The hearth kitchen at the Crane House and Historic YWCA. (COURTESY DIANE E. ISRAEL)

By REBECCA JONES
For Montclair Local

After closing its doors in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Montclair History Center will once again begin offering on-site, in-person tours and programming this fall.

The museum is now offering self-guided audio tours of the Crane House, in-person painting and hearth cooking classes and outdoor walking tours. It will also continue its History at Home series of virtual programming. 

“On Sept. 18, the Crane House and Historic YWCA will be open for tours for the first time since March 17, 2020,” manager of audience engagement Diane Israel said. 

Programs and tours will be held with social distancing, and with all participants wearing masks.

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The house was built in 1796 and was the Crane family home until 1920, when African American women in the community purchased the home as headquarters for a YWCA. As a segregated place, it was a significant part of the African American community for four decades.

Free admission is available on Saturday, Sept. 18, but tickets, through montclairhistory.org, are required. Tickets are now available for downloading.

“We’re very excited,” said collections manager Erin Benz. “We’re going to be debuting our first-ever audio tour that day. Anyone who wants to just explore the house on their own and be able to pick and choose what they’re interested in learning about can now do that.”

This fall also brings the grand reopening of another Montclair cultural institution — the Montclair Art Museum. The museum will be celebrating its return with a fall festival, also on Sept. 18. There will be free admission and tours, along with family activities, demonstrations, performances, bilingual story time, yoga and more. The Montclair History Center will be participating in that as well.

Although the Montclair History Center closed its doors in March 2020, the staff quickly pivoted and offered virtual programs. The first History at Home was put on Zoom on April 9, 2020, and the center had four programs that month to start off the series.

The series will be back by popular demand. “We’re trying to do something in this series biweekly, sometimes more,” Benz said.

On Oct. 21 participants can learn what Montclair looked like in the Ice Age. Dr. Greg Pope, professor and department chair of earth and environmental studies at Montclair State University, will be presenting a discussion of Montclair 20,000 years ago, when First Mountain was covered in hundreds of feet of ice and now-extinct Ice Age mammals roamed the land.

“The virtual events held over the last year and a half have been so popular that we’re keeping that part of the programming,” Israel said. “We had more participants through Zoom. A lot of people came who wouldn’t have if it were live.”

While some of the History at Home presentations are free, others require advanced registration and a fee that can be paid through the website.

“Every week is a different topic, and they’re all recorded and put up on our YouTube page. If you miss it, you can always catch it there,” Israel said.

For those who are ready for in-person programming, the History Center is offering classes this fall, including a hearth cooking class for adults, on Oct. 22. 

Participants in that class will learn how to manage the fire and bake in a Dutch oven. The class will work together to cook a meal using historic “receipts” (aka recipes) and enjoy time around the hearth fire. All participants will receive a free copy of “Thirteen Colonies Cookbook.” 

In-person walking tours of historic neighborhoods such as Llewellyn Park and Pleasant Avenue in West Orange are also part of the fall lineup, as well as an all-ages architectural walking tour of Montclair.

“We’ve got our Rosedale Cemetery tour on Halloween this year, which I’m excited for,” Benz said. “We do that twice a year. In the fall we do the old section.”

The cemetery was founded 175 years ago.

“Rosedale Cemetery is where at least five of the ‘Radium Girls’ are buried, including 22-year-old Mollie Maggia,” though those burial sites are not on the tour, Benz said. Maggia was the first female factory worker to die from radiation poisoning contracted from painting watch dials with luminous paint at United States Radium Corp. in Orange.

If you prefer to walk virtually through a cemetery, a virtual tour of Mount Hebron Cemetery is available on Oct. 21. 

This fall, there is something for everybody, Benz said.