Architectural Conservation Services, Bristol, Rhode Island conducted the analysis. The paint and plaster samples were removed to the lab for analysis; Vaughan noted that there were seventeen layers of paint on the wall adjoining the sidelights. and, coincidently, there were seventeen owners of Mill House since Ackert built the second floor.
The primary alteration to the Palladian window came in the 1860s with the bricking in of the round transom section and the two sidelights. The sidelight infill brick is clearly visible on the exterior behind the shutters. The masonry penetration for the Palladian window remains in place on the inside of the wall. Pieces of the 1772 frame and trim remain in place adjacent to and around the 1860s window. The infill brick of the sidelights and round transom on the inside were covered with a coat of plaster.
When the Ackert family lived here, the full beauty would be recognized immediately upon ascending the stairs to his newly added second floor and the Palladian window would have been the architectural centerpiece of the hallway as well as allowing in ample natural light.
An additional discovery - when the plumbing was removed from the 1772 Ackert wall - just to the right of the window - within the wall were found a childs wooden shoe last, a worn childs shoe and a silver pap spoon. These objects date from the 1770s. There is a tradition of concealing a worn childs shoe close to the front door to catch the evil spirits. A display box now contains these artifacts to show our visitors.
The proposal is, based upon documentation and assessments of the historic fabric, to restore the wooden frame and interior elements of the Palladian window now in place and reconstruct the remaining interior elements, including the sash. The area where the sidelights are outside are covered by stacked bricks and also by the shutters. These bricks will not be removed and will allow for the interpretation of the 1772 window on the interior of the building and not effect the exterior appearance. The inside trim, finishes, sidelight sash, transom sash and center window ash will be restored and possibly backlighted.
The Acker Family; Residents from 1772-1799
On 13th day of January 1772, Wolfert Ackert , great-grandson of Jan Ackert, one of the early Dutch settlers in New Netherlands, purchased the Mill House in a foreclosure sale conducted by the sheriff, from Jacobus Van Blarckem, of the Province of New York. Ackert was the high bidder for the property for the sum of 835 pounds and 19 shillings to include the quit rents, judgments and mortgages to His Majesty. At that time the town of Newburgh and the house, was in the county of Ulster. Wolfert was the grandson and namesake of the Wolfert Ackert immortalized by Washington Irving in his short story "Wolferts Roost". When Gomez built the original one story house, he dug deep into a hill on the north side for his rear wall. We know that Wolfert Ackert began improvements and additions to the Mill House, now the Gomez Mill House, about 1772 Ackert added the second floor and had an entrance to the house second story from on top of the hill. However, the hillside was removed in two excavations, one ca. 1882 and the other in 1932, thereby eliminating this second floor entrance. Ackerts slaves used homemade moulds and fetched the clay from the banks of the Hudson to make the bricks in the meadow across Mill House Road to add the second story. Ackers brick alterations to Gomezs one story stone building completely changed the appearance of the building. Acker developed the house in a vernacular five bay version of the popular Georgian style employing local building traditions. The upper story centerpiece for the symmetrical house was a Palladian window. The second story brickwork, laid in Fleming and in some places, Liverpool bond, is particularly distinctive. On the east side, in bricks glazed black by the hot fires in the kiln, is a design of a diamond surrounding a heart reflecting Dutch construction influence in the valley. Families following Ackerts residency continued using this theme and Dard Hunter in 1883 added a wrought iron heart to the front door and also made handmade paper using a heart watermark. (In welcoming todays many visitors, the docents point out Ackerts design and say, If you have a warm heart, you too are welcome here at Mill House.)
Wolfert Ackert was a regionally prominent Revolutionary patriot and the Mill House at Ackerts farm was a local center for Whig activity during that time. Ackert was an important figure in the Committee of Safety in Newburgh, one of the early Town Supervisors and was known as a zealous Whig and a first-rate Tory hunter. He was commissioned a first Lieutenant on December 1, 1775 in the New Marlborough Company, Southern Regiment of Minute Men.
On the Sabbath, area farmers and residents would gather at this house and Wolfert would open the meetings with a reading from his old Dutch family Bible, after which they discussed War news and planned anti-Tory activities. Today, in a prominent position in the dinning room, is Wolferts wooden Bible box, a gift from his descendants.
It must suffice here to say that after the war, Wolfert Ackert prospered, with several grist mills on the former Jews Creek, now called Ackers Creek, a ferry on the Hudson, a packet line to New York, and extensive commercial activities in the mid-Hudson region. Wolferts son, Colonel William Acker, went in for sports, good living, and politics. The order of preference is suggested by the fact that although he did spend some time in the legislature at Albany where he died on the Assembly Rooms floor - his sportsman and gambling habits apparently got the better of him, for the Mill House and property was sold as it was acquired, at a foreclosure sale to the next family, the Armstrongs of Danskammer.
Occupants of Mill House
Luis Gomez, a Sephardic Jew, a merchant and trader, was the first owner of Gomez Mill House, which he built in Marlboro as a trading post for the new colonists. Other pioneers, fleeing tyranny, and the cruelties in Europe for the promise of a new life, then settled in the Hudson Valley.
Wolfert Acker bought Mill House In 1772 and added the elegant second story, which was made from bricks baked in kilns on the property. He was a member of the Ulster County Militia and fought during the American Revolution to win freedom for the colonists.
When Harry Armstrong came to Mill House in 1862 on his honeymoon he brought his southern bride Maddie and stayed for the next 60 years. A gentleman farmer, he added a new kitchen wing, and planted orchards of fruit trees and berries to the property.
Dard Hunter, legendary artisan and craftsman bought Mill House in 1909. During his 7-year residence, Hunter began his lifelong career in hand papermaking and printing. He built a mill in the style of a Devonshire cottage. There he experimented with hand milled paper and produced his early signature work.
America entered the war in 1914, and the Hunter’s first son, Dard Jr., was born a month later. Thinking he was going into the service, Hunter sold Mill house in 1919. Hunter wrote in his autobiography that the house was sold to a representative of the Russian government and used as a school for children of all races. He really sold to Ms. Martha Gruening who tried to establish a Libertarian School at Mill House.
In 1947 the Starin family purchased Mill House with a GI loan. They raised 4 children here and were instrumental in preserving its heritage and tradition. After much research and many years of persistence Mildred Starin successfully placed the Gomez Mill House on the Historic Register in January 1973.