Group works to preserve history of first home in Montclair owned by freed Black man

A small home tucked away between two larger houses is filled with history and holds the story of the first freed Black man to own a home in Montclair.

News 12 Staff

Feb 25, 2023, 1:36 AM

Updated 512 days ago

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A piece of Montclair’s history was nearly scrubbed away by investors until a local group stepped in to save it.
A small home tucked away between two larger houses is filled with history and holds the story of the first freed Black man to own a home in Montclair.
“The actual original house was the back part of the home and then this front part was added on…James Howe…as far as we know was born and raised in Montclair. His family was here for generations and served under the family of the Crane's,” says Kimberly Latortue, of the Friends of the Howe House. “Nathaniel Crane freed James Howe, who was a former slave, in 1817. And then in 1831, in his will, left James Howe with the land and the property.”
This made Howe the first formerly enslaved Black man to own a home in Montclair - uncommon in the 1800s.
“The house was known as the Freed Slave House, so that tells you that there was still slavery happening,” says Latortue. “That was just something to achieve or a great achievement and represented a possibility of homeownership for other African Americans in the community and I think it honestly paved the way.”
Several other African Americans build homes around the Howe House, forming Montclair’s first Black community.
But all of this history was in danger of being torn down when the Howe House was recently listed for sale.
“As a piece of Montclair's African American History, we were really concerned that if an investor purchased the home, it would be demolished…we'd lose that piece of history,” Latortue says.
The Friends of Howe House was formed seven months ago and bought the home. The group plans to restore the inside of the house to look like it did in the 1800s. They also hope to share its history with the community.
“Hopefully using it as an educational center, a museum that commemorates African American history, as well as James Howe,” Latortue says.
The Howe House will open its doors to the community in the coming years. Donations can be made HERE.


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