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The mantel decoration in the Hearth Kitchen is made from natural materials reflecting the early post-Revolutionary War period.  Diane E Israel

BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair History Center’s annual Holiday House Tour of the Crane House and Historic YWCA has been honored as the top choice in the Northeast and fourth-place nationwide in the USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards.

The list included well-known sites such as Graceland, the Breakers in Newport, R.I., and Mount Vernon, which also won for 2020. 

The tour’s popularity would not be possible without the dedication and artistry of the Garden Club of Montclair, which for years has decked the halls of the Crane House.

The home was built in 1796 by a founding family who lived there for 100 years. The YWCA took over the home in 1920, as a home for African American women looking to relocate to the area.

The decorations created by club members reflect both of those periods of ownership. Some rooms feature what would have been used in the late 1700s – fresh fruits such as cranberries, apples, pineapples and lemons (exotic back in 1700s) and greens such as boxwood and evergreens.

Other rooms reflect the early 1900s, when young African American women celebrated the holidays away from their families. Trees are lit with bubble lights and don modern plastic ornaments.

The Club Room tells the story of the women and girls who were part of the African American YWCA in the 1940s and 1950s. Its period decorations include an artificial tree with bubble lights, styrofoam ornaments and other items (like plastic) developed in the 20th century.  Diane E Israel

The home was built by 21-year-old Israel Crane for his wife, Fanny Pierson Crane, in 1796 on Glenridge Avenue. By the standards of the day, it was a mansion, located on 86 acres of farmland. 

Lemons and pineapples were commonly used in the late 1700s and 1800s as decorations.

As the YWCA, the home was a significant part of the African American community for more than four decades. By 1965, the YWCA needed a new building, and local preservationists moved the house to its present location and turned it into a historic house museum.

The house now highlights the stories of three generations of Cranes, the people (both enslaved and immigrants) who worked for them, and the women and girls of the YWCA.

This year, due to COVID, there were restrictions on how many people could enter the Crane House and Historic YWCA at the same time, but the center still held private tours.

Residents can still get a tour of the house along with some last-minute decorating ideas using items found in the backyard and supermarket by viewing the house tour below.

“The Garden Club of Montclair still did an amazing job from afar,” Jane Eliasof, executive director of the Montclair History Center, said. “They created wreaths, garlands and centerpieces in their own homes and handed them off to staff stationed outside the house.”

The History Center staff took them from there, placing the decorations in the period rooms.

The Crane House’s dining room set for holiday dinner.

The Crane House and Historic YWCA was one of 18 museums in the United States nominated for an award by a panel of nationally recognized travel experts for the USA Today travel award series, which celebrates outstanding destinations, attractions and experiences. 

“We’re beyond excited to be among the top five nationally,” Eliasof said. “For the Crane House and Historic YWCA  to be recognized is a real honor, especially when you look at the caliber of the other museums on the list.”

Watch the home tour below for some history, good cheer and decorating ideas.