The Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT) will feature the Marlborough region on its fifth annual Historic House Tour next Saturday, May 30 from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. “Houses on the Land: The Fruits of Marlborough from the Highlands to the Hudson” will take tourgoers on a self-guided journey through the hamlets of Lattintown, Milton and Marlboro, highlighting the area’s rural roots, riverside communities and generations of farmers and fruit-growers. Eight private homes and farmsteads will open their doors to the public, most of them for the first time. The tour also includes access to the 1858 Christ Episcopal Church, the 301-year-old Gomez Mill House and the 1883 Milton-on-Hudson train station, where the tour begins. The day will end with an informal wine reception for tourgoers, held at a private residence from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Each of the homes will have docents on hand. The specific destinations won’t be revealed until the day of the tour, but while protective of the participating homeowners’ privacy until then, WVLT board member Vals Osborne was willing to give a few hints about what tourgoers will experience.
The oldest dwelling on the tour is an 18th-century framed house whose original owner/builder was a descendent of one of the New Paltz patentees, said Osborne. The house is in its original condition, believed to be the earliest home in the region, and has some unusual features including a gable roof form known as “docked” or “clipped.” In contrast, a carefully restored rural homestead of the same period will be a tour destination in Lattintown, the westernmost hamlet on the tour, where the orchards and farms of Marlborough are located. (It might be worth noting at this point that Marlborough is the township; Marlboro is the hamlet within.)
The tour will also highlight several grand 19th-century river houses perched high above the Hudson. Only one of the houses is on the National Register of Historic Places, but according to Osborne, all of them are deserving of the designation. “The only reason they’re not on the list is because the homeowners never pursued it,” she said. One of the homes she described as being somewhat Colonial in style, even though it’s from the mid-19th century, while another is “a full-blown Victorian in the feeling of the Picturesque movement.”
The three public historic sites on the tour are all on the National Register of Historic Places. The riverfront Milton-on-Hudson train station, circa 1883, is in the process of being restored to its original condition, to be used as a community center for Marlborough. The Christ Episcopal Church on Old Post Road, designed by architect Richard Upjohn and built in 1858 in the Gothic Revival style, will be open to tourgoers with views of its stained glass windows designed by D. Maitland Armstrong, who has family connections to the other public historic site on the tour, the Gomez Mill House in Marlboro. The Armstrong family bought the 1714 Mill House in the early years of the 19th century, their number including artists and “gentlemen farmers” who planted orchards and were early conservationists.
The population of artisans, intellectuals and activists who lived in the Marlboro region in the 20th century is reflected in the residents of the Gomez Mill House during that time. Renowned paper historian and papermaker Dard Hunter, steeped in the Arts and Crafts movement, built a papermill on the site in the style of a Devonshire cottage (complete with thatched roof) during his tenure as owner. The mill has been restored. After Hunter, social activist and writer Martha Gruening moved in, planning to open a Libertarian school on the site. That never happened, but Gruening maintained her commitment to civil rights and was an early supporter of the NAACP.
Three hundred years of history at the Gomez Mill House are a lot to absorb along with the details of the homes and farmsteads on the Historic House Tour, however, some tourgoers may wish to avail themselves of the opportunity to come back to the Gomez House on another date to use the included complimentary ticket to the house museum. It will be good for admission through Labor Day.
The Milton-on-Hudson train station at 41 Dock Road will be the starting point for all tourgoers, whether they’ve pre-purchased tickets at www.wallkillvalleylt.org for $35 (before May 29) or waited to buy them on the day of the event for $40. Members of the WVLT receive a $5 discount in either case, and the ticket price includes admission for all to the wine reception after the tour. Advance purchase is recommended, cautioned Osborne, as space is limited and the toursells out quickly. Tickets may be picked up on the day of the tour between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the train station. Maps and detailed descriptions of the properties will be provided there, along with a suggested navigation route, but visitors are free to choose their own path.
Proceeds from the tour benefit the nonprofit Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT), which has conserved 29 public and private parcels of land totaling approximately 2,000 acres since the organization was formed in 1987. Its efforts include conservation of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and the Rosendale Trestle. Represented in the towns of New Paltz, Gardiner, Shawangunk, Rosendale, Esopus, Lloyd, Plattekill and Marlborough, the WVLT chooses one of these regions every year to spotlight in its annual Historic House Tours.
This year’s choice of Marlborough turned out to be the most rewarding program yet that they’ve put together, said Osborne, thanks in large part to the extensive support that they received from town officials, the train station’s board and the homeowners; but it didn’t come to fruition without presenting a few challenges. “It took us longer to put this tour together because so little has been written about the architecture of the houses in that area,” she explained. “And we’re pretty serious about what we do. We try to document these different regions from a cultural as well as an agricultural perspective, and to move the information forward in terms of adding to it, not just recirculating what is already known.”
By working in tandem with members of the Society for the Preservation of Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture (HVVA), Osborne said, they achieved their goal. “We’ve been able to actually make some contribution to the understanding of the architecture in the Marlborough region, which is very exciting.”
WVLT’s Historic House Tour of Marlborough, Saturday, May 30, 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m., reception, 4:30-6 p.m., $35/$40, Milton-on-Hudson train station, 41 Dock Road, Milton; (845) 255-2761, www.wallkillvalleylt.org.