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TRAVEL: GOMEZ MILL HOUSE (C.1714)

12/11/2016 03:13:08 PM

Dec11

by Jim Schuyler

During the Labor Day weekend, Frank and I drove to Northern New Jersey to celebrate my grandniece’s Bat Mitzvah. We decided to continue north to New York’s Hudson River Valley, where we reserved a lovely cottage near Hudson NY for a week’s holiday.


On Sunday, we drove north on the western side of the Hudson River, and enjoyed a wonderful brunch on a beautiful morning at the venerable Hotel Thayer at West Point, on the patio of MacArthur’s Riverview Restaurant. We continued on Rt. 9 West and saw the sign for the Gomez Mill House five miles north of Newburgh NY. I had learned of the existence of this historic home when researching sites to visit in the Hudson River Valley. I was surprised that I had not heard of one of the best kept secrets in America when I lived in New York City.

Fortunately, we arrived just before the first guided tour of the home, and met Richie, who was a terrific and enthusiastic guide for an eager group of four people that morning. So what is significant about this home and the story of its five unique owners? Gomez Mill House is one of the oldest continuously lived in residences in the United States, and the oldest surviving Jewish dwelling in North America.

In 1714, the Jewish merchant Luis Moses Gomez purchased 1000 acres in Ulster County NY. He built a fieldstone blockhouse to conduct trade along the Hudson River from the mid-Hudson region to New York City as an extension of his successful businesses in Colonial New York. From these roots, you may view almost three hundred years of American history as the Gomez House passed on to American Revolutionary patriot Wolfert Ecker, 19th century gentleman farmer William Henry Armstrong, Arts and Crafts era paper artisan and historian Dard Hunter, and 20th century social activist Martha Gruening.  Descendants of Luis Moses Gomez joined by descendants of other owners and friends formed the Gomez Foundation for Mill House in 1979 to preserve and maintain the house and historic site, which is now a chartered museum on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Gomez family has been traced back to Isaac Gomez, a Spanish nobleman who escaped the Inquisition and moved to Southern France, where Luis lived with his parents until religious conditions forced them to move to England. He married and he and his wife Esther became the parents of six sons. He received an order of denization which was conferred by the British Crown, allowing Luis to conduct business, own property and live freely in the British Colonies in America without an oath of allegiance to the Church of England. Luis Moses Gomez was a major figure in the colonial history of New York and in the history and development of the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish community in the early 1700’s.

Luis opened a store in Manhattan that sold general merchandise and he recognized an opportunity to export commodities, and began a trade in wheat across the Atlantic Ocean. The Gomez family was so successful that by 1711 they were one of six Jewish merchant families to contribute to the building of the steeple at Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall Street.  In 1714, Luis and his sons established a trading post six miles north of Newburgh NY and began to trade with the Indians in the area for fur pelts. This gave them the finances to expand their land holdings and to build what is now known as the Gomez Mill House located in Marlboro NY. In 1728, Luis became the first Parnas (President) of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in America. In 1729, Luis used his right to own land to purchase a plot in lower Manhattan. This became the Synagogue’s first cemetery. Luis and his sons served repeatedly as President of Shearith Israel during the eighteenth century. Our own Congregation Beth Ahabah is the sixth oldest congregation in America, dating back to 1789 when our predecessor Congregation Beth Shalome was established in Richmond.

The lives of each of the other four owners of the Gomez Mill House are all fascinating (our tour companions were visiting because of their interest in the work of papermaker Dard Hunter) and you will welcome the artifacts and stories that are an important part of this wonderful tour. As Ruth Abrahams, the Executive Director of the Mill House and Foundation, wrote to me, “The Mill House also holds a special place among historic sites with five major owners whose lives and contributions embodied America’s founding principles of freedom, tolerance and opportunity.”

So when you decide to visit the Hudson River Valley, described by National Geographic Traveler as one of the must-see places in the world, please take the turn off Route 9W just north of Newburgh and visit the Gomez Mill House, the cornerstone of the Jewish pioneer experience along the Hudson River.


Dard Hunter Mill

Fri, November 15 2019 17 Cheshvan 5780