King Manor Museum interior, Jamaica, Queens

New York City is not a place known for preserving its architectural heritage. Since the arrival of the first Dutchmen centuries ago the city’s entire philosophy has been to tear down and create anew in pursuit of mammon. That creative destruction makes what indeed remains that much more precious. A friend of mine and I had intended to pick up where we left off last summer in our visits to the five boroughs’ few remaining historic homes, but that is not happening for obvious reason. My friend, another Park service volunteer, recently emailed me this New York Times piece from early June telling the stories of the men and women entrusted with the care of the dozen or so historic houses spread through New York City’s diverse neighborhoods. The caretakers live, either alone or with their nuclear families, in these houses, literally keeping the lights on and making certain nothing untoward occurs. All of their stories are intriguing. I was especially interested in the brief profile of eighty-year-old Roy Fox, who has been keeping watch at the Rufus King Manor for over three decades now dating back to the late 1980s. I have not yet met Mr. Fox, but would love to when the shutdown finally does end.

I am still adjusting to the reality of this most unusual summer; though I regard myself as among the fortunate, it is so difficult to be closed off from the wider world on beautiful summer days such as today. Under normal circumstances, who know where we might have been or what we might have seen? Historical homes such as King Manor and the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum have been quiet for more than three months now. As the article itself points out however, these sites have been around for a long time–centuries in most cases–and been through a lot: world wars, economic depressions, civic unrest, blackouts, petty vandalism, and more. Someday this crazy era too will be part of these structures’ history, and thankfully there are people there right now to preserve that ongoing institutional memory.

(image/CaptJayRuffins via Wikimedia Commons))