The historic house museum has been preserved for centuries, and interprets the home and legacy of Rufus King. King is most notable for his work as a framer and signer of the Constitution, as well as a leading voice in the early anti-slavery movement.
Executive director Nadezhda Williams Allen and Gerald Caliendo, chair of the Board of Directors, have worked together tirelessly to transform the museum.
Allen took over after her predecessor retired in 2015, while Caliendo has been on the board for approximately 25 years, serving as chair for a little more than five years.
“Over the years, I think we’ve made a lot of progress in improving the museum,” he said.
As an architect, Caliendo’s involvement with King Manor came organically when his client, Charles Meyer of Cord Meyer Development Company, recommended him for the board. Since then, he’s dedicated much of his time to preserving the history that has shaped society.
“We share the goals of getting Rufus King's story out there and making the museum the best that it can be,” Allen said. “The first few years as an executive director can be tough as there’s lots to learn.
“[Caliendo] is there to help, but he also respects the staff's knowledge and experience and has allowed us to move the museum forward,” she added.
As chair, one of Caliendo’s accomplishments has been significantly modifying the board. Board members now include businessmen, major developers, and members of the legal community.
The latter group holds King’s contributions in high regards, because they work with the Constitution on a daily basis. The museum honors the legal connection to King through the annual “Constitution and Cocktails” event and a swearing-in ceremony for new citizens.
And although there are a number of museums in Manhattan, Caliendo argued that there are not many museums throughout the city that hold such an authentic, historic significance.
“There’s not a tremendous amount that rise to the status of a building like King Manor, where you have a signer of the Constitution, a man who ran for president, and the building was the governor’s mansion,” Caliendo said.
The board is looking to expand and is in search of notable figures who can help further the goals of the museum by raising money and bringing awareness to King’s accomplishments.
“To serve on the board is an important role because you’re part of really an incredibly important place in the history of Queens and in the history of the country,” he said. “This goes to the depths of our country and what it stands for.”
The museum is beginning to showcase its collections more, as well as open up further rooms and exhibits to the public.
In December 2016, King Manor transformed a museum storage room into a new period room that reflected the time in which King’s son and former governor, John Alsop King, and his family lived from 1827 and 1896. It was the first time the public was given access to a room on the second floor in decades.
The museum also recently secured funding to enhance the room with period-appropriate carpet, wallpaper and window treatments. The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
Currently, the museum’s curator is doing some research into John’s letters and account books to see if there are any references to the decorative aspects.
In fall 2018, the museum will open an exhibit focusing on the people who worked at King Manor in the 19th century.
Through research in the King archives, a graduate student intern found detailed information on various employees, including their names, activities and responsibilities.
Life-size silhouettes of the individuals will be printed and placed throughout the house. Additionally, there will be an object placed in each room that interprets their work. Biographical information on the workers will also be provided during guided tours.
Two rooms that are not typically seen, the servants’ quarters and the servants’ hallway, will also be available to tour.
In March 2019, Allen and her team are planning a symposium co-hosted by the New-York Historical Society and the History Department of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
The event will mark the bicentennial of Missouri applying for admission into the Union as a slave state, sparking bitter debates in Congress. During those debates, King proclaimed that slavery was “against the law of nature.”
The free, daylong event will feature panels discussing the events leading up to the crisis, the Missouri Compromise debates, and the effects of the compromise.
While school tours continue to be at the center of the museum’s core mission, King Manor is also looking to evolve and develop further as a destination attraction. They hope to attract a wider audience by hosting different exhibits and programming.
“We want to give people a reason to keep coming back for visits,” Allen said.
To raise awareness of King Manor, Caliendo believes the board can help Allen go further.
“King Manor is a great institution dedicated to a great man who doesn’t get the local or national attention that he deserves,” Caliendo said, adding that he would like to see a statue of King in front of the home so the public is made aware of the historic gem in their backyard.
To increase general knowledge of King and his family, Caliendo also wants to see a collaboration with the History Channel for a documentary on his life.
The museum often teams up with organizations like Queens Library and Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning to shed light the history of the neighborhood.
“Jamaica has changed so much throughout the centuries, while the house remains here,” Allen said. “Jamaica is moving in a good direction, but as the saying goes, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats,’ and hopefully everyone can benefit from the changes.”
In addition to an expansion in programming, the museum will continue to upkeep the property. The building will get a new roof this spring, and plans are in the works to get new heating ventilation and air-conditioning units.
Eventually, they’d like to work on repairing the window sills and shutters, do plaster work, and treat the building to a new paint job.
King Manor received two grants to restore their 1850 cast iron stove, which has deteriorated over the years from dampness and leaks caused by the current roof. Allen hopes to have the stove restored in the fall.
The museum has undergone new branding as well, with a new website and logo. They’re also looking to create specialized merchandise for the museum’s gift shop. One of their most recent orders includes King Manor temporary tattoos.
“We thought that was something kind of fun and different,” she said, “because history is not boring, it’s fun.”