About the Oswald J. Nitschke House
The Nitschke House, one of Kenilworth’s original clapboard-clad, wood frame farmhouses, is the most notable of the community’s few remaining 19th-century buildings. Originally a three-bay, L-shape building, it is now square in shape due to an early-1900s addition to the front, which features a simple columned porch.
The house derives its significance primarily from its association with Oswald J. Nitschke (1867-1934), a historically significant local pioneer and political leader who came to Kenilworth (formerly known as New Orange) as a young German immigrant in 1899, at the height of the area’s first major building boom. Nitschke was heavily involved and especially instrumental in the early development of the community. He purchased the Nitschke House in 1905. (Click here for Oswald Nitschke’s bio.)
The story of Oswald Nitschke and his wife and two sons (Oswald and Hugo) is representative of those of many late 19th-century immigrants who came to Kenilworth and other communities in New Jersey and throughout the United States. Nitschke was among the first individuals to advocate for the incorporation of Kenilworth in 1907. After serving on the borough council for several years, he was elected mayor in 1919, a post that he held for three full nonconsecutive terms within the period 1920-1933. One of his most significant achievements was giving the borough its first major artery and opening up a vast tract for development by extending its unique 120-foot-wide Boulevard through the County Park System to Cranford. Nitschke owned the Nitschke House during the period of his greatest significance to Kenilworth history (1905-1934). The house is listed in the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.
The Nitschke House features five authentically furnished period rooms for “living history” programs on the first floor, three rooms of exhibits presenting Kenilworth history in the context of regional, state and U.S. history on the second floor, and a cultural arts center on the lower level. In addition, heirloom gardens in the front yard and a “teaching kitchen garden” in the back yard feature plants that were prevalent in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. The site provides a range of year-round educational and cultural enrichment programs for people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures and abilities, with “living history” programs focused on the interpretive period 1905-1934, the time of Kenilworth’s early development, and the life ways of middle/working class families (particularly immigrants, as represented by Oswald Nitschke and family) of that period.
The restoration/rehabilitation of the Nitschke House is being carried out in phases, according to a Historic Preservation Plan. The exterior restoration and installation of utilities were completed in 2007, the interior restoration was completed in 2013, and barrier-free upgrades (including an elevator that makes all three levels of the site fully accessible) were completed in 2014.
The Nitschke House preservation project has been widely supported on local, county and state levels for demonstrating the value of historic preservation and benefiting the community as a whole. The project was recognized by the State of New Jersey with a 2008 New Jersey Historic Preservation Award, shortly after the Kenilworth Historical Society finished restoring the house exterior and installing basic utilities, and most recently was highlighted among six “Success Stories” in the 2011-2016 New Jersey Historic Preservation Plan, “Preserving New Jersey’s Heritage: A Statewide Plan.”. Click here for Nitschke House attributes
Support for the Nitschke House Project:
The Kenilworth Historical Society is grateful to all the many individuals, businesses, organizations, grant makers and others who have made the Nitschke House preservation project possible.
A New Jersey Historic Trust grant, totaling nearly $200,000, helped fund the exterior restoration and installation of basic utilities, completed in 2007. A major portion of the interior restoration work was carried out with the help of: a $150,000 (2010) Historic Preservation Grant that the New Jersey Historic Trust, an affiliate of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, awarded to the Kenilworth Historical Society; a $50,000 (2012) New Jersey Cultural Trust capital preservation grant; and more than $70,000 in “Preserve Union County” grant funds. These competitive grants were matched with funds that the Nitschke House project was awarded by the E.J. Grassmann Trust, The Hyde and Watson Foundation, 1772 Foundation and various local businesses, in addition to other monies raised by the Kenilworth Historical Society through numerous ongoing fundraising activities.
Grants from the New Jersey Historic Trust, Union County, the E.J. Grassmann Trust and the Hyde and Watson Foundation assisted the Society with the cost of an elevator addition to the Nitschke House that makes the building accessible to everyone, including those with physical challenges/disabilities. The Society is currently working to pay back sizeable debt that was incurred in order to complete the elevator construction project in time to meet certain matching grant requirements. (Click here for Donation information.)
Other grants that have assisted the Kenilworth Historical Society in advancing the Nitschke House project over the years include general operating support grants from the New Jersey Historical Commission, which have helped pay a portion of the more than $7,000 in annual insurance, security system and utilities expenses; grants from the New Jersey Cultural Trust, which have facilitated the preparation of a Strategic Plan, a Funding Plan, an Interpretive Plan and an Audience Development/Marketing Plan for the Historical Society and Nitschke House; grants from Union County, which have helped fund the development of Historic Furnishing, Landscape and Exhibit Plans for the Nitschke House; and grants from the Merck Foundation, which helped fund the creation of “teaching kitchen gardens” (including fencing and a pergola) in the back yard and paved walkways that make the gardens and entrances to the site accessible.