The Mountain 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 Mountain District is a linear strip of high-style mansions almost all of which are individually designed. The area contains the best examples of the work of Montclair's local architects. Nationally prominent firms such as Cady, Berg & See, H. Hudson Holly, Frank Freeman, and Grosvenor Atterbury also contributed to the architectural importance of the neighborhood. Built up at the peak of the town's prosperity, 1890-1930, this exclusive area offered privacy in spectacular surroundings. The Mountain District is also significant because of the many people of national and local prominence who resided there.
When the railroad of 1856 connected Montclair to the nearby metropolitan area, a few scattered farm buildings were the only structures on the slopes of Mountain Avenue. A map of 1865 shows a small section of Prospect and Highland Avenues already cut through from Claremont Avenue.
Samuel Holmes and Jared E. Harrison were the landowners south of Watchung Avenue, with the Siglers, Van Giesens, and other Dutch families still in possession of the holdings to the north. By 1871 a few houses appear on maps of the area. Two of these early structures, the Tuthill farmhouse, 64 Upper Mountain Avenue, and the Torrey farmhouse, part of 49 Highland Avenue, are extant today.
Joseph Van Vleck, who came to the suburb in 1868, had considerable impact on the development of land in the southern part of the Mountain District. He opened a street through his property between Mountain Avenue and Valley Road which his neighbors named Van Vleck Street. At the time of his purchase, there were only three other houses on the Avenue. He made many improvements and built five additional houses on his property. He was elected Commissioner of Public Roads in 1874. His first house, originally sited on the north side of Claremont Avenue, was moved c.1890 and is now 50 North Mountain Avenue, part of the Van Dyk Nursing Home.
On the northern boundary of the Mountain District where Bradford Avenue (formerly the Van Giesen Gap) crosses the hill to Cedar Grove, Charles and Edward Wilcox owned most of the property east and west of Bellevue Avenue. Two of their former homes, 343 and 335 Upper Mountain Avenue, are still extant. The other early structures of architectural significance in this part of the Mountain District are the Thomas Bird House, 354 Upper Mountain Avenue, and the Franklin Dorman House, 248 Upper Mountain Avenue. Thomas Bird, a prominent citizen and long-time member of the New York Stock Exchange, was closely connected with Upper Montclair. His large residence, later owned by the paint manufacturer, Benjamin Moore, still retains a dignified position on the western slope of Upper Mountain Avenue.
By 1906 Highland Avenue has been cut through to the triangle of land which now includes Edgewood Road and Edgewood Terrace. The Montclair Realty Company (organized by the Samuel Holmes family) and H.G. Taube were the main developers in this new section. One of the most significant of the large mansions built in the area was the Jarvie House with its extensive outbuildings. This residence formerly stood at 150 Upper Mountain Avenue, where a Japanese style house was constructed later.
The western slope of Upper Mountain Avenue, between Bellevue and Watchung Avenues, was built up without a formal plan. As the commuters became more affluent, they sought prestigious locations for their houses, and began to build on the western slope of the Avenue. Large Manor houses of brick and stone were built in the early '30s. This later development could be linked to the arrival of the automobile in suburbia. With a few exceptions, the houses on the east side of the Avenue were not built until this later period. In recent time a few contemporary houses have filled the vacant lots and completed the building pattern in the Mountain District.
Significance of the Architecture
The large individual houses on Upper Mountain Avenue represent the finest of Montclair's high-style architecture. Designed by well-known architects to reflect the success of prosperous town residents, the buildings cover a wide spectrum of architectural styles, with emphasis on fine workmanship and the use of high-quality materials. The most significant of the early architect-designed houses clustered around the Van Vleck Street area. Henry Hudson Holly, once a resident of Montclair, built three houses on Upper Mountain Avenue after the mid-19th century. The first was built for Mrs. A.C. Connolly at 73 Upper Mountain Avenue in 1877 and the second, a larger structure, was built later, in 1887, at 67 Upper Mountain Avenue, on the northeast corner of Upper Mountain Avenue and Van Vleck Street. Holly's third house, designed for Joseph Van Vleck within the family compound, is no longer extant. Holly's design for these houses relied on the use of the new open living hall and fireplace so much a part of the Queen Anne mode.
One of the largest of the early houses commissioned by Joseph Van Vleck was designed by J.C. Cady of the architectural firm of Cady Berg & See at 39 North Mountain Avenue in 1885. Poorly altered over the years, the structure shows little of its original form. Next door at 49 North Mountain Avenue, the distinctive Queen Anne with its elaborate porch and delicate surface remains intact. However, the Jewitt House, 20 Van Vleck Street, designed by Alexander Oakey c.1887, with its Jacobean and Stick style influences, is regarded as the architect's best work and by far the most innovative of these early houses.
The Van Vleck family continued to influence architecture in this neighborhood after the turn of the century. Joseph Van Vleck, Jr. (son of the first Joseph Van Vleck, Sr.), an architect with the New York architectural firm of Van Vleck and Goldsmith, complemented the earlier structures when he designed two outstanding Colonial Revival residences at 37 and 75 North Mountain Avenue in 1902. A contemporary Mediterranean villa, the present home of the Van Vleck family at 21 Van Vleck Street, was also designed by Joseph Van Vleck, Jr.
