This post debuts a new series and ad hoc feature, the Jewish Traveler’s Notebook. From time to time, I’ll share my experiences at museums and other spots of Jewish interest.
Since reading Deborah Prinz’s On the Chocolate Trail (Jewish Lights, 2012), I’ve wanted to visit the Gomez Mill House, North America’s oldest Jewish dwelling, about 60 miles north of Manhattan in the Newburgh area. The building was established in 1714 by Luis Moses Gomez, who came to New York in 1703. He received an Act of Denization from Queen Anne of England two years later, which granted him certain rights to conduct business and live within the Colonies without giving an oath of allegiance to the Church of England. He became a leading businessman in New York, led the drive to found the Mill House Synagogue (the first synagogue of Shearith Israel), and established this trading post along the Hudson on 6500 acres of land. He and his family never lived there, although he did stay overnight. The Gomez family remained in possession until 1772.
Five other families—those of patriot Wolfert Ackert, gentleman farmer Edward Armstrong, artisan Dard Hunter, social activist Martha Gruening, and preservationist Mildred Starin—made their homes in this dwelling and expanded it until the Gomez Foundation purchased Mill House in 1984.
Items of Jewish interest within the house/museum include a handwritten version of Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” a grandfather clocked that once belonged to her great-grandfather, merchant and patriot Simon Nathan, Gomez’s Act of Denization document, a 1930s Sephardic genealogy, and a chanukkiah.
The Gomez family, according to Prinz, brought chocolate manufacturing to the New World from Bayonne, France (after being forced out of Spain by the Inquisition). But no chocolate was made at the Mill House. Instead, that was done in lower Manhattan.
The tour, which lasts about 90 minutes, starts with a brief video that highlights the evolution of the property. A friendly and knowledgeable tour guide then leads the group through each room of the house. The kitchen remains colonial if you can overlook the modern sink, stove/oven, and refrigerator.
The museum offers visitors glimpses into a variety of time periods based on who owned the house. Upstairs rooms chronicle the Armstrongs and Martha Gruening.