The Matthewis Persen House, one of four colonial stone buildings occupying the crossroads of John and Crown streets in Uptown Kingston, is one of the neighborhood’s most visited historic sites. Owned and partially restored by Ulster County, the building, which dates back to the 17th century, consists of a labyrinth of open floors and staircases. A display of artifacts dug up from the site provide a fascinating glimpse into a deep slice of time, spanning three centuries of Kingston history. But this season, the Persen House will also be telling the story of Rondout, in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Formerly displayed at the Downtown Visitors Center, the exhibit is changing quarters due to the takeover of that facility by Ulster County Tourism. Organized by the Reher Center for Immigrant Culture and History, it will be on view on the second floor of the Persen House. When the exhibit opens on Saturday, May 19, the organizers are hoping the day itself yields a harvest of local history, with two volunteers, Nelsie Aybar-Grau and Wendy Rothkopf, on hand to photograph and record visitors’ stories of living inKingstonwhen it was still home to garment factories and a pre-mall Wall Street bustled with shoppers on Friday nights.
The Persen House will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day. At noon, photographer Eugene Dauner will show 200 of his Kodachrome color slides taken of Rondout in the mid 1960s, just before and during its teardown by the federally-funded Kingston Urban Renewal Agency. Dauner, then in his early twenties, was working for his father’s floral business in Port Ewen. Between deliveries he would shoot street scenes with his 35mm camera, frantically trying to make a record before they disappeared forever.
His comprehensive photographic archive — he took 900 slides in all — is an astounding compilation of the rows of handsome columned storefronts, some dating back to the Civil War, and brick commercial and industrial buildings that had once helped make this the busiest port between New York City and Albany.
Dauner will be followed at 2 p.m. by Jack Matthews, who will show a portion of his extensive collection of photographs of the Rondout, Midtown and Uptown from 1910 to 1930. Matthews, who has perhaps the most comprehensive private collection of photographs, postcards and other mementoes of old Kingston, is expert at pointing out details in his faded images that reveal some fascinating lost aspect of the city’s commercial, social and domestic life.