When I first visited Montclair I fell in love with the houses. Driving down the tree-lined streets, seeing house after house, I was immediately charmed with every Colonial, Victorian, and Craftsman detail. The diversity, charm, and history of the homes in Montclair make this town unique. Each its own size and style, many updated, and some preserved, all with care and pride of ownership. Once I finally became the owner of my very own Montclair home, built in 1934, I became curious about what it looked like when it was built, how people lived in it, and who lived in it. I have often wondered if there was a way to dig into my home’s past. So when my wife told me she signed us up to learn about our home’s history, I was thrilled.
It turns out, there are dozens of online and in person resources available to Montclair residents, to help you uncover your home’s history. You may have heard of places like the Montclair History Center, but maybe didn’t know where or how to begin. I didn’t either, which is why I was so excited to attend a class led by the Montclair Public Library, Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, and Montclair History Center.
During the class we learned how to search the library for photos, old deeds, old maps, and files. And if you are like me, and love looking at old archival photos, you will be as amazed as I was to check out this exciting online resource. The Montclair Public library has a “Historic Image Database” that anyone can access on the internet by going to http://www.montclairlibrary.org/. The key is typing your search in quotes. So if you live on Grove St, be sure to type in “Grove St.” Not every home is in the database, but there are plenty of other resources to find your home’s history. There is an entire history room in the library dedicated to Montclair and the librarians are happy to help. One interesting fact I learned about my home was that the original property it sat on was much larger and was eventually subdivided to build two more homes. I discovered this fact by looking at the Sanborn insurance maps (photographed below) from 1934, which happens to be the exact year my home was built. It was thrilling in a nerdy way. I was also able to look into the land and home’s original owners through deeds and I was able to look through files by name to research the “social history” of the home. Whatever your questions may be, there are an abundance of resources and people who are available to help. And if you don’t feel like playing detective, you can put in a research request with the Montclair History Center and have a researcher do it for you. There are photos, maps, and records of your Montclair home that are accessible to anyone with curiosity.
I am truly amazed by the efforts, care, and time that the Montclair Public Library, Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, and Montclair History Center have taken to preserve the history of our homes and continue to help us uncover and document the history of the land, structures, and those who occupy them. This is one more reason why I love Montclair.
Montclair Resource Guide (provided by the presenters)
Montclair Historic Preservation Commission
•Interactive map of Montclair’s historic house inventory is available.
•Historic Preservation Element of the
Master Plan of Montclair.
Montclair Public Library
•Local History Room, which includes historic deed abstracts,
tax and county maps.
•Historic image database online at
Montclair History Center
•Collection of tax and county maps,
photographs, Dudley Van Antwerp photograph collection, and telephone directories
.• Finding Aids available online for browsing parts of our collections
I can’t think of a better way to start a Montclair 4th of July weekend than a retro bake-off hosted by Montclair Bread Co. It’s no secret that the Montclair Bread Company bakes and sells amazing breads, muffins, croissants, and last but not least, their famous, delicious, and decadent doughnuts. But part of what makes this company special to me is their involvement in our town and their passion for community events. Whether it’s hosting their annual doughnut run, a sidewalk story time, or a Mom’s Night Out, owner Rachel Crampsey continues to make valuable contributions to this community. So when I saw an event in my Facebook feed that had the words, “Montclair Bread” and “Retro Bake-off” I got so excited! Not to mention, all of the event proceeds were benefitting Tony’s Kitchen. I asked Rachel how she came up with the idea and her response was so fitting and completely in the spirit of the Montclair Bread Company. I hope she doesn’t mind if I quote her word for word, because I love this story. “So…do you remember that Mom’s Night Out thing that I hosted for Mother’s Day? Marissa Rothkopf Bates was one of the moms selected. She and I started talking about our childhoods and the desserts we grew up with. Mine was Strawberry Pretzel Salad…I actually had it at my wedding!! She had never heard of it. The next day, I made some and delivered it to her doorstep. She showed me her collection of vintage cookbooks. Then we thought it would be really funny to introduce all these crazy old recipes to Montclair (home of organic, all-natural everything!). We both have connections to Toni’s Kitchen. Just like that…the contest was born.” So there you have it, the first annual Retro Bake Off back story. The entry form for the contest included 6 categories:
1. Made with Jello – includes molded desserts & sweet salads
2. Cakes – classic layers, poke, dump & ice box
3. Buckles, Bettys & Pies – if it’s baked with fruit, it probably goes here
4. Candies/Fudge – you don’t have to leave out the marshmallow fluff or Velveeta!
5. Red, White & Blue – it’s not the 4th of July without a Jello Berry flag!!!
6. Kid’s Competition – open to aspiring bakers aged twelve and under
I decided to enter Chocolate ice box pie into the contest. I grew up in Texas and my siblings and I would love going to Luby’s Cafeteria. The most exciting part of the experience was choosing our own dessert (and the fact that we were allowed to get dessert every time). While the restaurant doesn’t call their desserts retro, they are the one menu item that hasn’t changed in at least 30 years. I adapted it straight from the Luby’s Cafeteria recipe. I thought it fit both the retro theme (especially since marshmallows are an ingredient) and had sentimental meaning. This meant it would be fun to not only bake, but introduce to this part of the country. I documented some of the process for your viewing pleasure.
