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If Walls Could Talk: Montclair’s Historic Crane House Reopens After Renovations

Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett

MONTCLAIR, NJ – Inquisitive spectators gathered Sunday at the re-opening of Montclair’s Historic Crane House.

Over the summer, the Crane House was emptied of all of the furniture so that painters could give it a fresh coat inside and out. Planning for the renovation had been in the works for three years and the doors reopened on Oct. 5.

Crane Family History

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Israel Crane (1774-1858) was a descendant of the founding family of Cranetown, which is now called Montclair. Crane and his wife, Fanny Pierson (1773-1828), built the Israel Crane House. The Montclair Historical Society said, “Israel Crane was a successful merchant who constructed a turnpike that opened New Jersey’s heartland to early trade, built this Federal-style mansion on eighty-six acres of farmland.

Israel and Fanny had seven children, house servants, and at least two slaves named Dine and Joe.

Crane House History

Built in 1776 by one of Montclair’s founding fathers, the Israel Crane House was saved from being demolished in 1965 and moved from 159 Glen Ridge Avenue to where it sits today on Orange Road. Israel Crane and his wife, Fanny raised their children and then passed the home on to their son who raised his family there. The Montclair Historical Society reports that the Crane House became home to the YWCA of Montclair-North Essex in the early 20th century, serving as a social center and home for African American women.

When reinterpreting the house, the Montclair Historical Society wanted to make sure that all of the stories of those that lived and worked in the Crane House were told. They wrote on their website, “From the enslaved people who served in the home and on the property, to the Irish immigrants who arrived after slavery ended, to the hundreds of African American women who considered the Crane House -- in the form of the YWCA -- as a kind of sanctuary at a time when Montclair was segregated.”

Among those present during opening day, Former Newark Superintendent Marion Bolden, Mayor Robert Jackson, Martin Schwartz, Councilor Robin Schlager, Social Studies Supervisor Davita Harewood and other local leaders came to partake in the re-creation of Montclair history.

History Through the Eyes of a Former YWCA Member

One special guest in particular, Elberta Stone, sat in the game room reminiscing about the past and chatting with guests. Stone said, “I grew up at the Y because my mother was a member.” Stone was born in 1922 at Mountainside Hospital and began coming to the YWCA with her mother when she was three years old.

Stone spoke of the activities that had been planned for the ladies who were members of the YWCA.

"In 1925, they used to have a baby parade and fashion parade and women of the Y who had little girls used to make costumes out of crepe paper. They would decorate a little red wagon and pull the children in the wagon."

When the YWCA was moved to its present location in 1965, many of the former members and community residents followed the procession up Bloomfield Avenue. Stone explains it as an emotional day for many who held the memories dear.

"We resented the fact that they took our Y from us, but they said it was very old."

"It became the Y in 1920 and then when I was in college, they moved it from Glenridge Avenue to up here. It was kind of heartbreaking because we had grown up at that Y. …so many generations and it was something that colored folks had. It was all we had back then. ...We were very sad when they moved it. Hortense Tate cried all the way up Bloomfield Avenue when they moved it because she had been the reserve secretary for years." Tate was a founding member of the National Council of Negro women. Tate began working at the YWCA in 1921 accepting the position of Director of Cultural Affairs after graduating from college in 1920.

The older ladies would gather with the younger ladies and teach them etiquette, as well as facilitate activities such as playing board games, reading books and magazines and dancing. She (Tate) taught us many things about growing up and being a nice young lady. We all admired her a great deal. I was a member of the Y until 1940."

Stone's aunt was featured in the film 'A Place to Become' that was produced by the Montclair Historical Society. "My aunt Rosemary Stone is 102 and was a prominent part of the film. ...My grandmother, Mary Ellen, was a trustee in 1920 when they opened."

When the YWCA was moved to the current Orange Road location in 1965, the House was restored to its former glory. Artifacts of the time period were collected and placed in the rooms to retell the Crane House's diverse story.

For more information, visit www.montclairhistorical.org

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