By PARIS WOLFE
Five years ago, while RVing in New Orleans, my partner and I met a couple from East Aurora, New York, just southeast of Buffalo. The husband was on the board of The Roycroft Campus, a national historic landmark. Over cocktails at the RV park, he told us about this early 20th-century vintage village.
The Roycroft Campus is a well-preserved example of the “guilds” that were centers of craftsmanship and philosophy at the turn of the last century. Founded in 1897 the campus is, in fact, considered a birthplace of the American Arts & Crafts Movement. Visitors will find six of 14 original structures intact, including the Inn, the Chapel, the Print Shop, the Furniture Shop, and the Copper Shop.
This information stayed with me. Then, when pandemic restrictions dialed back, we were eager to travel again. But we weren’t ready to fly. So, we drove to Western New York – about two and a half hours from Cleveland – to explore Roycroft history. To enrich the trip, we added tours of two, nearby Frank Lloyd Wright houses. Both houses figure into the zeitgeist of the itinerary.
The trip started with a 90-minute tour of the Roycroft Campus. As pandemic restrictions relax, public and private tours are available. Make reservations at www.roycroftcampuscorporation.com.
In 1895, the Roycroft movement was founded by Elbert Hubbard, a charismatic businessman and prolific writer, philosopher, public speaker, and author of the famed “A Message to Garcia.” Hubbard had had financial success as an officer for the Larkin Soap Company. Before moving on, he groomed businessman Darwin Martin to take over his role. (Remember that name.)
After leaving Larkin Soap, Hubbard established Roycroft Press. As his personal writings gained international attention, his small print shop expanded. Eventually, his business became the center of a small community that included several shops focused on the decorative arts.
These campus buildings housed various trades that supported the Roycroft community’s demand for quality, local, handmade items. While it sounds like today’s demand for local, authentic products, at that time it was a resistance to the industrial revolution and the “cheap” goods coming out of it.
Perhaps the most engaging building in the collection is the medieval-influenced Chapel, which was not a place of worship, but a gathering spot for the local community. Built in 1899, it often has been described as one of the most beautiful, asymmetrical structures in America.
The Chapel and other structures on the campus are built of fieldstone boulders that had been deposited by glacial activity. In his typical pragmatic fashion, Hubbard advertised for unwanted boulders from area farmers’ fields. Soon, rocks were being delivered and farmers earning a token amount per load.
Following our tour, we visited restored, historic Roycroft Inn and lunched on the spacious front porch.
Around the corner is Rosie’s Handcrafted Ice Cream with traditional and unusual flavors made on site. The Invisible Ink – Squid Ink ice cream (yes, really) with a lime curd ribbon and lemon shortbread – was sold out.
After shopping the boutique-y downtown strip and relaxing a bit, we sat at the bar in 42 North Brewing Company, just downstairs from our room in The Lofts at 42N. Here, I had a revelation about sour beers … I actually like some of them, especially the brewery’s West Goes East which was inspired by a rum runner cocktail.
The bartenders – one who recently graduated from Kent State University – suggested we try the most award-winningest wings in the region. So, we secured the only remaining reservation that night at local legend Bar-Bill Tavern. The restaurant is small, and reservations are scarce. The wings come in 12 flavors including suicidal and Sicilian.
The next morning, we drove to Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Parkside neighborhood, on the western edge of Buffalo. A famous landscape architect, Olmsted is known for designing a system of parks in Buffalo, NYC’s Central Park as well as the Fine Arts Garden adjacent to the Cleveland Museum of Art.
We were on a mission to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, a 15,000-square-foot masterpiece that’s nestled in the historic neighborhood. This Prairie-style, two-story brick home was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is one of six structures on the estate, including two additional Wright-designed residences. The Martin House rivals the well-known Fallingwater, outside Pittsburgh, as one of Wright’s greatest residential works.
The estate was built between 1903 and 1907 for businessman Darwin D. Martin, an owner and officer at the Larkin Soap Company (where Hubbard had worked) and his family. Details delight visitors — from the dramatic entrance (a 175-foot view down the open-air pergola to the conservatory) to hidden, built-in bookshelves. The house contains many of Wright’s original furnishings, art glass, and light fixtures including his signature red and much rift-sawn, white oak trim, furniture, and finishes. Among the stunning works is the Wisteria Mosaic Fireplace made with thousands of glass tiles.
The house is open for tours and events year-round.
On our way back to Northeast Ohio, we stopped in Derby, New York, about 25 miles southwest of the Martin House and 21 miles from East Aurora. There we toured the 9,000-square-foot Graycliff complex, the Martin’s summer home. Martin commissioned Wright in 1926 to build the estate for his wife Isabelle.
This estate is dramatically different from the Martin’s Buffalo home. Three buildings occupy 8.5 acres perched atop a 65-foot cliff overlooking Lake Erie. The architecture is more open, airy, bright, and simple than the detailed Buffalo house.
After the Martins, the house went through a series of owners. From the 1950s to 1997 it belonged to Priarist Fathers, a Hungarian order. When they wanted to sell in 1996, it was almost torn down for a condominium development. But the public rallied, and the non-profit Graycliff Conservancy was founded in 1997 to acquire, preserve, and restore the facility. Restoration is ongoing.
While traveling, we had two themed lodging options in downtown East Aurora … the historic Roycroft Inn across from the campus and newly built The Lofts @ 42N. (42 north is a geographic reference to the brewery’s location on the 42nd parallel.)
Given our timing, we stayed at The Lofts and had a serendipitous moment. We bumped into the owner – John Cimperman – who is from Lakewood, Ohio, and graduated from Kent State University’s journalism school the same day and year I did. His wife and co-owner Catherine (Dungan) Cimperman graduated from the Kent State University School of Fashion that same year.
Today, the Cimpermans (his dad was involved in Cleveland government for 30 years) have a 20-barrel brewhouse. While they have six core beers always available, they rotate through about 100 seasonal or unique brews throughout the year.
The attached boutique hotel has four rooms – one ADA compliant and dog-friendly – decorated with themes to represent the region. We stayed in the second-floor Queen City, an immaculate space with an industrial vibe, overlooking the beer garden. From the hallway outside our room, we had a window into the packaging room of the production brewery. And, of course, our mini-fridge was stocked with house-made brews.
We were just 40 minutes from Niagara Falls. But that’s a trip for another day.