A few early houses were built in the northern section of the Mountain District, but these have been severely altered. Little remains of the original facade on the Franklin Dorman House designed by See and Berg at 284 Upper Mountain Avenue in 1878. The Thomas Bird House, an eclectic late 19th century residence at 354 Upper Mountain Avenue, is now stuccoed over and considerably altered.
As development spread north from Van Vleck Street towards the end of the century, larger homes were built along the slopes of Upper Mountain Avenue. The first of these was the exuberant Queen Anne residence at 85 Upper Mountain Avenue designed by local architect George Da Cunha, followed by an elaborate Colonial Revival at 100 Upper Mountain Avenue by yet another local architect, Effingham R. North. This building pattern continued into the new century with houses like "Bide-a-Wee," 274 Upper Mountain Avenue, and the Edwin Bradley House 136 Upper Mountain Avenue. Built on the west side of the hill, this impressive interpretation of the Georgian style was designed by architects Grosvenor Atterbury and W. Leslie Walker.
Houses of varied design and construction continued to be built in the Mountain District. Local architect A.F. Norris made the greatest contribution to this building phase. His elegant Italian villa, designed in 1905 for William Couper, a well-known sculptor and member of Montclair's Artists' Colony at 105 Upper Mountain Avenue, is one of the finest examples of his work. Working in the more traditional Neoclassical idiom, Norris designed another large residence for Charles Ives in the same year at 114 Upper Mountain Avenue.
To the west the stucco Mediterranean residence at 15 Prospect Avenue was designed by the New York architectural firm of Napoleon Le Brun in 1905. Next door to the north at 25 Prospect Avenue, architect Frank Freeman designed one of the largest mansions in Montclair Township for Joseph Turner at the turn of the century. This immense residence with its tall Ionic portico and marble steps was built with numerous outbuildings including a gardener's cottage, stable and tea house. An article in the "Scientific American Building Monthly" of April, 1905 describes in detail the splendid appointments of this Classical residence.
In the southwest corner of the Mountain District a group of Colonial Revival houses, 19, 20, and 25 Highland Avenue, were designed by Frank E. Wallis between 1904 and 1910. These carefully designed houses, smaller than many houses in the area, reflect a correctness and historical precedent not generally associated with this building phase. Wallis also designed the Ellis P. Earle house at 10 Edgewood Terrace, for the mining magnate who later helped finance construction of the Empire State Building. One of the Town's most exceptional Period style mansions, it was well-documented in the architectural press of the time.
A few Craftsman houses are scattered here and there throughout the Mountain District. The most significant of these is the Rev. Stevens House designed by A.F. Norris at 287 Upper Mountain Avenue in 1912 and a larger version of the style built later at 310 Upper Mountain Avenue. Other houses in the area, like the Spanish Colonial designed by Francis Nelson at 159 Upper Mountain Avenue in 1919 and the spacious stucco Mediterranean residence at 162 Upper Mountain Avenue, contribute to the eclectic character of the Mountain District.
Besides these exotic styles, variations of the more traditional modes appear in houses built on Highland and Upper Mountain Avenues before 1920. The Andrew Morrison House, designed in the Federal style by William Edgar Moran at 80 Highland Avenue, is one of the finest examples of Federal Revival architecture in Montclair Township. To the east a fine residence at 60 Prospect Avenue, designed by Wallis & Goodwillie in 1917, presents yet another version of Colonial Revival architecture.
Most of the Tudor style homes on the lower side of Upper Mountain Avenue were built in the 1920s. More modest than those to the west, though large by today's standards, these picturesque homes reflect individual interpretations of the mode. Francis A. Nelson, a local architect who worked extensively in Upper Montclair, designed one of the most outstanding of these Period style houses at 273 Upper Mountain Avenue in 1927. The garage of this residence, which resembles a Tudor cottage, was remodeled for residential use and is now 277 Upper Mountain Avenue.
A group of large stone and brick Manor Houses built in the late '20s and '30s mark the culmination of development in the Mountain area. The two Forstmann mansions, 196 and 206 Upper Mountain Avenue, with their battlements, oriel windows and other Medieval details, are superb examples of this stylistic tradition. Both the Raid House by Roland Markwith at 120 Highland Avenue and the residence at 190 Upper Mountain Avenue by Harvey Stevenson and Eastman Studs, though smaller in scale, could also be included in this Manor House category.
The Starita House, built in the Japanese style at 150 Upper Mountain Avenue in 1962 on the foundations of the old Jarvie mansion, is one of the more important later homes built in the Mountain District. Several Colonial cottages were also built at this time on Prospect Avenue and Edgewood Road. Generally well constructed, these unobtrusive smaller homes harmonize rather than conflict with their older neighbors.
A high standard of property maintenance is maintained throughout the Mountain District. The two intrusions in the area, though out of character with the surrounding structures, are not objectionable.
† 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.