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Local History

Local History Collection

It is recommended that patrons who wish to view Local History files book an appointment with a librarian. Call 973-744-0500 x2234 or email localhistory@montclair.bccls.org

MPL’s Local History Room has a collection of archived materials related to Montclair, including Biography Files and Subject Files. We also have  “The Montclair Times” on microfilm dating back to 1877 (and digitally from 2008-present here), city directories and high school yearbooks. Digitally, we offer more than 13,000 images at Montclair History Online, and a selection of NICHE videos available for viewing on YouTube.

Building Research

Many homeowners in town also like to research their house. The Local History Room has tax records and deed abstracts, which are available for viewing by appointment.

To find information about a building in Montclair (House, church, business, or any kind of building):

1. Check Montclair’s Historic Preservation Commission’s interactive map of Montclair Township’s Historic Inventory (map courtesy of the Department of Planning & Community Development). This web mapping application displays historic resources located within Montclair as identified in the Historic Preservation Element of the Township Master Plan, as adopted in May 1993. In addition, it shows properties that have been designated local landmarks and local landmark districts. The listings found in the Junior League Books (see below) are also discoverable.

2. Check the New York Times Historic Database and the Montclair History Online.

3. Schedule an appointment to view historic deed abstracts. The deed abstracts help trace the history of a property and its owners. MPL’s collection contains deed abstracts from the late 19th c. to the mid-20th c. You must know the historic map, block and lot of the property, which can be found in a cross-directory using the current block and lot numbers.If you do not know the current block and lot number, visit this webpage, fill in the Location field, then hit Submit Search. Official deeds are held at the Essex County Register’s Office in Newark.

4. Check the Junior League Books. These are officially called Montclair, 1694–1982: An Inventory of Historic, Cultural and Architectural Resources (Preservation Montclair, A Project of the Jr. League Montclair/Newark Inc., April 1982). Use the index in Volume I to locate the street and number of the building. Not all buildings were included. The listings include information such as:

  • Historic Name
  • Common Name
  • Location
  • Construction Date
  • Architect
  • Builder
  • Style
  • Form/plan Type
  • Number of Stories
  • Foundation
  • Exterior Wall Fabric
  • Fenestration (Windows)
  • Roof/chimneys
  • Photograph
  • Map
  • Siting, Boundary Description
  • Significance
  • Original Use
  • Present Use
  • Physical Condition
  • References

5. Check the historic maps. The library has maps that show property ownership and buildings, including 1871 and 1901 maps, 1906 Essex County Atlas, and 1933 Atlas of Montclair and surrounding towns.

6. Check the Subject Vertical Files for:

  • A-5  Architecture – Houses
  • B-4  Buildings
  • B-5.11  Business – Real Estate
  • G-4.3.7.26  Government – Municipal – Town Planning Dept., Building Codes
  • G-4.3.7.27  Government – Municipal – Town Planning Dept., Ordinances
  • G-4.3.7.29  Government – Municipal – Town Planning Dept., Zoning
  • H-4  Historic Houses
  • H-4.1  Historic Houses – Colonial
  • H-4.2  Historic Houses – 19th Century
  • H-4.3  Historic Houses – 20th Century
  • H-5  Historic Preservation
  • H-9.1  Housing – Rent
  • M-1.1  Maps – 18th-19th Century
  • M-1.2  Maps – 20th Century
  • S-7  Street Names

7. Check the Biography Vertical FilesIf you find the name of a homeowner or architect that you would like to know more about, request to view any biography files the library may hold.

8. Check the city directories.

From 1920 there is an index by street address. Most of these directories have been digitized and made available via Ancestry.com, within their U.S. City Directories 1822-1995 database.

9. Check the tax records. Tax maps (1900-1967), and tax and field books (1878-2010) are located in the first aisle of nonfiction on the second floor. Depending upon year, the entry will include:

  • Name of Owner
  • Street Number
  • Location and Description
  • Map Number
  • Block
  • Lot Number
  • Area
  • Houses
  • Out Buildings
  • Value Land
  • Value Buildings
  • Value Out Buildings
  • Value Real Estate
  • Value Personal
  • Household Exempt
  • Soldiers Exempt
  • Total Valuation
  • Poll
  • Total Tax
  • First Payment
  • Second Payment

It is helpful to know the property’s block and lot number during for the year you want to view. We have a guide to convert the current block and lot number into the historic block and lot number. If you do not know the current block and lot number, visit this webpage, fill in the Location field, then hit Submit Search.

 

Origins of the Name “Montclair”

The community of Montclair was first called “Wachung” or “Wachtschunk” by the Lenni Lenape Indians. This term meant “mountain” and refers to the First Watchung Mountain.  The area was also called “Watsessing” or “Wardesson” meaning “crooked.”

In the early 1700s, settlers from Connecticut purchased stretching land from the Passaic River to the First Watchung Mountain.  This purchase included what is now Montclair.  However, the area south of what is now Watchung Avenue was called “Cranetown” after the Crane Family.

In the northern part of what is now Montclair, the Speer family formed a community with several other Dutch families.  They called their community “Speertown.”  Speertown was a small part of the area that the Lenape called “Haquequenunck” or “Aquackanonck.”

In 1812 Cranetown and Speertown were joined and called “West Bloomfield.”

In 1860 residents of West Bloomfield met to discuss changing the name of their community.  Confusion has arisen concerning mail delivery because of the similarity of the names “Bloomfield” and “West Bloomfield” and between the names “West Bloomfield, NJ” and “West Bloomfield, NY.”  At a public meeting that year names such as “Claremont,” “Eagleton,” and Hillside” were suggested.  Because there were other places in the United States called “Claremont,” one resident, Julius H. Pratt suggested “Montclair.”  At the vote at that meeting, “Eagleton” won.  However, property owners preferred “Montclair” and persuaded the railway manager and the post master to use “Montclair.”  “Montclair” means “Clear Mountain” in French.

Historian Henry Whittemore asserted that the name “Montclair” is unique.  Except for a castle on the banks of the Rhine River in Germany, destroyed in the Crusades by Theodore Baldwin, Whittemore could find no other mention of the name.

According to the United States Geologic Survey, Geographic Name Information Service, there are twenty-three other places in the United States named “Montclair” or “Montclaire.”

1. Montclair Chapter, New Jersey Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, The Story of Montclair:  Its People in Peace and War Times (Montclair, NJ: n.p., 1930):2.
2. SAR, Story of Montclair, 12.
3. SAR, Story of Montclair, 16.
4. SAR, Story of Montclair, 50.
5. Whittemore, Henry, History of Montclair Township, State of New Jersey: Including the History of Families Who Have Been Identified with Its Growth and Prosperity, (New York: Suburban Publishing company, 1894): 42.
6. Whittemore, History of Montclair, 42.
7. USGS GNIS, accessed 31 March 2005.

Prepared 11 April 2005 by William T. Fischer, Local History Coordinator, Montclair Public Library

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Please note: The Library will no longer be open on Saturdays starting December 5.