Arts & Crafts - Table of Contents ..........East Aurora - Table of Contents
See also: Roycroft Campus Blog, By Janet Utts (online June 2019)
Much of the land comprising the Roycroft Campus originally served as an apple orchard. It was a serene landscape that Hubbard used to his advantage in creating a pastoralcampus environ suited to open-air meeting areas and outdoor activities.
Shortly after the turn of the century, this walkway called "The Appian Way," named after the ancient Roman highway, was established through the middle of the Campus Green. Its purpose was to provide direct access from the Roycroft Inn to the rest of the Campus, much in the same manner that the original Appian Way connected Rome to the rest of the Italian peninsula.
The Appian Way was originally flanked on the right side by a stone well, a water pump, a well sweep, a bronze stature of Michelangelo sculpted by Paul Bartlett in 1909, and a bronze statue of Elbert Hubbard created by Roycroft sculptor Jerome Conner in 1930. Both sculptures are presently on view in front of the East Aurora Middle School located on Main Street across from the Roycroft Chapel.
The left side of the Appian Way housed a "playground" which included tennis courts, a mammoth teeter-totter, swings, a sliding board, a lawn bowling court and tennis viewing platforms built into nearby fruit trees.
Off to the far back right behind the Print Shop, an additional Appian Walkway connected the Print Shop with Main Street. This segment was flanked by the Elbert and AliceHubbard Memorial Boulder placed in 1916 in memory of the Hubbard's ill-fated European trip aboard the S.S. Lusitania. The boulder has since been relocated to the front of the Chapel at the Main and South Grove Streets intersection.
Stone driveway pillars were added to the Campus soon after the Chapel and Print Shop were constructed. They were eventually connected together by stone fences sometimeafter 1904, creating a strong visual campus perimeter along South Grove and Main Streets. Cast iron pole lamps were added to the pillars circa 1915.
The sprawling courtyard of the Campus was surrounded by many Roycroft buildings in a design that afforded employees ample opportunity for fresh air breaks and exercise regimes such as medicine ball workouts. The green space also served as a social gathering area for convention attendees and visitors.
Famous guests of the Hubbard'sand the Roycroft included: Susan B. Anthony, Mrs. C. R. Ashbee, Clara Barton, David Bispham, Carrie Jacobs Bond, Edward Bok, Gutzon Borglum, Buster Brown, Mrs. William Jennings Bryan, John Bunny, John Burroughs, George Washington Carver, Stephen Crane, Evelyn Crompton, George Daniels, Clarence Darrow, Thomas Edison, Robert Faulkner, Eugene Field, Harvey Firestone, Horace Fletcher, Henry Ford, Edgar A. Guest, Thomas Hamed, Bret Harte, Harry Houdini, George Wharton James, RudyardKipling, Joaquin Miller, John Muir, B. J. Pahner, Paul Tyner Post, Leland Powers, James Whitcomb Riley, John D. Rockefeller, Theodore Roosevelt, Lillian Russell, Carl Sandburg, Margaret Sanger, Henry Steinway, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ellen Terry, Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington and Frank Lloyd Wright.
By 1905, advertising brochures touted the Inn and surrounding Roycroft Campus as a tourist's delight, offering amenities including "electric lights, steam heat, Turkish baths, running water, art gallery, chapel, camp-in woods, library, music room, ballroom, garden and wood pile." The wood pile served as Hubbard's whimsical addition to the Inn's guest services based on his notion that as part of their accommodation charges, visitorsshould partake in Campus maintenance.
Additionally in 1909 a barbershop was briefly opened in the Chapel and rental cars were available through the Inn for local touring trips at a rate of two dollars an hour. In later years, the Campus also accommodated large numbers of people who gathered to watch the area's first outdoor movies, projectedacross the courtyard onto a screen erected in front of the Power House area.
What was Roycroft? It was a handicraft community founded in East Aurora, NY about 1895 by Elbert Hubbard. Hubbard had been a very successful soap salesman for J. D. Larkin and Co. in Buffalo, but wasn't satisfied with his life. So in 1892, he sold his interests in the company and briefly enrolled at Harvard. Disenchanted, he quickly dropped out and set off on a walking tour of England. He briefly met William Morris and became enamored of Morris' Arts-and-Crafts Kelmscott Press.
Upon his return to America, he tried to find a publisher for a series of biographical sketches he had written called "Little Journeys." When he was unsuccessful in his attempts to have someone else publish the works, he decided to print them himself. Thus the Roycroft Press was born.
Hubbard proved to be such a prolific and popular writer that fame and fortune soon followed. The print shop expanded and then visitors began coming to East Aurora to see this extraordinary man. Initially, visitors were housed in the print workers living quarters, but this arrangement soon proved inadequate. A hotel was built to house the ever increasing number of visitors. The inn had to be furnished so Hubbard had local craftsmen make a simple, straight lined style of furniture. The furniture became popular with visitors who wished to buy pieces for their homes. A furniture manufacturing industry was then born. In addition, Roycroft craftspeople were skilled metalsmiths, leathersmiths, and bookbinders.
The community flourished and was at its peak in 1910 with over 500 workers. By 1915, Hubbard and the Roycrofters (as the workers were known) had achieved great success. Not only had Elbert written the inspirational pamphlet, "A Message to Garcia," with an estimated printing of 40 million copies, but he was also publishing monthly magazines, The Fra and The Philistine. This was all in addition to an almost constant nationwide lecture series and the monthly publication of additions to the original Little Journeys series that started it all.
In the third quarter of the 19th century, East Aurora was known as "the world's trotting nursery." Race horses were raised and trained here in large farms operated by Cicero Hamlin, the Jewetts and the Knoxes. The "world's only one-mile covered race track" was of national interest, and "Mambrino King," judged the world's most handsome horse, was shown to thousands of visitors.
It all changed when Elbert and his wife, Alice, were among the fatalities onboard the Lusitania. The Hubbards had been traveling to England to begin an lecture tour when they died. The Community's leadership then fell to Elbert's son, Bert. Though Bert took the Roycrofters to wider sales distribution, changing American tastes led to slowly declining sales figures. Finally, in 1938 the Roycrofters closed shop.
The Roycroft Campus consists of 14 buildings located on South Grove and Main Streets in East Aurora. It is the location of the Roycroft Shops, an important center of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the turn-of-the-century. The Roycroft Campus gained National Landmark status in 1986.
The entire Roycroft campus has the highest possible historic designation: National Historic Landmark.
The nomination for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, containing text and illustrations, is online. Go to Document Imaging for National Register. Click on "Basic Criteria" and scroll down to "County - Erie." Then, click on "Results."
Principal source (2002): The Webpage of the Roycrofters (online August 2015)