KENILWORTH, N.J., Sept. 11, 2019 – Visitors to Kenilworth’s historic Oswald J. Nitschke House (c. 1880) at 49 South 21 Street on October 19 and October 20 will experience life during Prohibition through an enlightening and entertaining “living history” program featuring colorful characters from the past.
The program will be set in the year 1919, in commemorating the 100th Anniversary of ratification of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which declared the production, transport and sale of “intoxicating liquors” illegal. A guided tour of the site will feature a Prohibition-era tea garden with a related “make your own teabag” and culinary demonstration; a display of 19th-century farming equipment from the local Frost farm; a living history program and exhibition featuring “Teetotalers and Bootleggers: Prohibition in America”; and a presentation of Prohibition-era recollections compiled by David Brearley High School student and historian Michael Naya, Jr. as part of an ongoing oral history project that he has undertaken to learn about and document individuals’ lives and memories of the past. Anyone with recollections of and/or photos/artifacts from the Prohibition era are encouraged to contact the Kenilworth Historical Society by calling 908-709-0434.
Visitors also will be able to view the site’s “Kenilworth Heritage Walkway” featuring numerous engraved commemorative pavers that have been donated by local residents and businesses. 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 recently constructed 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 Oct. 19-20 weekend activities at the Nitschke House will be presented for the general public from 12 to 5 p.m., during Union County’s annual historic sites tour, “Four Centuries in a Weekend.” The site is equipped with an elevator and is fully accessible. Admission is free. 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 newly designed Nitschke House postcards, will be available. For further information, call 908-709-0434.
The featured exhibition at the Nitschke House, “Teetotalers and Bootleggers: Prohibition in America,” is being made possible in part by a 2019 HEART (History, Education, Arts Reaching Thousands) Grant from Union County. Funding for other aspects of the site’s weekend program is being provided, in part, by the Kenilworth Municipal Alliance Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse/GCADA.
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 Nitschke made his greatest contributions to its growth), an exhibition center and a cultural arts center.
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 grant).
The Society’s project to 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 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) 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 other 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 considered for based on merit.