Step Back in Time at Staten Island's Alice Austen House Museum
The Alice Austen House Museum is a lovely Victorian cottage, but what makes this historic house particularly interesting is the story of its namesake. Alice Austen (1866-1952) was a self-taught photographer who spent most her life in this home, also known as Clear Comfort. It sits atop a hill in the 15-acre Alice Austen Park, which boasts amazing panoramic views of New York Bay and the city beyond.
In addition to preserving many of her belongings and furnishings, the Alice Austen House Museum displays many of her vintage photographs. Austen was known for her documentary style, quite rare in her day, and she snapped photos of high society, immigrant life, new inventions like the bicycle and historic events. At the museum, families can explore the house, parts of which date back to the 17th century, see her pictures and even try hands-on workshops where kids can learn photo techniques of the past and present. Since my nine-year-old son is into photography, it's been on my bucket list for a while now, and we recently found time to check it out.
The moment you step into the Alice Austen House Museum, you leave the 21st century behind. From the restored period furniture to her authentic photos, the home really feels lived in. After exploring two galleries of her photography, my son and I watched a 25-minute documentary about her life (a reminder that we had not actually taken a time machine). It traced her life from her childhood to her passion to photography to her Depression-era struggles to her late-in-life success. It was an educational experience for me and my photography loving son. And of course, the house and the gorgeous grounds make for stunning photos. He even snapped some of the pics in the gallery above.
The Alice Austen House is open year-round and mounts a handful of temporary photography exhibitions annually. It's a picturesque and inexpensive destination, and the grounds are a perfect place for a summer picnic with a view. The museum regularly hosts special events, a few of which are aimed at kids. Its biggest annual family event is Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, celebrated in late April, when kids can learn how to shoot pics with an old-school camera and develop them in the museum's darkroom. But check the calendar for other fun for kids like storytime, photography workshops and more. The Alice Austen House also hosts a pair of summer camps. Children ages 7 to 17 can learn contemporary shutterbug basics in the Photography Camp. There's also a retro-sounding Etiquette Camp for ages 5 to 12, where participants learn good manners, proper greetings, how to make eye contact and more.
The Alice Austen House Museum is located in Alice Austen Park at 2 Hylan Boulevard at Edgewater Street in Staten Island. Suggested admission is $3 but there are additional nominal fees for special events.