If the Walls of the Gomez Mill House Could Talk..
If the walls of the Gomez Mill House could talk, what a story it could tell.
Despite the hard stone construction of the building, the sentiment is gentle: "If you have a warm heart, you are welcome." The alert observer will see hearts in the designs around the home and grounds, and in the artwork. It's a place that has been witness to over 300 years of history: not only of Orange County but the United States. It has seen days as a business operation, sending construction materials to New York City; it has overheard secret intelligence meetings during the Revolutionary War; it has also been a working farm growing fruit and breeding purebred animals. Built by Jewish businessman Luis Moses Gomez, it's also the oldest known Jewish dwelling in the United States.
In the early 1900's, the new owner, Dard Hunter, a "legendary paper artisan," started a hand-milled papermaking operation, and made two books by hand. According to Visitor Service Coordinator, Richie Rosencrans, is particularly noteworthy because "it was the first time a book was handmade by a single person since the invention of typeface, which occurred in China before 1100 AD." Many of Hunter's homemade paper samples, with its signature "heart" logo, are on display.
The Gomez Mill House, as seen from the paper-making studio.
Then the home was owned by Martha Gruening, who wished to spread the philosophy of freedom for all people and to open a Libertarian School. Gruening, who owned the property from 1918-1925, was a highly educated social activist - even being arrested for protest activities, and was also a former assistant secretary for the NAACP.
In the second half of the 1900's, the home's busy and active life quieted down as the Starin family came aboard. Mildred Starin had the eye of a preservationist, and enhanced the home's furnishings and gardens, and in 1973, with the help of like-minded supporters, successfully had it placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A visitor today will be guided through the simple rooms decorated with antiques gathered by Mildred, stroll along sturdy wood plank floors, view the stucco walls with samples of ancient wallpaper, see period handcrafting tools, curious artwork, and architectural beauty. Rosencrans enjoys leading guests and the hundreds of third-graders from area schools who visit every year on tours that start in the kitchen. What is striking about this room is the contrast between the 1860's stone fireplace with cooking utensils on one side, and Mildred's kitchen, complete with modern stove, sink, and kitchen cabinets on the other. It's here that we're reminded how far we have come, and that the Gomez Mill House is a kind of time capsule for the past 300 years.
According to Richie, the historic site tells the story of the role New York played in the making of a new nation and reminds us how the accomplishments of one person can have a lasting effect, even centuries later. How the Gomez family originally fled Spain and the oppression of the Spanish Inquisition, how Luis Gomez landed in England and then crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean, where he extended his fortunes in the trade business, before settling in New York City. One of the remarkable and larger documents on display is what is known as a "denization," purchased by Gomez in 1705 and authorized by Queen Anne. This granted Gomez, "the rights to conduct business, own property, and live freely within the Colonies without an oath of allegiance to the Church of England." While it did not grant him citizenship, it allowed him to conduct his business activities and leave property and possessions to his descendants.
You could say the Gomez Mill House is a lasting, and striking symbol of the freedoms and opportunities available to those who made the journey to America. A lesson we need to keep sharing with the generations to come.
Article by MJ Hanley-Goff, Assistant to the Orange County Historian
The Gomez Mill House opens for the season on April 17, 2016. Throughout the year, the home hosts lectures and special "free admission" days. Its SAM lectures ("Sundays at Mill House,") are very popular; visit www.gomez.org for the upcoming 2016 schedule.
Gomez Mill House is located on Mill House Road: 9W to Mill House Road. House is on the left.
From the website: "The mission of the Gomez Foundation is to preserve this unique historic house as a significant regional and national rank museum -- the oldest standing Jewish dwelling in North America, and the oldest historic house in Orange County, NY on the National Register for nearly three centuries -- and to educate the public through experiential tours and programs about the contributions of former Mill House owners to the multicultural history of the Hudson River Valley."