Doing a deep dive at the Zimmermann farm
Annual open house gives insight into the life and works of a world-renown artist who called Dingmans Ferry home


The main house where artist Marie Zimmermann lived. The house was built in 1912 and is made of area stone and Maine slate. The entrance steps and wheel chair ramp are not original. (Photo by George Leroy Hunter)

By George Leroy Hunter
DINGMANS FERRY — The brilliant Arts and Crafts metalsmith Marie Zimmermann (1879-1972), called in her time a “master of a dozen crafts" and "the modern Benvenuto Cellini," found bliss in the woods and waters of Dingmans Ferry.
In 1910, on land owned by her family, she built an Arts and Crafts house that is now a national historic site in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area. The house was recently opened up so that the public could learn about this world-renown artist who, at the same time, was very much a part of her beloved rural community.
The farm has a history that extends possibly to the beginnings of human habitation in this part of North America, according to The Friends of Marie Zimmermann (friendsofmariezimmermann.org). In the 1960s, Zimmermann allowed archaeologists to do a dig on her property, which uncovered artifacts dating to 3,000 years prior to the start of Dutch farming. Other layers were discovered as well: the Colonial Period (1500-1763), the Woodland Period (1000 BC-1500 AD), and the Archaic Period (1750 BC).
Jacobus Van Etten established a farm on the property in the 18th century and, in 1882, Zimmermann's family purchased the property from his descendants for use as a summer home. Marie as a child learned to hunt and fish here. Indeed, members of the Van Etten and Zimmermann families still live in the area today.
Suzanne Spellen, in a celebration of the artist as a Brooklyn native, said Zimmermann filled her Dingmans Ferry house with her designs, "creating lighting fixtures, tables, sideboards, andirons and candlesticks, silverware, fountains and other objects. She loved hunting, fishing and riding her horses, and spent her best days at this house. Her parents and family would come visit there, and the family was very close. They were also close to Ruth Allen, a flamboyant former Hollywood actress, who was Marie’s companion for many years."
Spellen writes that when Zimmermann retired to the farm, she filled her days with "guests, her siblings’ children, and Ruth, who lived with her until she died in 1969. She championed women’s education and other issues, and enjoyed her outdoor hobbies. As she got older, she moved to Florida for the winter, and then permanently. She died on her birthday in 1972, at the age of 93."
Zimmermann's request that her personal papers be burned upon her death has hampered research. Still, New York Times review of a 2011 book on Zimmerann's life and works says her "siblings and parents apparently accepted the relationship (with Ruth Allen). 'I hope Miss Ruth too has gained in flesh and become strong,' Marie’s father, John, wrote to her in 1927, encouraging the couple to come pick apples at the family orchard in Pennsylvania."
An enduring legacyMarie Zimmermann Day is an annual event sponsored by The Friends of Marie Zimmermann in conjunction with the National Park Service. Local citizens formed The Friends in 1997 then entered into a working partnership with the park service to restore Zimmermann's legacy, home, and property.
The property is bordered on one side by Route 209 and on the other by the Delaware River. The house, which faces the river, is in the Dutch Colonial Revival style with Breton influences. It has a slate roof and gables, eight fireplaces, and six bedrooms.
Every year Zimmermann would retreat to the warmth of Florida. She died in Punta Gorda, Florida in 1972 on the same day she was born, June 17.
Marie Zimmermann, along with several family members, is interred in Milford Cemetery. In the early 1970s the federal government took ownership of the farm along with other private property as part of the never-completed Tocks Island Dam project.
The Zimmermann farm would eventually fall into disrepair and vandalism. But beginning in the late 1990s the house and the surrounding property have been mostly restored. The Marie Zimmermann Farm is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Still, renovating and maintaining the property is a challenge — and there is still work to be done.
Online: The Friends of Marie Zimmermann: friendsofmariezimmermann.org
"Walkabout: Marie Zimmermann, Creator of Beautiful Things": bit.ly/2Kq8bpk
"Arts and Crafts Pioneer Is Subject of New Book": nyti.ms/2NnkHUy