The cottage built by Dard Hunter as workspace and the meadow around it were badly damaged last year by Hurricane Irene. Rich Rosencrans, the site’s knowledgeable historical interpreter and program coordinator, says that the natural stone banks of the creek were particularly hard hit, as was the footbridge landing, the meadow and the natural dam retaining wall, which collapsed and was washed away. Rosencrans has placed photos and a video on the website, www.gomez.org, that show a dramatic contrast between the normal state of the site and the devastation caused by the rising, rushing waters and the flooding.
The mill house itself was on high enough ground so as to stay safe, says Abrahams, and the flooding was contained in the meadow area rather than where the house sits. “That whole area was under between four and eight feet of water, depending on where you were,” she says. “When the water receded, it drained most of the topsoil, and heaved rocks and debris all over.” A tent where public events, lectures and demonstrations are normally held on the meadow had been collapsed in advance, in preparation for the storm, but even so it too was destroyed because it was in the path of the flooding.
It was only earlier last year that the cottage opened again after undergoing a major restoration. The storms had warped and ruined all the flooring inside, says Abrahams, and the entire cottage, lifted off its base by the water, will have to be raised and set down in place correctly again. The repairs will cost $7000 or $8000. FEMA will pay for most of it, although the Gomez Foundation has to come up with the money to do the work before reimbursement by the federal relief agency is made. Careful budgeting and a little help from the state will get the Gomez Foundation through that, says Abrahams. They hope to get the work done as early as July.
An update on the progress of the repairs will be posted on the website. “The land repair is the major part,” says Abrahams, “because it’s where we would normally put our tent for the summer and have our public programs. We have to curtail those a little bit until then,” she says, “but we’re almost at the end of the process, finalizing the last details and getting the paperwork in.”
In the meantime, the thatched cottage and the meadow around it are off limits. Hunter’s workspace is still visible from the outside. Abrahams says that people from all over the world have come just to look at the place in which Hunter worked. “It’s legendary among papermakers,” she says.
The influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement (which played a major role in the establishment of the arts-and-crafts colony of Byrdcliffe in Woodstock in the first years of the twentieth century) has continued to this day. Reacting to the industrialization of England by “dark and satanic mills,” the movement celebrated instead the making of handmade object with traditional craftsmanship which reflected the heart and soul of its maker. Dard Hunter was skilled in many facets of decorative art, but paper became his ultimate passion. He was consumed by the making of it by hand with traditional tools, letterpress printing and handmade books, and the scholarly exploration of the history of it. He wrote many books about papermaking and the history of paper, including the classic reference book “Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft.”
Hunter bought the Mill House property in Marlboro in 1912, a century ago. Though Hunter is not associated with Byrdliffe, he did have connections with the community of Roycrofters in East Aurora, not far from Buffalo. Hunter got his start as a professional craftsman through taking classes at the Roycroft school started by Elbert Hubbard (the campus still exists today as an arts center, with its original structures preserved).
According to biographer Cathleen Baker, Dard decided at the Roycroft campus to make that unusual first name official, writing home that he would never again be known as William Joseph. (Baker says that the name was an early family nickname, although it wasn’t used by everyone. It most likely derived, she says, from his two-year-old brother’s attempts to pronounce what he heard the new baby being called: “darling.”)
By the time he bought the mill house property, Dard Hunter was looking for property to set up his own papermaking and printing operation. What mattered to him, according to his biographer, was finding a place with “a plentiful source of pure, running water.” He planned to produce handmade paper using a wooden waterwheel for the power needed to beat rags into pulp in papermaking. “He built the dam which allowed the water to flow in,” says Ruth Abrahams, “but unfortunately it [the water power] was not powerful enough for him to stay very long.” After just five or so years in Marlboro, Hunter moved on, and the property was sold to Gruening.
300th anniversary plans
In 2014 the Gomez Mill House hopes to hold a celebration in honor of the 300th anniversary of the year that Gomez first bought the land. Gomez’ contributions will be honored under the theme “Freedom, Tolerance and Opportunity in America as Reflected at the Gomez Mill House.” Abrahams argues that the theme applies to all the residents who lived there. The actual events for the anniversary celebration are still in the planning stages. In August this year, there will be a special exhibit on the life and work of Wolfert Acker of the Revolutionary-War period. An exhibit of plein-air paintings by local artists, some done at the property, will be held in June.
The Gomez Mill House is open Wednesday-Sunday April 17 through Nov. 7. All entry into the Gomez Mill House site buildings require taking the guided tour, available at 10:30 a.m., 1:15 p.m., and 2:45 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $3 for ages five through 18 and for students. For information, visit www.gomez.org, or call 236-3126.