The community of Montclair was first called “Wachung” or “Wachtschunk” by the Lenni Lenape Indians. This term meant “mountain” and refers to the First Watchung Mountain. The area was also called “Watsessing” or “Wardesson” meaning “crooked.”
In the early 1700s, settlers from Connecticut purchased stretching land from the Passaic River to the First Watchung Mountain. This purchase included what is now Montclair. However, the area south of what is now Watchung Avenue was called “Cranetown” after the Crane Family.
In the northern part of what is now Montclair, the Speer family formed a community with several other Dutch families. They called their community “Speertown.” Speertown was a small part of the area that the Lenape called “Haquequenunck” or “Aquackanonck.”
In 1812 Cranetown and Speertown were joined and called “West Bloomfield.”
In 1860 residents of West Bloomfield met to discuss changing the name of their community. Confusion has arisen concerning mail delivery because of the similarity of the names “Bloomfield” and “West Bloomfield” and between the names “West Bloomfield, NJ” and “West Bloomfield, NY.” At a public meeting that year names such as “Claremont,” “Eagleton,” and Hillside” were suggested. Because there were other places in the United States called “Claremont,” one resident, Julius H. Pratt suggested “Montclair.” At the vote at that meeting, “Eagleton” won. However, property owners preferred “Montclair” and persuaded the railway manager and the post master to use “Montclair.” “Montclair” means “Clear Mountain” in French.
Historian Henry Whittemore asserted that the name “Montclair” is unique. Except for a castle on the banks of the Rhine River in Germany, destroyed in the Crusades by Theodore Baldwin, Whittemore could find no other mention of the name.
According to the United States Geologic Survey, Geographic Name Information Service, there are twenty-three other places in the United States named “Montclair” or “Montclaire.”
1. Montclair Chapter, New Jersey Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, The Story of Montclair: Its People in Peace and War Times (Montclair, NJ: n.p., 1930):2.
2. SAR, Story of Montclair, 12.
3. SAR, Story of Montclair, 16.
4. SAR, Story of Montclair, 50.
5. Whittemore, Henry, History of Montclair Township, State of New Jersey: Including the History of Families Who Have Been Identified with Its Growth and Prosperity, (New York: Suburban Publishing company, 1894): 42.
6. Whittemore, History of Montclair, 42.
7. USGS GNIS, available from http://geonames.usgs.gov/pls/gnis/web_query.gnis_web_query_form, accessed 31 March 2005.
Prepared 11 April 2005 by William T. Fischer, Local History Coordinator, Montclair Public Library