By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
A group of preservationists who have worked on documents including early copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution has now restored one of Montclair’s earliest written records — the deed of Azariah Crane, said to be Montclair’s first non-Indigenous resident.
The document, owned by the Montclair Public Library, was preserved by the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, of Philadelphia. The land deed, dated Nov. 8, 1752, transferred a parcel in what was Newark at the time to his son, Azariah Jr.
The parcel described in the deed is located west of Orange Road, between Gates and Union streets, according to research done by George Musser using the extensive collection of Crane family records housed at the Montclair History Center.
The Cranes are the founding family of Montclair, which was part of Newark until 1812, then Bloomfield, and then West Bloomfield. Montclair separated from West Bloomfield in 1868, after the Civil War, said Jane Eliasof, executive director of the History Center.
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“Azariah Crane was among the first English settlers at the foot of First Mountain. He grew up in a home (now gone) near today’s Orange Road and Myrtle Avenue,” Eliasof said.
Jasper Crane (1608–1681) came from Hampshire, England, in the early 17th century. He is listed as one of the first colonists of New Haven, Connecticut, and later settled in Newark. In 1694, Jasper’s son Azariah — the author of the deed — built one of the first houses in what is now Montclair on the three hundred acres that Jasper had willed to him. The area garnered the unofficial name Cranetown. Azariah was very involved in the development of both the town and one of its first churches.
Eliasof said it is thought that Azariah Sr. knew that Azariah Jr. was dying and quickly drew up the deed so that the land would be passed on to his children. Azariah Jr. died in November 1752.
The document reads, according to its 1961 transcription:
“To all Christian People To Whom these Presents Shall Come I Azariah Crane of Newark in the County of Essex and Province of New Jersey yeomin Send Greeting. Know ye That I the Said Azariah Crane for and In Consideration of the Love Good will and Affection which I have and Bear towards my Loving Son Azariah Crane Junr of the Same Place weaver; and more Especially for and in Consideration of the Sum of ten Shillings To me In hand Paid Before the Ensealing here-of &C. Have Given Granted Bargained & Sold and by these Presents Do fully frely Clearly and absolutely Give Grand Bargain Sell unto my said Son Azariah Crane and to his Heirs and Assigns forever all that one Certain [void] and Parcel of land situate in Newark as in the [void] of Essex foresd.”
It was signed in “27th year of the Reign of George the Second.”
Azariah Sr. had other sons, but Nathanial and Azariah Jr. “produced enough offspring to populate the area with Cranes to warrant the naming of the town Cranetown,” Eliasof said. There would be many more Azariahs and Nathanials over the years, she added.
The Cranes were an extremely prolific family with many branches. Many of them were prominent citizens and were well-known in Cranetown and its surrounding area. Zenas Crane, a descendant of Azariah and a member of the family whose name appears quite frequently in the Historical Center’s collection, was a distinguished magistrate and civil engineer. Israel Crane (1774–1858) was perhaps the most prominent and successful member of the Crane family. He was a respected businessman and ran a large general store. His store eventually became so important that he organized the construction of the Newark-Pompton Turnpike to connect Cranetown to the farming regions. This road is still in use today as a major road joining several towns. Israel Crane was considered the wealthiest man in the area at that time. His home, a 1796 federal-style mansion, was acquired by the History Center in 1965 and was moved to its current location on Orange Road from just down the street.
While the History Center houses all of the Crane documents, no one knows how the deed came into the hands of the library, but it has been its archives since at least 1961, said library Director Peter Coyl. Eliasof said that as there was no historical society until 1965, it makes sense that someone “probably found it in their attic” and gave it to the library.
Coyl said the document was in poor condition from previous attempts to preserve it. Long forgotten, he said it was a pleasant surprise to find it in 2018.
“Over the years our understanding of how to conserve and preserve old documents has evolved. When preparing for the library’s 125th anniversary in 2018, we recognized this important piece of Montclair history needed some TLC to ensure it lasted another 250-plus years,” Coyl said.
Funding for the project, at $3,000, was provided by the Montclair Public Library Foundation. The Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts has had the document since January 2019 and finished preserving it in 2020, but the framing took more time.
“It had been poorly laminated in years past (unknown when). The laminate was removed and the paper was chemically treated to stabilize the paper and the ink (removed acid and other naturally occurring chemicals that cause degradation). It was then encapsulated in acrylic and framed,” Coyl said.
Chloe Houseman, paper conservator at the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, said the deed had suffered from a few misfortunes, down to the ink it was written with.
“This is an example of an object that has suffered not only from being made with somewhat unstable materials, but has also been treated in the past in an attempt to preserve it that did more harm than good. It is written in iron gall ink, which degrades over time and damages paper,” Houseman said.
Homes owned by the Cranes include the Nathanial Crane House and the Israel Crane House, both now owned by the Montclair History Center. Another is a private homestead on Union Street.
The Crane House was built in 1796 and was the Crane family home for over 100 years. In 1920, African American women in the community purchased the home as headquarters for a YWCA, a segregated space. It was a significant part of the African American community for four decades. By 1965, the YWCA needed a new building. Local preservationists moved the house to its present location and turned it into a historic house museum. Today, docents tell the stories of three generations of Cranes, the people (both enslaved and immigrants) who worked for them, the women and girls of the YWCA, and the early preservationists who fought to save this piece of Montclair’s history.
The Nathanial Crane House was built in 1818 by Capt. Nathaniel Crane Jr., Israel Crane’s cousin.
The land deed will be available for viewing at the Montclair Public Library when full in-person services are restored after the pandemic. A digital version may be viewed on the Library website at montclairlibrary.org/deed.