Miller Street Historic District
The Miller Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the Montclair Multiple Resources Area nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Miller Street Historic District is the only neighborhood in Montclair where a group of small vernacular cottages have maintained their integrity and continuously provided working-class housing since the beginning of the 19th century. The area is additionally significant as a section of the township where development is not historically linked to the railroad and the affluent commuter suburb of "Montclair."
There were mills in the area south of Bloomfield Avenue and east of Maple Avenue since 1827. At this time Henry Wilde from Yorkshire, England, bought the Harrison Milling Company's buildings near Glenridge Avenue, enlarged the business, constructing a new, larger mill down the stream on the Wheeler property. Wilde improved the machinery, using local water power for spinning and cording wool. He began the manufacture of plaid shawls said to be the first made in the country. The mills closed in 1839, but opened a couple of years later when John Wilde (a cousin of Henry) started to manufacture calico prints which continued until 1853. Unoccupied for some time, the mill buildings were bought by Grant J. Wheeler in 1856. Wheeler in conjunction with James C. Beach started a firm to manufacture straw board. These two men were the original inventors of the process. The business was successful and continued until 1887 when pollution of the nearby streams forced the Board of Health to close the mills.
Henry Wilde had built a Methodist Church (St. Mark's) on Bloomfield Avenue for his English employees in 1836. The first Roman Catholic church was constructed in 1856 on the site of the present St. Vincent's Nursing Home. Since then churches have continued to flourish in the area.
Miller Street was called after a German, Frederick Muller, who purchased property there in 1860. Mullers were listed as masons and other occupations connected with the building industry. The Montclair City Directory of 1897 shows four houses, 10, 12, 14 and 16 Miller Street, occupied by members of the Muller family. Karl Frederick Muller worked as a mason on Glenfield School, built nearby on Maple Avenue in 1896. Other members of this family continued to reside on Miller Street until 1930.
The most colorful individual on Miller Street in these early days was Louis Heckman, who resided at #10. Heckman founded a religious group, the Pilgrim Mission, in 1870. Many affluent town residents contributed to his efforts and mill-owner James G. Beach donated property on Bloomfield Avenue near the present Mission Street where a suitable church was built.
The 1871 map of Montclair shows only a section of Miller Street cut through from Fulton Street. The second part of the street was opened to Elmwood Avenue by Elliott Marshall c.1915.
After World War I the ethnic mix of the area gradually changed. Attracted by the small, affordable housing and the availability of rental space, many working class Italians and later Blacks moved into the neighborhood.
Blacks have lived in the area since 1870. They had first worked as servants but many soon acquired their own properties and lived in the small streets adjoining Bloomfield Avenue. As the Blacks became more prosperous, many moved to the southeast corner of the town, known locally as the "South End." Today Blacks live throughout the town, and have made important contributions to the community. While some Black residents of Montclair are prominent leaders in business, education and the entertainment world, others are still part of the local working class community.
The Muller family continues to own a number of the buildings on Miller Street which they hold as rental properties. The standard of maintenance has been good and most of the structures still retain their original clapboard siding and simple architectural details.
Significance of the Architecture
While the vernacular architecture in the Miller Street Historic District conforms in general to the accepted character of the time, there are subtle differences between the buildings. The earliest structure, 16 Miller Street, is smaller in scale than the surrounding houses. Other distinctive features of the cottage include attic windows and a north-south gable roof.
The steep gables combined Italianate and Queen Anne elements seen at #11, #12 and #14 Miller Street and are typical of the late 19th century cottages found in other parts of the town. Only 11 Miller Street shows more elaborate details, including a barge board with sunburst motif. On the west side, a two-family house, 9-91/2 Miller Street, shows twin gables to the street and a continuous porch across the main elevation.
The later cottages on the southwest section of the street, though similar in scale to the earlier structures, are devoid of ornament. Two of these structures show hipped roofs and one has a two-story front porch. Built in the Craftsman style, #17-27, the multi-family dwelling in the southeast section of Miller Street, is uniquely different. The stucco finish of this building appears stark but the porch and roof gables harmonize well with the earlier cottages. Most of the houses on Fulton Street, built between 1870-1900, have been drastically altered. The newer cottages built in the 1920s have also been sided and changed. In spite of later additions and other alterations, 34 Fulton Street, the largest of the early residences on Fulton Street, retains its Italianate elements and molded window surrounds.
There are no intrusions in the Miller Street Historic District. The standard of maintenance is good. Most of the houses on Miller Street still retain their original siding and other simple architectural details.
† Eleanor McArevey Price, Planning Coordinator, Preservation Montclair, Historic Resources of Montclair Multiple Resource Area, Essex County, NJ, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.