The Matthewis Persen House, one of four Colonial stone buildings occupying the crossroads of John and Crown Streets in Uptown Kingston, is one of Uptown’s most-visited historic sites. Owned and partially restored by Ulster County, the building consists of a labyrinth of open floors and staircases, whose numerous additions and display of artifacts dug up from the site provide a fascinating glimpse into a deep slice of time, spanning three centuries of Kingston history.
On May 19, however, the focus will be on the Rondout: the raucous Hudson River port that became integrated with the older settlement dating from the Dutch in 1876. The Reher Center for Immigrant Culture and History, which owns a historic bakery in the Rondout that’s currently being restored, will open the exhibit “Rondout Revisited” in the second-floor exhibition gallery. Previously displayed at Kingston’s Downtown Visitors’ Center, which has been taken over by Ulster County Tourism, the exhibition consists of three parts: Rondout circa 1820, when it was a small farming and commercial community catering to the river trade; Rondout circa 1914, when it was still a thriving commercial city and transportation hub; and Rondout during urban renewal, which captures the city when it was a faded has-been just before and during the period in the 1960s when it was mostly destroyed by the federally funded urban renewal program.
If you happen to have been around then – for that matter, if you have roots in Kingston and a story to tell – you are encouraged to participate in the Kingston Oral History Project, in which volunteers will be available to record and take pictures of participants from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call (845) 338-8131 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for an appointment. At noon, a slideshow by Eugene Dauner – who, as a young man working for his father’s florist business, took hundreds of color slides of Rondout as it was being torn down in the mid-1960s – uncannily brings the vanished city back to life. If you’re interested in urban history, this is definitely a show that you should not miss. Dauner’s presentation will be followed by a slideshow by Jack Matthews showing images of Downtown, Midtown and Uptown Kingston from 1910 to 1930 –also not to be missed; Matthews has one of Kingston’s most comprehensive historic photo collections.
The exhibition will be on display on May 20 and then throughout the season, with possible additions focusing on the Uptown urban renewal program and highlighting the oral history presentations. The Persen House is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from May 26 through September 1, and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through November 10. Admission is free. For more information about the Rondout exhibit, contact the Jewish Federation of Ulster County at (845) 338-8131.