On Saturday July 2nd, I showed up at Montclair Bread’s Label Street Bakery (early as instructed) where crowds were already gathering to purchase a taste (10 tasting spoons could be purchased for $5).
When I took my pie inside I was delighted to see so many delicious desserts displayed with pride and care. Seeing all of the bakers in their vintage dresses and aprons, setting up their desserts was a most beautiful sight. Rachel told me there were approximately 50 entries in the contest.
After a few minutes of oohing and ahhing over the treats, we were asked to step outside so that the judging could begin. Until that moment, I only cared about the fun of participating. But everyone was talking about the judging and I got a bit nervous and competitive. Especially since my 5-year-old (who wouldn’t even taste my pie) kept saying, “I want you to win Momma.” The judges included Rachel’s grandmother (who tasted every entry), Liz, a representative from the historical society, Hani from Haniela’s – a baking blog and YouTube channel, Amy from Toast, and Montclair Bread’s own pastry chef, Carolyn. Marissa & Rachel oversaw the process and stepped in to break a tie.
While the judging took place, spectators and contestants were are able to purchase treats from Montclair Bread Company, including ambrosia salad and pistachio jello salad. They also had retro jar desserts with layered jello. And of course, no Montclair Bread Company event would be complete without doughnuts. The Creativity Caravan was there making “Montclair Sunsets” a fruity minty punch and Toast was selling root beer on tap with an optional scoop of ice cream.
After each category Rachel Crampsey would emerge from the judging area to announce the winners and hand out prizes. By this point there was a large lively crowd and participants were anxiously awaiting to hear results and taste the entries. I was on the outskirts of the crowd and all of the sudden heard my name. My wonderful friend who came to support me was probably more thrilled than I was. It was an honor to be named first place pie! I must say, I got pretty into holding the title.
There was also a grand prize winner, Lindsey Wormald who won for her very cherry coke cupcakes and was crowned (with an actual crown) retro baking queen. I’m sorry that I didn’t get a photograph, but you can see the retro baking queen, here.
The following is a list of all the contest winners:
After the judging was finished, the crowds were let it to taste.
Now I have one more thing to add to my list of Montclair 4th of July events to look forward to. Rachel also told me that plans are already in the works for next year and they will be adding a band and including a people’s choice portion of the judging.
Thank you Montclair Bread Company! I am happy and proud to live in a town where our business owners are inventive, involved, and inspiring. It is companies like this one that make this town unique and make this large and ever growing town of Montclair, keep it’s small town feel.
Mary Sobers-Levitt you won a box of local Montclair treats!
Now you can enjoy cooking a gourmet dinner with olive oil and artisianal salts, eating your chocolates and a Montclair Bread doughnut with a mug of something hot, while redesigning your home and having photos taken of it 😉
And “Walnut Street Welcomes Montclair” won favorite Montclair article. Thank you for all the votes, shares and comments!
Almost one year and 29 posts later, I am so grateful for my readers and friends who encouraged me to keep this blog going. It’s almost Valentine’s Day and I want to show you all how much I appreciate you and how much I love being a part of this community. So let’s play a game! Here’s how to play. There are 2 ways to enter your name, but only one winner.
How to Play:
1. I have chosen 11 articles and pasted links below. Vote for your favorite article by writing the name of the article in the comments section and you will be entered into a drawing to win.
2. Share this contest on Facebook and you will be entered a second time.
Last year I read about a program through the Montclair police department where Santa visits the homes of Montclair residents and delivers gifts. It’s meant as a toy drive and it is a huge bonus to the residents of our town, as well as the beneficiaries of the donated toys. I dropped off one gift for each of my children and one gift from each of my children, as a donation to another child. I’m not sure what I expected, but I knew it would be exciting for my kids to see Santa a bit early and receive a toy. So when Santa pulled up on a police truck, escorted by a glowing, glittery, musical, holiday SWAT truck and 2 other vehicles, the entire experience greatly exceeded my expectations. I think it’s probably just best to check out the videos to see what happened next.
