Roycroft Renaissance

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From an upstairs window we could see most of the Roycroft campus—the printing building, the power plant, the foundry, the leather shop, and bindery —a collection of structures that in 1973 won a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. “All the original buildings are here except the tea house and the garden,” Turgeon-Rust said. “Of course, you have to use your imagination. Where the parking lots are now was all lawn, with peahens and peacocks strutting around.”

Elbert Hubbard was not entirely beloved in East Aurora in his lifetime. His biographer Freeman Champney concludes that the experience of meeting him was like “having been brushed and shaken by some elemental force and being variously bemused, grateful, annoyed, and furious.” But walking around the little arts community he built, I rather got to like Elbert Hubbard. He made a lot of money and chose to spend it creating a place where seekers could come to improve themselves. Judging by the comments they left in guest books at the inn—”a bright oasis in the desert of humdrum,” “a solid woven fabric of deliberate purpose”—they found what they came for. And when Elbert and Alice Hubbard went down aboard the Lusitania in 1915, some forty thousand Americans sent condolences to his son. Elbert Hubbard II managed to keep the Roycroft enterprise going until the Depression hit, selling some of the smaller goods out of “Roycroft Corners” set up in department stores. But in 1938 the shop closed its doors.

Today in East Aurora there is talk of raising money to replace the lawn and of getting more storekeepers on Main Street to put up signs in Arts and Crafts lettering. But I’m not sorry I saw East Aurora before its renaissance is complete, when imagination is still called for and when the tasks that remain seem as pleasurable as choosing a shade of paint or a sample of wallpaper.

—Jane Colihan TO PLAN A TRIP