Twilight Memories of the Roycroft Campus

I am writing this week’s column from the Robert Browning room on the third floor of the historic Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, New York. It is near the end of what has been a beautiful June day: clear blue skies, lush maple trees shading the rock-walled campus, and visitors meandering among the restored buildings of Elbert Hubbard and his band of woodworkers, coppersmiths, leatherworkers, book binders, printers, and innkeepers.

I’ve lost track of precisely how many times I have stayed here at the Roycroft Inn, but I certainly remember the first. It was the fall of 1986 and I had gotten the last available bed for the three-day weekend of the short-lived Roycroft Arts and Crafts Conference and Antiques Show. I spent my first twilight there just as I spent it tonight: walking along the tree-lined streets that encompass the Roycroft Campus.

That first evening we had all been told that the Roycroft Inn was closing for what turned out to be nearly a decade-long restoration, and with its closing, of course, would be the termination of the fledgling Arts and Crafts Conference. There were fewer than one hundred of us at that event, but we all sensed the momentum we would lose with the loss of an annual gathering.

As I sat in the small Roycroft chapel that served as the seminar room, I began to think about the possibility of hosting an Arts and Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn overlooking Asheville. The inn had been furnished by the Roycrofters in 1913 and still maintained its Arts and Crafts heritage, along with an enormous collection of Arts and Crafts antiques, so the only question that remained was, “Would people travel all the way to North Carolina for an Arts and Crafts Conference?”

My credentials were questionable, at best. I was a novice Arts and Crafts collector. I hadn’t yet begun researching and writing about either the Grove Park Inn or the Arts and Crafts movement. And I had only that weekend begun to meet the core group of antiques dealers whom I would have to convince to haul their valuable collections down to North Carolina in February.

But I returned to North Carolina determined to at least consider the possibility and, after an encouraging meeting with the managers of the Grove Park Inn, made the decision that has affected nearly every day of my life since then.

My return to East Aurora this past week brought back a flood of memories of my first weekend here, but it was even more gratifying to witness the progress the Roycroft Campus Corporation, the staff at the Roycroft Inn, and the townspeople have made in restoring Elbert Hubbard’s buildings and reviving his dream of a self-sustaining Arts and Crafts enterprise.

And not only is the Roycroft Campus looking the best it has in nearly one hundred years, but the village of East Aurora is also thriving. The six-block business district stretching along Main Street is testimony to the success of small, locally owned businesses, and dedicated entrepreneurs. Turn of the century houses line the tidy streets, with American flags proudly displayed on bungalow porches, each yard mowed, each street kept clean of litter. It’s a village that invites you to simply walk and gaze, to wave at people you don’t know, to return a smile from a jogger or dog walker.

I hope you will someday take the time to spend a day in East Aurora and a night at the Roycroft Inn, for you’ll leave feeling that much closer to envisioning what it would have been like to live in an Arts and Crafts community a hundred years ago, when life moved at a slower pace and people sat on their front porches, not checking their emails or texting a friend, but actually talking to one another.

Until next Monday,

Make it an Arts and Crafts week!



Top: Front entrance to the historic Roycroft Inn; bottom: a view of the restored Copper Shop (right), the original Furniture Shop (center), and a wall of the rebuilt Power House visitor’s center (left).

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