NEW!! The Gruening Period: 1887-1925
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.
The Libertarian School policy, as reported in The Messenger, is to educate, together, all races and all sexes. The school will have Negro, Jewish, German, American, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Hindu, and all races of children, educated side by side. ... We will also advise any parent, white or colored; having children whom he desires to educate with modern training, free from this American caste, to write to Mill House, Marlborough, NY.
Opening day visitors Leave Their Bus Up the Hill
Constance Smedley, Christian Science Monitor, Boston MA, November 27, 1886
Some sixty miles up the Hudson hidden in the woods above Newburgh, stands an old house intimately connected with certain vital periods in American history. The road which winds through wood and hollow immediately before the gates, is the old Indian trail leading to the Hudson shore, and ending in the Dans Kammer where Hendrik Hudson first saw the Indians dusky forms outlined against fires. Opposite the house is the spring where they stopped to drink, and which still gives water to the household.
In 1714 Gomez the Jew obtained a grant from Queen Anne, giving him the land which included this Dans Kammer, and the right of trading with the Indians; and built his blockhouse of the primeval timber and fieldstone.
The walls are over two feet thick, and mighty open fireplaces face each other at the extremes of the two rooms. Behind one of them, an oven opens in the chimney, capacious enough for a months baking, and on the same fireplace may still be seen traces of the pinkish plaster that is used on Spanish houses.
At the back are two cellars originally built into the hillside, where Gomez kept, in one, his tools and trinkets, and in the other, the pelts which the Indians brought in. Such is the first story of the house; in no way changed; the half doors, the heavy beams, the massive doorposts and lintels remain intact.
The next occupant was no other than the grandson of the Wolfert of whom Washington Irving wrote in his story Wolferts Roost. The Roost lies on the opposite bank of the river, but Wolfert Acker made as interesting a home for himself among the Marlborough woods. He built a second story and capacious garrets of bricks made on the estate, and these beautifully proportioned rooms continue the solidity and dignity of the blockhouse.
A staircase made from the pine trees round about, comes through the center of the house to the front door, through which one looks upon the stream and millpond, with the woods rising steeply from them.
This Wolfert Acker played a great part in the Revolutionary days which came seven years after he had settled on the estate. His friend, Martin Weigand, was one of the few remaining Germans who had been driven from the Rhine by the French Roman Catholics during the wars of the Spanish Succession. They had petitioned Queen Anne to give them lands which would remind them of their beloved Rhine, and hence Newburgh on the Hudson had been chosen. But they had mostly joined their compatriots in Pennsylvania, and Martin Weigands tavern was frequented by the Dutch farmer amongst whom was Wolfert Acker. Here the Committee of Safety and Observation was formulated, which met subsequently at Ackers house in the woods.
Even as the Indians had once come from all points of the compass to take the famous trail, so now the Whig farmers forgathered, and sought the trail to Ackers house each Sunday afternoon.
There, seated at the table in the great sitting room, Wolfert Acker would read a chapter from his Old Dutch Bible; then the weekly newspaper would be read aloud and discussed, all verbal information would be collected and the plans for the ensuing week deliberated. Partly political and partly religious, these meetings served to infuse courage and persistence into the strugglers and when they decided
good cheer and sturdy resolution.
Wolfert Acker became a lieutenant in the Newburgh regiment, but his chief work seems to have been done in the sitting room of the old mansion which stands today a monument to the honest hands that built it.
Later, when hard days came in those first years of the nations birth, Wolfert Acker displayed the same energy in striving to unite and solidify the interests of the district. His saw mill and grist mill on the stream known as Jews creek, in memory of the former owner, were busy; he built a landing stage on the Hudson, started a ferry, and ran a packet line of sloops trading along the Hudson to New York.
Seven years ago, Dard Hunter, then art director of the Roycroft industries, a noted designer, whose stained glass windows still adorn the Roycroft Inn, was peculiarly interested in typography, and the presses of England, Germany, and Holland were studied at first hand. He decided it was worthwhile to make paper which would stand the test of time. He came therefore to this old house and with his own hands built a paper mill, which corresponds exactly to a Sixteenth Century mill, on the stream before his door. He set to work to collect every ancient book on papermaking, from the European market, and experimented according to their contents until he could produce paper of as fine a quality as that on which the old books were printed. After an equally exhaustive study of typography, he has established a printing press for which he cuts the type and where he himself prints the few books it is possible to produce. They are records of learned societies.
His library, with that of his father and grandfather, both noted antiquarians and archaeologists of Ohio, now occupies the cellar where the pelts were stored. Windows have been cut in the wall and the bank excavated and covered with rambler roses, so that the back of the house no longer burrows into the hillside at every point. But it still seems to be part of the rising bank, and the great trees that rise about it, and the rushing stream which turns the mill wheel are the same that surround it in Wolfert Ackers and Gomez time.