After much success in 2014, we participated once again in the MPD Santa toy drive this year. Since we knew what to expect, we gave our friends and neighbors some warning this time and were able to enjoy the experience with them too. It wasn’t raining, so no one came inside, but we had plenty of time to check out the parade of vehicles. And it was quite a sight to see.
Like many working families, the day to day for our household is quite busy. There are careers and housework, school work, school functions, birthday parties, and the list goes on. Time really seems to be moving faster and faster and the seasons are changing before my eyes. But one thing I can always count on to get me out of my rut is my town, my community, and my friends. The decor in Montclair center, the town events, the social engagements, the local shops, the performing arts, the visual arts, the music, and the generosity make my chores and to do lists feel exciting and fun as the seasons change (especially around this time of year) and remind me why I love life in this town we call home. I can count on the wreaths and menorahs to go up, the parties to happen, the food drives, the coat drives, the giddy children, and Santa on a Police truck. I am so very grateful for the people of this community. I personally love this time of year, but I think that even the grinchiest of Grinches would not be able to help smiling about what is going on right here in Montclair.
Happy Monday! As we feast on leftover candy (yuck), eyes blurry from parties and falling back in time, bellies bloated from too much pizza and beer and sweets, I will leave you with some images from around town this Halloween weekend. If anyone has some great photos, I will be happy to update this post. There was too much spookiness and fun to capture all that this town had to offer this Halloween weekend. Festive doesn’t even begin to explain how much we love our holidays. And a holiday for children of any age, is simply the best, and it’s another reason why I love Montclair!
With Summer around the corner, Montclairians seem to be coming out of hibernation and literally partying in the streets. One great American tradition this town embraces is the block party. And I’m lucky enough to live in a house I love, on a block I love, in a town I love, that participates in this tradition.
Like many, we looked at our house because it fit our basic criteria and price range. And when we saw it, we ended up falling in love. But we really didn’t know much about the neighborhood. Having come from the North End of Bloomfield, we loved our Bloomfield neighborhood and the people in it. We knew nothing about Graham Terrace or living in the South End of Montclair. But when we moved to our street (nestled between Harrison Ave and Stonebridge Rd, on the Southernmost edge of the Estate Section), we were welcomed with a lovely party, hosted by one of our neighbors and attended by the entire block! And now, two years later, we look forward to kicking off the summer season with the wonderful people on our street at our annual Memorial Day Block Party. My kids woke up so excited to hang with their neighborhood friends, it was like Christmas morning. We even have former residents of this street that continue to attend neighborhood events year after year. These are the friendships that create our community and the friendships that my kids will grow up remembering.
I’d like to say we hit the jackpot, having lived in two neighborhoods that host block parties, but the truth is, this is not a rare occurrence in Montclair. Blocking off the streets and celebrating neighborhood friendships, happens quite often in the warmer months, and happens in every part of town. Here’s a taste of what ours looks like.
Two weeks ago Friday marked the first day of May in Montclair and the start of a busy town calendar. With the first day of the Montclair Film Festival on Friday, and Glen Ridge Avenue and Walnut Street fairs, the town was bustling and the sun was shining. Welcome to Walnut street, a street festival just 3 years young, took place on Saturday May 2nd and successfully captured the vibe of one of my favorite neighborhoods and food destinations in town. I’ll be honest, it’s taken me so long to write this because instead of enjoying everything this street fair had to offer, interviewing vendors, and taking great photos, I was experiencing this fair with my family. Experiencing something with your family when you have a 4 year-old and an almost 2 year-old is kind of like trying to “experience” your wedding day. You have people (in this case tiny humans) pulling you in different directions while really cool things happen around you and you attempt to taste really good food, but end up watching other people (in this case tiny humans) eat the food instead. And someone always ends up melting down or falling asleep. So I will attempt to paint a picture, although I have to admit that my experience was somewhat limited because we had the nap time clock ticking from the moment we arrived.
We arrived on Walnut Street on a perfectly beautiful day with the boy in his stroller and the 4 year-old pushing the stroller into the street. My wife bribed our daughter with a donut because for some reason, a street fair didn’t sound fun to her that day. So of course the first thing we had to do was get a donut. As we entered Walnut street, I started drooling over the beautiful art, antiques, and other cool vintagey items that I had to walk quickly by, so we could get the 4 year-old her donut. We immediately recognized friends outside the Montclair Baby location and stopped to chat.
But of course after 5 minutes we were reminded of donuts and Montclair Bread had a genius donut decorating table for the kids. So not only did my kids get a donut, but they got to do something interactive. Here are some kiddos decorating donuts in front of Montclair Bread.
