Ten years ago I wrote, for these pages, of the coming renaissance for the quiet little village of Aurora on the shores of Cayuga Lake. Aurora’s windfall came because Pleasant Rowland, a 1962 graduate of Aurora’s Wells College, donated millions due to her windfall when she sold her business (the American Girl doll company) to Mattel for more than $700 million.
Her plans were to renovate and reinvigorate Wells College (which was broke) Aurora Inn (which had closed down) and MacKenzie-Childs (which was bankrupt). Rowland said that she thought of the college, the village and its largest employer as a three-legged stool, and that each leg could support the other two.
Her work had hardly begun when there were rumblings of resistance from the locals who had formed an organization, Aurora Coalition, whose main objective was to tar and feather Pleasant and run her out of town on a rail. It appeared that the local gentry who formed this vigilante group were happy with things as they were and didn’t want no "foreigner" to tell them how to run their town. They succeeded in making life unpleasant for Pleasant by temporarily blocking her efforts to renovate and modernize the Aurora Inn (which was on the National Register of Historic Places). They also launched the Aurorafest Wagon — with placards that ridiculed Pleasant for her work — and then they permanently parked a red truck in front of the Aurora Inn with a bumper sticker that read, "Aurora was pleasant before."
More than a year and a half's worth of renovations and restorations has led to the opening o…
In spite of all the trumped-up resistance from a few disgruntled residents, and as a result of many months of hard work, Pleasant Rowland achieved most of the goals she strived for. It was hard to find fault with the great work done in this 18th-century village. Wells College and the Aurora Inn were saved, many jobs were saved, and millions of dollars were pumped into the local economy.
However, the toll for all of this dedicated but criticized work was to wear on Pleasant, and she retired back to her home in Wisconsin. In leaving she stated, "I came to do my work and my work is done.” Her staff remained to oversee some remaining projects in progress.
Fast-forward to the present time: Pleasant Rowland has returned to Aurora to finish her "vision." Wells College announced that Rowland would purchase its commercial properties, including the Aurora Inn, the Village Market, the Fargo Bar & Grill, Dorie’s Bakery, the old Aurora Post Office and the Bet the Farm Winery building. These are the same properties that Rowland originally spent millions renovating.
AURORA — Alex Schloop can remember when Wallcourt Hall stood dark and empty. Then a student …
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Recently, I spoke with Alex Schloop, brand manager for the Inns of Aurora. Alex told me that Aurora is sizzling with activity as a result of Pleasant’s return, and her renewed effort to make Aurora the jewel of the Finger Lakes. She said Pleasant's intention was to freshen and further restore what she believed to be the great architectural gems of the federalist and period houses, try to revitalize the economy and help the college, which was faltering. This she has achieved, and then some. Wells College, the Inns of Aurora and MacKenzie-Childs are all doing very well.
Schloop cited as an example the annual sale held by MacKenzie-Childs last June. He said, “People came from far and wide. For three days and three nights they slept on the grounds in sleeping bags or under blankets to be first in line when the doors opened.” My daughter Jeanne, who lives in Rochester, told me she stood in line for three hours, which she has never done before for any sale.
My original article, "Pleasant Rowland: You can never go home again," was published Sunday, March 26, 2006, and ended with an open letter:
Dear Ms. Rowland,
If you ever get tired of the back-biting from the small-minded people of Aurora, Auburn needs your talents. I cannot promise that you will not be vilified, but we sure need you.