Story by Lon Tytell
In an article published in the Warwick Valley Dispatch on Feb. 11, 1903, only 18 years into the paper’s publishing history, the story entitled, “A Stately Mansion,” told of the home in Monroe that had been built by the Welch Brothers of Warwick. The photographs that accompanied the article were taken by E.F. Still, also of Warwick. The summer home of Charles McKendrick, built in 1902, was located on five acres of land and consisted of 11,000 square feet of living space. The home contained 25 rooms, each with its own lavatory.
“The time has changed around the house but the house has not changed around time,” said current owner, Timothy Mitts, a spokesman for HRR Corp which has owned the property at 236 High St. in Monroe since Mar. 23, 2016.
In 1923, Moses Charles (M.C.) Migel and his wife, Elisa, purchased the McKendrick property and modified the summer home. Migel was the founder and first president of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the home, named Rest Haven, became a place for adult blind women to come for a period of two weeks.
On the mantle of one of the nine fireplaces in the home is a griffin figurine, a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. Griffins are known for guarding treasure and priceless possessions. Its magic talons detect poison and its feathers have cured blindness, a fitting feature in a home that provided respite for the blind.
The women who came to Rest Haven made their way around the inside of the house in part with rope strung all around. The grounds provided a park-like setting for all who visited. The Migel family and friends paid for the transportation and living expenses for everyone who stayed there. Articles that appeared in the Monroe Gazette and the Middletown Times Herald Record mentioned that the Red Cross and the Monroe Lions Club also offered assistance to the residents.
A Visit from Helen Keller
In 1931, the Monroe Gazette reported that Helen Keller had visited Rest Haven and in 1933, she became a member trustee for the AFB. One of her responsibilities in this role was to oversee Rest Haven. In 1950, Keller again visited the property and in a photograph currently on display in the home, she is shown with some of the residents.
In 1944, Rest Haven was donated to the AFB. In 1968, the year of Helen Keller’s death, the Monroe Gazette reported on Apr. 4, 1968 that the foundation made the decision not to open the facility for the summer vacation because facilities similar to Rest Haven, including summer camps for all age groups and both sexes, existed in the immediate New York State area and throughout New England.
When Rest Haven was first conceived and inaugurated in 1923, it was the first and only facility of its kind in this immediate region, according to Richard H. Migel, the son of M.C. Migel, who was an officer of the AFB and a resident of Monroe when the article was written.
In 1968, after the death of Mrs. Migel and Helen Keller, the property was sold off to the Lantz family who never made any changes to the house. In 1986, they sold the property to AHRC of Orange County and it served as their first office location in Orange County. HRR Corp purchased the property last year and has made it their mission to preserve and renovate Rest Haven to honor Helen Keller.
Francis A. Koestler wrote a book called, “The Unseen Minority,” printed in 1976 and reissued in 2004 which contains two chapters about the historical connections between M.C. Migel, Helen Keller, and Rest Haven from 1923 to 1968 and is reprinted with permission from AFB on the website www.helenkellermonroeny.com
Unique Features of Rest Haven
Since taking over ownership of Rest Haven, Timothy Mitts, a spokesman for HRR Corp, has refurbished the wooden floors and found some interesting aspects of the building. A piece of base molding from 1902 is engraved with the name of the Welch Brothers, of Warwick, who built the original building. The date of Apr. 22, 1890 can be found in the metal tracking of the sliding pocket door in the billiard room. The caps on the steam pipes have the date 1884 stamped on them. Every fireplace in the house is different. On one of the walls are the names of the 1946 residents who came from different states.
Recent Events at Rest Haven
William Krattinger, the historic preservation program analyst for New York State Parks, Recreational and Historical Preservation, visited the property in November 2016 and deemed the property so significant that he fast tracked the historical designation as a possible National Landmark. On Mar. 23, 2017, Rest Haven was officially designated an historical site of New York. Rest Haven is open weekends to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Organizations are always welcome during the week. This summer, New York State will hold an official ceremony naming Rest Haven an historical site. The grandchildren of M.C, Migel, the great-great niece of Helen Keller, AHRC officials, and members of the Lantz family will be in attendance. The AFB is expected to share some of their historical gallery. For more information on Rest Have, visit www.HelenKellerMonroeNY.com.