Now a former shell of itself, the Elverhoj Artist Colony, opened in 1912, along the banks of the Hudson River in Milton. Founded by artists Anders H. Anderson and Johannes Morton, the Elverhoj was modeled after Woodstock’s Byrdcliffe, and offered a place for artists to live, create, and teach others their craft. Prior to the construction of the colony, the site was once briefly home to Hudson River School painter, George Innes.
The Elverhoj was part of America’s Arts and Crafts movement, which became popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this movement was fueled by “anxieties about industrial life.” “Arts and Crafts designers sought to improve standards of decorative design, believed to have been debased by industrialization, and to create environments in which beautiful and fine workmanship governed.” Over the years, the colony was home to numerous sculptors, painters, jewelry designers, potters, performance artists, and more. Years later, the Elverhoj’s main draw would be in its summer performances.
In his book, Promised Land, Carleton Mabee describes the site as consisting of “a Moorish-style building, with doorways decorated with ironwork, and its outside walls with “porcelain plaques depicting classical scenes. Nearby [the artists] laid out gardens, and enhanced them with statuary. Up the slope behind the house they built cabins for themselves to live in, perhaps ten rustic cabins, all without electricity or running water…close to the river they built a theatre.” Looking at the pictures featured in his book, makes you realize how breathtaking this site must have been while in its prime. Just imagine this all along the banks of the Hudson River.
During the early 1920s, the Elverhoj’s theatre became a major attraction when Hurbet Osbone, a “famous Broadway producer operated the theatre.” Until the late 1930s, every summer, starting in mid-June and running for eight weeks, Broadway would try out new shows here. Famous actors including Dorothy Gish, Glenn Hunter, and Douglas Dumbrille took the stage. An article in The Rhinebeck Gazette in May of 1930, stated that “every actor [coming this season] is of high standing,” and each play was of “literary merit.” It was also noted in this article that during the off-season, “the theatre itself has been completely remodeled and the stage enlarged. No expense has been spared,” further showcasing the theatre’s popularity.
In addition to the theatre, the Elverhoj also featured a restaurant. In the 1920s, reference to a Moorish restaurant can be found on site. By the mid-1930s, it appears that the Moorish restaurant changed hands and became Russian-themed instead. It is unclear of when this switch was exactly made. An article from 1936 in The Highland Post describes the restaurant as one of the finest Russian restaurants one could ever experience. “The music, entertainment, and management in real Russian fashion with Russian customs and costumes blended in the most delightful fashion will delight you before and after the theater every night.”
By the end of the 1930s, the Elverhoj was on the brink of bankruptcy. In 1938, the property was sold to Father Divine, a religious leader from Harlem, and founder of the Peace Mission. A few years later, the site changed hands again, and today remains private property (please, no trespassing).
As the Library’s local history collection is minimal on the Elverhoj, if anyone has any further information or pictures of the site that you would like to share with us, please reach out to the Library!
“Art Colony, Elverhoj, Has its Opening Today.” (1912). The Evening Enterprise.
Burdick, J. (2019). “Rediscovering Elverhoj: Milton’s lost Arts & Crafts Colony. Hudson Valley One.
“Elverhoj Season to Begin on June 16th. (1930). The Rhinebeck Gazette.
“Elverhoj Theatre Property Bought by Divine’s “Angels”.” (1938). The Kingston Daily Freeman.
“Elverhoj Theatre to Keep Open, Says Director.” (1936). The Highland Post.
Mabee, C. (2008). Promised Land: Father Divine’s Interracial Communities in Ulster County, New York. Fleischmanns, N.Y.: Purple Mountain Press, Ltd.
Plank, W. (1959). History of the Town of Marlborough. Marlborough, N.Y.: The Fifty-Niner.
“Russian Yar Expects to Return to Elverhoj for Summer Months.” (1937). The Marlborough Record.