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.