The Rebirth Of The Historic Roycroft Campus in East Aurora

February 10, 2011 Updated Feb 16, 2011 at 7:23 PM EDT

By Jennifer Stanonis

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February 10, 2011 Updated Feb 16, 2011 at 7:23 PM EDT

EAST AURORA, NY (WKBW) -- There is a precious five acre area in East Aurora that serves as a time capsule of our country's history of craftsmanship and philosophy. "The whole operation of the Roycroft became a center for philosophy, for thinking, for creativity... and became one of the most important arts and crafts sites in the world," Doug Swift, the President of the Roycroft Campus Corporation (RCC), said. "At the height of its operation there were over 500 people who worked here and people came from all over the country to visit East Aurora and meet Hubbard and experience what the Roycroft was."

The Roycroft Campus was founded by writer-philosopher Elbert Hubbard during the late 1800's. It supported hundreds of craftsmen and was largely responsible for promoting the arts and crafts movement. It closed in 1938, but now the campus is coming back to life. The Power House is among the nine original buildings left there and is the latest structure undergoing a complete reconstruction. "It's an exact replica of what was originally here... but still accommodating modern needs and codes," Swift said.

The Roycroft Campus Corporation was created six years ago to continue the restoration of the campus, inspired by the reopening of the Roycroft Inn more than a decade ago. "We started focusing on the other campus buildings and our first project was the Copper Shop," Swift said.

That shop now has educational programming, workshops, a visitor center, and gift store. All this would expand next door into the Power House which would act as the core of the Roycroft Campus. "We are going to be very programming intensive, a lot of educational programming here, a lot of hands on experience...we're working with local school districts and universities to build programming," Swift said. "It's going to be a place to really engage in what the arts and crafts movement was but in a 21st century way. We really see this as a gateway to cultural tourism in Buffalo and Western New York."

The RCC plans to complete the Power House by October, in time for the National Trust Historic Preservation Conference that will be held in Buffalo. "That's going to put Buffalo in the spotlight with all of the preservation community in the country, and we're trying very hard to put on our best show for that," Swift said.

The Power House is a $4 million project. The group is working to raise the rest of that money to complete the interior of the building.

The Roycroft Campus Corporation recently received a $400,000 grant from The John R. Oishei Foundation. The funds have been designated for use for both ongoing operational support and to support the completion of the Power House reconstruction. Part of the grant includes a $250,000 Challenge Grant that will match dollar for dollar gifts received to support the reconstruction of the Power House.

The Roycroft Campus was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1986.

"It's really a blending of the old world style with new technology... create a plate that you can generate on your own lab-top and have that made into a printing plate that then gets run on the hand press, that's a real marriage of the two technologies," Swift said. "People are looking for an opportunity to get away from their computers screens and have hands on experience and that's something we plan on offering here...and the added benefit is we are doing it in a site that has such a rich history connected to it with the arts."

"We're really blessed in this area to have a number of Roycroft artisans that have been working in their various medians for many decades. For over 30 years the Roycroft at Large Association has been in the business of maintaining and keeping those traditions alive...and bringing those into modern methods and into a modern audience. We have a gallery and a gift shop in the Copper shop with many of their work on display for sale but they are also the instructors who are teaching a new generation of Roycrofters to be able to pass on those skills."

For more information on this historic project call the Roycroft Campus Corporation at 716-655-0261 or go to www.roycroftcampuscorporation.com.