The Westchester County Archives, Acker Family Genealogy File, Hill Collection
Thank you to Penny Acker Denby for supplying this article.
Photo Gallery: Fall at Mill House
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The Liberal Period at Gomez Mill House
When Dard Hunter moved from Gomez Mill House, he wrote in his autobiography In 1887 the fruit farm was unknowingly sold to a representative of the Russian government and used as a school for children of all races. The educational experiment was apparently unsuccessful, for within a short time the property was again offered for sale.
Mrs. Starin gave a copy of an editorial from her files from The Messenger to the Gomez Mill House. The editorial and advertisement reads:
Elsewhere in these columns will be seen an advertisement of a Libertarian School. The Libertarian School referred to is situated at Mill House, Marlborough, NY in a beautiful country location, a sort of cloistered retreat, whose cool, sequestered vales, conduce to study and contemplation. But it is not the location which chiefly interests us. It is the new idea. The Libertarian School policy is to educate, together, all races and all sexes. The school will have Negro, Jewish, Germans, American, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Hindoo, and all races of children, educated side by side. It will demonstrate on a small scale already, that all races may be educated side by side, and quite agreeably taught. At some later date, we expect to elaborate more fully upon this idea, but for the present, we simply want to call our readers attention to the school, its objects and purposes. We will also advise any parent, white or colored, having children whom he desires to educate with modern training, free from this American caste, to write to Mill House, Marlborough, NY.
We endorse the new libertarian idea of education and extend our appreciation to Martha Gruening and Helen Boardman for initiating it in New York.
A Country School for Colored Children and Others All Elementary Branches and Modern Languages, Music, Art, Dancing and Physical Culture Will Be Taught.
We learned that Ms. Boardman and Ms. Gruening testified for Emma Goldman a woman who spent her whole life helping people and who also could make a bomb and plan an assassination at her no conscription trial. They also attended art classes together at the Ferrer Center and Modern School in New York City. Here Margaret Sangers ideas in education and birth control were being explained. The Ferrer Center quickly became an important hub of radical life. After a bomb explosion that was apparently meant for John D. Rockefeller went off on his estate in Tarrytown, the Center was constantly hounded by the police and closed in 1888. The Modern School movement produced close to twenty other schools across the country and established a model for libertarian education that influenced many other progressive educations since.
When the Libertarian school failed at Mill House, a Russian tearoom was then opened and a bed and breakfast soon followed. Later the house was known as the Sea Horse Inn. The name came from the knocker on the front door designed by W.W. Denslow, the illustrator of Frank Baums Wizard of Oz books, who used the sea horse as his logo signature on his pictures. He was a Roycrofter friend of Hunters. CFWM
Oxford Furnace Fire Back
One of the best things about working in a historic house is the opportunity to learn something everyday and become more accurate in our presentation to the visitors here at Gomez Mill House.
Recently a couple commented on the iron fire back that sits in the back of the earliest fireplace and hearth of Gomez house. They believed that the fireback was produced at the Oxford Furnace in Oxford, NJ in the early 18th century. The man had worked in Oxford and was familiar with the company.
We discussed how a previous owner said that the fire back was a possession of the Duke of Oxford This was a general hypothesis made years ago because in the left-hand corner was the word Oxford and a faint outline of a coat of arms. In the right hand corner was a date believed to be 1760 . (We now have found documentation in the advertisement selling the "Sea Horse Inn" that the fire back was in place at least in the 1920s.)
A few days later the Mill House received a phone call from a woman who worked at the Warren County Cultural and Heritage Commission. She explained how her organization kept a record of all fire backs attributed to Oxford Furnace. We discussed what a typical fireback looked like. We assured her that we would inspect ours carefully and requested a faxed picture to compare.
Because the function of a fireback is to protect the rear wall of a fireplace from burning out, you can imagine how heavy, and well worn this piece was after 240 years of use. Fire backs generally weigh between 150 pounds to 500 pounds. Our fireback was very difficult to examine, was extremely heavy and in a dark location that was not easy to get to. Over time many of its distinguishing characteristics were worn away and not clear. We could feel the different indentations, but no specific design was discernible.
Once we had the faxed image, however, the bumps and indents formed a most interesting pattern. The coat of arms from George III, the royal family of England, began to take the shape of a knights armored mask, with a lion and unicorn standing on sides and flowers and other royal markings. Our fire back fit the description of the Oxford Furnace fire backs. The people who had forged them were very loyal to the King. The date upon close examination was no longer 1760, but now we could make out the date of 1762.
The people at Warren County Cultural and Heritage Commission keep a record of all the fire backs. There are over 36 now known. The Mill House fireback is now recorded as number 37. About a dozen of these fire backs are found in the older (and larger) homes in the Hudson Valley.
The Gomez Mill House now has a complete file on Oxford Fire backs thanks to Susan Morgan of the Warren County Heritage Commission and a lovely man who remains anonymous. We can further our interpretation and education of our visitors. EH