Visitors to Kenilworth’s historic Oswald J. Nitschke House (c. 1880), on Oct. 21 and 22 will gain glimpses into everyday life in a developing late 19th-/early 20th-century suburb through enlightening, interactive, multicultural “living history” and garden programs, exhibits and activities based primarily on the theme “100 Years and More of School Days in New Orange/Kenilworth.”
The Oct. 21-Oct. 22 weekend activities at the Nitschke House (49 S. 21 Street) will be offered to the general public from 12 to 5 p.m., during Union County’s annual historic sites tour, “Four Centuries in a Weekend.” The Nitschke House is equipped with an elevator, and the building and gardens are fully accessible. Admission is free. For information, please call 908-709-0434.
A guided tour of the Nitschke House, geared to all age groups and offered in Spanish as well as in English, will start in the site’s “teaching gardens,” where vegetables and herbs representing different heritage groups have been grown for use in a multicultural garden-to-table demonstration and tasting. Other activities/offerings will include a fun printmaking exercise related to the “school days” theme of this year’s program, visits with colorful characters from Kenilworth’s past plus international music performed live on the front porch (per a schedule posted on the website www.kenilworthhistoricalsociety.org). Visitors will be shown the site’s period kitchen, bedroom, dining room, parlor and former Mayor Nitschke’s office. They also will have the opportunity to view a newly installed “100 Years and More of School Days in New Orange/Kenilworth” exhibition/replica classroom, particularly staged in honor of Harding School’s 100th anniversary, in addition to the exhibition “New Orange/Kenilworth – A Melting Pot of Many Cultures,” which comprises enlightening displays of historic photos, posters, artifacts and other materials that tell the story of late 19th-/early 20th-century immigrants, including Oswald J. Nitschke and family, who settled in the Kenilworth area (formerly known as New Orange) and contributed to the early development of the community. Other displays, themed “The Nitschke House Then and Now,” will commemorate the 20 years of progress since the home was saved by relocation in 2003.
The featured exhibitions have been made possible in part by a 2023 HEART (History, Education, Arts Reaching Thousands) Grant from the Union County Board of County Commissioners. Funding for other aspects of the weekend program at the Nitschke House is being provided in part by the Kenilworth Education Association PRIDE Committee and the Kenilworth Municipal Alliance [funded by the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (GCADA) through the UCDHS Division of Individual and Family Support Services].
Union County Across the Centuries History Trading Cards for David Brearley (1745-1790), Hannah Sayre Caldwell (1737-1780) and Tin Kettle Hill (1780-1906), along with Nitschke House postcards, will be available at the Nitschke House during “Four Centuries in a Weekend.”
Visitors to the Nitschke House will be able to view the site’s “Kenilworth Heritage Walkway” featuring numerous engraved commemorative pavers that have been donated by local residents, businesses and organizations. The walkway is part of a paved path that makes the site’s “teaching gardens” accessible to everyone, including those with physical challenges/disabilities. The path, together with a pergola and fencing, are part of a major garden construction project made possible through funding generously provided by the Merck Foundation. The project significantly supports and enhances the site’s multicultural garden-to-table foodways program, which shows the importance of home food gardens in the lifeways of the Nitschkes and other late 19th-century immigrants and which additionally demonstrates the continued benefit of gardening in promoting good health, an appreciation of nature and a sense of environmental stewardship.
The Nitschke House, home of former Kenilworth Mayor Oswald J. Nitschke (1867-1934), features five historic rooms, which are authentically furnished in late 19th-/early 20th-century style and interpreted primarily in the 1905-1934 period (the time of Kenilworth’s first wave of suburban development when Oswald J. Nitschke made his greatest contributions to its growth), an exhibition center, a cultural arts center and “teaching gardens.”
The Kenilworth Historical Society saved the Nitschke House by moving it in 2003, following Dr. Jerome Forman’s donation of the building to the Society, to its present location (land acquired with the help of the Kenilworth Veterans Center and a New Jersey DEP Green Acres matching grant).
The Society’s project to save, restore and transform the Nitschke House into Kenilworth’s first “living history” museum and cultural arts center has been funded, in large part, by historic preservation/rehabilitation grants awarded by the N.J. DEP Green Acres program, New Jersey Historic Trust, New Jersey Cultural Trust, Preserve Union County Grant Program, Union County Community Development Block Grant program, E.J. Grassmann Trust, The Hyde and Watson Foundation, 1772 Foundation, Schering-Plough Corporation, the Merck Foundation, and numerous individual, corporate and institutional donors and grant makers. Connolly & Hickey Historical Architects (Cranford) designed the elevator addition, as well as the plans for the building’s exterior and interior restoration, and Wagner Construction (Kenilworth) and BW Historical Restorations carried out the extensive interior restoration.
The Nitschke House project was recognized by the State of New Jersey with a 2008 New Jersey Historic Preservation Award and was cited as one of six “success stories” statewide in the 2011-2016 New Jersey Historic Preservation Plan, “Preserving New Jersey’s Heritage: A Statewide Plan.”
The Kenilworth Historical Society (www.kenilworthhistoricalsociety.org) is an independent, volunteer-based, non-profit, tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the research, preservation and interpretation of the historic
Oswald J. Nitschke House, local history and culture. Funding for the Nitschke House preservation project and all programs that the Kenilworth Historical Society provides to the schools and general public is entirely dependent on donations, fundraising activities and competitive matching grants that the organization applies for and is awarded based on merit.
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