Holding a Candle to Local History
Millbrook Farms' simplistic and sustainable candle holders are made with dedication to the area's roots.
Photos by Colleen Stewart
A Millbrook Farms locally sourced, handmade, sustainable white birch candle holder anchors more than a beeswax candle. Danielle Mackey, owner of Millbrook Farms, fashions candle-cradling creations that are steeped in history, local flare, and a dedication to sustainability. To make them, she forages “found wood,” or wood that has broken off of trees, from just about anywhere -- off the side of the road, in neighbors’ yards, surrounding farm land, and even on the property of the local arborist who assists her in crafting the holders.
It all began after Mackey made a set of candle holders to adorn her own table. Friends and family remarked at their simplistic beauty and began asking Mackey for sets of their own. Suddenly, through word of mouth and a Facebook page, Mackey’s products breached from a family and friend gift to a Hudson Valley handmade sensation. She attributes their growing popularity to the “support local” lifestyle of the area. “There is a renewed interest in local business. The community is really trying to promote and foster craftsmanship. We now live in a time where we have the luxury to create and have things that are aesthetically pleasing as well as functional,” says Mackey.
The white birch tree -- a cold-weather, high altitude species -- can be hard to source in the Hudson Valley, but Mackey likes the wood for its papery bark, which creates both physical and visual texture in each naturally unique candle holder. The holders are kept simple, with only a standard candle-sized hole hollowed out. A $40 set includes three of varying heights (six inches, four inches, and three inches) as well as a choice of natural honey-colored or ivory beeswax candles. Currently, Mackey does not make the candles, but is looking to learn the craft or source from a local candle maker. She notes a friend of her husband’s has an apiary and she dreams of using the wax from his bees to create candles.
Mackey's desire to keep her products local reflects the history of her home and place of business. The house where she lives and produces her candle holders in is a part of the original Millbrook Farms (hence her business name), owned by George Hunter Brown in the mid 1800s. Brown, with experience as a railroad executive, negotiated and established a Dutchess and Columbia County railroad station within the village. To honor him and the prosperity that the railroad garnered, the Village of Millbrook was named after his farm. Though following the financial Panic of 1873, Brown was forced to sell his 335 acres -- inclusive of his lavish home, barns, cottages, manager's house, mill, carriage house, and two gatehouses -- to a member of another wealthy Millbrook family, Samuel Thorne. Brown’s estate and the now demolished chateau was dubbed, “Thorncrest."
Cheryl Giles of Walbridge Farm Market in Millbrook (one of the locations where Mackey sources her found white birch) shares Millbrook Farms’s interest in continuing the home grown traditions of Millbrook. Giles and her family run the fully sustainable farm and market only a few miles away from Mackey and the Thorne Estate. In the farm market, along side Walrbridge’s own products, are a variety of local artisans’s creations, including Mackey’s candle holders. Like Mackey, Giles wants to see locally made products shine, as they help foster growth in the area. “We have an entire section dedicated to local artisans. Danielle gets some of the white birch she works with from pieces that have fallen down on our farm; it is beyond sustainable. And this is what we are all about: working within our community and working together, it’s beyond a win win,” says Giles. Local small business owners, like Mackey and Giles, are putting in the work to keep Millbrook authentically Millbrook.
For Mackey, her candle holders are a humble reminder of her home, its history, and the culture of the area. “I think there are two different audiences, the people who live here and appreciate the products made locally, as they have respect for sustainability and the environment. There are also the people who are looking to come to Millbrook and find handmade products made with care, as they understand the impact their support has on the community that produces them.”
Click here for more information about Millbrook Farms. And to learn more about the history of the Village of Millbrook, consult John Foreman’s "Old Houses in Millbrook" (The Millbrook Independent, 2012).