Sunday, February 17, 2008

America's oldests Jewish residence.

The Mill House, located just off 9W, five miles north of Newburgh, NY, on the Hudson River, is the oldest house on the National Register of Historic Places in Orange County and the earliest surviving Jewish residence in North America. It has been continuously inhabited for more than 280 years.

It would indeed be difficult to find a landmark more richly intertwined with our complex history, or complex fate: site of an ancient Indian ceremonial ground; frontier trading post; earliest extant Jewish residence in North America; center of patriot activity in the American Revolution; home of writers and artists and men of affairs; the Mill House symbolizes and sums up our regional and national history. It is a most dramatic and absolutely irreplaceable incarnation of American history.

In 1714 Luis Moses Gomez, who had fled from the Spanish inquisition, purchased 6,000 acres of land along the Hudson Highlands where several Indian trails converged. Here he built a fieldstone block house into the side of a hill and by a stream that became known as Jews Creek.
The great walls of the house which are about three feet thick still stand today. Native Americans came to hold ceremonial rites at their campground at the Duyfils Danskammer (Devils Dance Chamber) on the shores of the Hudson on Gomezs property. For some thirty years Luis Gomez and his sons conducted a thriving fur trade from the fortress like house. Luis Moses Gomez became the first parnas (president) when the synagogue of New Yorks Spanish and Portuguese congregation was built. Among the family connections were poetess Emma Lazarus and Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo.

Before the Revolutionary War, Mill House was purchased Wolfert Acker, a Dutch-American who added a second storey and attic to Mill House with bricks made from clay found nearby. Acker served as a lieutenant in the New Marlborough Company of Minute Men and chairman of the Committee of Safety while General Washingtons army was camped close by in Newburgh. The house became a center for meetings of the new American patriots. After the war, Acker established a landing on the Hudson with a ferry to cross the river and a packet line to carry freight.

In the 19th century, gentleman farmer and William Henry Armstrong with his family made Mill House their home for five decades. They added the kitchen wing and walls to the property. At the Danskammer, painter, statesman and brother D. Maitland Armstrong lived.
The most famous owner in the 20th century was Dard Hunter, renowned craftsman and paper maker who, just before World War I, built a paper mill on the creek in the shape of a Devonshire cottage complete with a thatched roof. Students from all over the world came to learn from him as he made paper by hand, cut and cast type and handprinted his own books. The Gomez Foundation for Mill House has restored Hunters Mill and completed in 1997 the mill dam and bridge.

After World War II, the Starin family purchased the house with a G.I. loan. They raised their children here while Mildred Starin enriched the house, furnishings and garden and placed the site on the National Register.


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