She finally got her donut. She had to wait a whole 5 minutes. The torture…
Her brother ate his donut in 10 seconds and wanted another while she was still taking dainty little bites.
But there was so much more than donuts. Walnut Street really has become a destination for food. With Gina’s, Montclair Bread, Le Salbuen, Red Eye Cafe, Corso 98, Mac Attack, Babo Teahouse, and the long-standing Egan and Sons and Halcyon, all in a three block stretch, Walnut Street has become dense with fine foods and rich flavors.
In addition to permanent food options, Walnut Street hosts the weekly Montclair Farmer’s Market, which opens the door to even more fresh food and of course, food trucks!
I spent a good 15 minutes in the taco line and lost my family. Good thing for me, I ran into friends and then eventually reunited with my family. Also, good, the tacos from Taqueria Autentica (taco truck)!
There were also crafts and activities for kids that were really fun and entertaining, but I have no photos because I was chasing my children and eating tacos in the kid zone. My daughter painted a rock and helped create some weird sculpture-like thing with big sticks. I was able to grab a bubble tea from Babo on my way out and sample delicious cake from Gina’s, as my son was fading and whining for his nap.
Walnut Street is a special place in a special town. My favorite thing about this whole experience is the sense of community I feel when I go to these events. My friend Stephanie and her husband Logan actually told me they had a bet going on to see if they could guess the number of people they would know at Welcome to Walnut Street. She guessed more than 9.5, which was their betting number, and he said less. Well their final count was 21! I love this because Montclair really is a small enough town where you actually see people you know on a regular basis. But it’s also large enough to have something for everyone and large enough to meet and see new and interesting people all the time. It may have been a bit of a whirlwind with the kids, but I’m so glad they had the opportunity to attend this event and I’m glad they will have so many more opportunities to attend town events in the future. This is a town where so many people are welcome and where the town embraces community and variety and makes you feel like everyone is a part of it.
I would say that Welcome to Walnut was a success. I thoroughly enjoyed attending this event with my family. And I loved watching my kids absorb everything that was going on around them. But, there were things, like the “poem ladies” (photo below) as I call them, that I would have loved to wait in line for, if I had a bit more time that day.
The banners of Montclair, much like banners found in small towns across the United States, hang from our vintage style light posts and flank the streets of our town. They are charming, they are advertising, they map neighborhoods, they communicate, and they display local pride. I love these banners because they display artistic flare and are created to be visually appealing. The eye-catching logos inspired me to start photographing them over a year ago. I originally thought this would be a photo only post, but the more I thought about and researched the role of banners in our community, the more I realized the importance of them. Banners play a vital role in the movement to support small businesses and revitalize small towns in the US. They help bring us together through advertising community and small business events. And as Jay Jensen points out in his article “A New Era of Street Pole Banners,” they have the unique ability to merge old with new and historic with modern (another theme emerging in my blog posts), by displaying hashtags, wifi hotspots, and other forms of modern communication.
So why are banners important and why do they work in Montclair?And most importantly, why on earth am I writing about them? Well, I find these banners to be just one more ingredient that make this town beautiful and unique. They are particularly important to our town because they advertise local events and label each neighborhood on the bottom of each individual banner. The neighborhood labels tie into the purpose of this blog; to explore our neighborhoods and how each area has it’s own unique vibe within the town of Montclair . The Montclair Film Festival banners are displayed all over town right now, but if you look closely you will find, ” Montclair Center,” “Uptown,” “South End,””Watchung Plaza,” and “Walnut Street” marked at the bottom of each banner in that neighborhood. Our street pole banners are helping to define our neighborhoods and reflect the uniqueness of each individual section of town. They reflect our local pride and draw locals and visitors to participate in town events, to shop at local stores, and to eat at local restaurants. Street Pole banners are particularly effective in Montclair because our town has so many walkable commercial areas and our community enjoys being on foot. Art, charm, celebration, and community are what I think of when I walk down the streets of Montclair and see the most recent event advertised on a light pole. I hope you enjoy these photographs and the next time you walk through town, stop to take a look.
There are no shortage of celebrations in the Montclair area. This community celebrates food, seasons, art, families, holidays, sports, and just about anything else we can use as an excuse to plan an event. So, on this Irish holiday I would expect nothing less than a huge celebration. Today in West Orange the Streets were lined with green attire, food, drink, and festivities while the St Patty’s Day Parade marched on. There were several bagpipe bands, marching bands, dancers, trucks, motorcycles, a vintage fire truck, and a bat mobile. One of my favorite things about this celebration is that I live close enough to walk. But wherever you are in this town, there are festivities and events within walking distance. This is yet another reason why I love Montclair.