Always in search of a hidden gem, I was thrilled to venture south of Buffalo on a recent cold snowy weekend to explore the famed Roycroft Campus.
This artist colony, founded in 1895, is tucked into the charming town of East Aurora, NY. The 14 original buildings stand, crafted from local stone and materials, creating a unique campus with a story to tell.
Elbert Hubbard, a well-known writer and publisher in his day, founded the community to be an oasis for artisans. He had a dream – to create a community of artists to share the design and the philosophy of the Arts & Crafts movement with the masses. At it’s height in 1910, the Roycroft Campus developed into a society of more than 500 artists – known as “Roycrofters” – living and working in East Aurora.
The Arts & Crafts movement was a resistance to the mass-produced goods of the industrial revolution, and praised simplicity and hand-hewn goods. On the campus, printmakers, leatherworkers, and furniture makers added the recognizable Roycroft Logo to their works, to note the quality of the item and it’s hand-made status.
Hubbard and his wife, Alice Moore Hubbard, died in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. Ironically, he had written an essay just three years earlier about George and Ida Strauss’ death in the sinking of the Titanic. The community, under the leadership of Hubbard’s son, thrived for a few more years, and closed in 1938.
Today, the community is again buzzing and humming with artisans, community groups, and a renewed interest in the slowing of the pace and appreciating hand-made goods. The Copper Shop sells all kinds of hand-made items, from furniture to glass vases. The Pump House is a space for classes and events, and the Chapel – now again back in the hands of the Roycroft Campus Corportation – is being turned back into a functional space for community and artists.
The highlight of the campus is the 29-room Roycroft Inn. Built in 1897, and completely renovated and updated in 1996, the structure was originally the first Print Shop. By 1900, the space housed frequent guests and visiting artists, as well as concerts and lectures.
Luckily, the Inn is now a National Historic Landmark, and the recent renovation maintained much of the original furniture and fixtures. I found the Inn to be welcoming and warm, and surrounded me with the style of Hubbard’s day. Roycroft-logoed furniture fills the public spaces. Clean lines and natural wood trim add a masculine edge to the doorways and guest rooms, and leaded windows gaze out onto the campus.
Throughout the Inn, stunning murals adorn the walls. Painted by Roycroft artisan Alexis Jean Fournier, the murals depict the seasons, times of the day, and important sites throughout the world – including, of course, East Aurora! These murals recently underwent an extensive restoration through Buffalo State College, to coincide with the Inn’s reemergence as a premier place to stay in Western New York.
Pride in craftsmanship continued through dinner, served in Roycroft-logoed plates and glassware. The menu is extensive and elegant – and even includes a few quirky items like the truffle/gorgonzola/homemade potato chip combination and the house-made wild game sausages. I dined in the Larkin Room overlooking the snow-coated courtyard – a cozy spot! In the summertime, dining goes outdoors to the patio.
Wandering back to my room, I couldn’t help but notice the dozens of “motto boards” found all about the Inn. These wooden plaques and framed writings offered tiny tidbits of advice and life lessons. My favorite: “Never explain. Your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway.”
I noted the photograph of the Lusitania, on the wall in one of the private meeting rooms. It seems Elbert Hubbard himself would be pleased with the campus, its restoration, and to know that visitors like me are now finding inspiration and enjoying the comfortable simplicity of his Roycroft Campus.