When Roy Fox retired as a radio host for stations in cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh, he needed a place to settle down. While one would expect him to retire in a home in his native Chicago or perhaps a Manhattan apartment, he instead took up an offer to live rent-free in King Manor, an 11-acre historic home in Jamaica, Queens. As one of just two dozen New Yorkers who live in the city’s publicly owned historic sites, Fox resides on the top floor of the historic home, which dates back to around 1700.
King Manor originally served as an inn and farmhouse, and soon after as the parsonage for two local ministers. A century later, the home’s namesake, Rufus King, purchased the home and surrounding farm and woodland for $12,000. King was a New York senator and signatory of the U.S. Constitution. To accommodate the New York elite at his home, King enlarged the rooms and added an oval dining room to the home’s eastern portion. King lived in the manor for 20 years before he was forced to move to Manhattan as he became increasingly sick. In 1827 upon his death, the manor was inherited by his son John Alsop King, who for one year served as Governor of New York.
The house was purchased by the Village of Jamaica in 1897, and in 1900 the King Manor Association was established to care for the home. Despite efforts to convert the home into a Queens Public Library branch and a civic center, in addition to two fires, the 18th-century home still exists today with many of its original features, including furniture, furnishings, and books. In 1987, the city inaugurated a $1.4 million project to restore King Manor and protect rooms like the famed library.
Around the time that the restoration project began, Fox’s then-wife learned that the parks commissioner was looking for someone to live in the manor. In 1989, Fox agreed to become the manor’s caretaker, giving him the opportunity to live for free in the 29-room home. Fox went to work on redesigning the interior, from his awkwardly shaped bedroom to the combined kitchen and dining room. His office is also connected to a small pink room, while a sign on the kitchen reads, “This kitchen is here because it came with the place.”
While Fox keeps most of the historic artifacts downstairs, which is open to the public, he has his fair share of his personal books in the apartment, amounting to over 4,000. This number even surpasses King’s collection of 3,200, many of which are now in the Library of Congress. Surrounded by thousands of books and his own writings, Fox lives comfortably in the privacy of his home, accompanied by just his cat whom he named Mary Alsop King in honor of the 19th-century lady of the house. Her daily duties include “cuddling with staff, reading with Fox, lying in sunbeams, and keeping pesky mice at bay.”
Although COVID-19 has prevented Fox from giving guided tours of the home and leading readings of King’s writings, Fox continues to make a dent in his gigantic book collection and listen to public radio; he has not owned a television since 1982.
Join us for a behind-the-scenes look at the King Manor Museum on June 19! Go inside The Fox Hole, the museum caretaker’s booklined-apartment, see colorful and mysterious painted floors, check out two hidden 18th-century windows, peek into museum storage spaces, and catch a glimpse of a few of the treasures not on display. King Manor Museum Executive Director Kelsey Brow will lead the in-person tour!
Behind-the-Scenes at King Manor
Next, check out The Eight Oldest Buildings in Queens!