Montclair History Emerges from the Holland Tunnel


Montclair is exceptionally rich in history with 130 listed in Who’s Who in America by the 1930s. It’s no wonder to see names from our community connected to landmarks and amazing achievements in modern technology like the Holland Tunnel, opened on November 12, 1929.

Montclair resident Olaff Hoff’s Holland Tunnel engineering achievement of pre-fabricating and submerging massive cement tunnel sections, is designated a National Historic Civil and Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil and Mechanical Engineers in 1984 and in 1993, designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.



Hoff’s Holland Tunnel project was certainly a massive prospect for its time, fostering economic growth for the NY – NJ Metropolitan area as well as creating jobs possibilities and public transportation access.  In 1920, at the beginning of the Holland tunnel project, several local engineers and technological pioneers like Thomas Edison of neighboring Llewellyn Park, inventor and owner of Portland Cement, worked on solutions for such a long tunnel with the volume of traffic. This was a first.

Norwegian engineers pioneered a system of ventilating the tunnel. Engineer Ralph Smillie of Llewellyn Park was also on the team. Montclair-born Jim Johnson, attorney and gubernatorial candidate, recalls his family’s involvement with the construction of the tunnel. “The Holland Tunnel, which my great grandfather helped build, not only created jobs for the men and women that worked on it but also gave economic opportunities to families in New Jersey.” The tunnel was an engineering achievement and important factor for economic growth at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Although after his achievement of technologically pioneering the Holland Tunnel project, Mr. Hoff is amusingly characterized afterwards as just another silver haired gentleman that crosses the Hudson on his daily commute to work. Olaf Hoff’s scheme of prefabricated concrete construction is considered to be just short of revolutionary in the fields of engineering and construction. This innovation made the Holland Tunnel the first mechanically ventilated underwater vehicular tunnel. The methods used to design and build it still form the basis for the construction of many underwater vehicular tunnels throughout the world.

It’s also quite amusing that the concrete structure of Hoff’s beautiful 337 Park Street Montclair home is so massive that it’s practically impossible to drive nails into the walls to hang pictures.

NY – NJ ferry boat service prior to the construction of the Holland Tunnel. Photo from the 1909 Nolen Report, Montclair’s first Master Plan.



Fig. 75. Views of the Harlem River tubes during construction. (a) Construction, partial. (b) Construction, completed. (c) Towing to site. (d) and (e) Sinking. (f) Inside.The accompanying drawings and photographs show the essential details of the structure and the methods of sinking. The tunnel was divided into five sections, four of 220 ft. each and one of 200 ft. Figs. 76-81. Various cross-sections of tunnels.


olaf hoff house
The Olaff Hoff House today.



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  1. This was a fabulous read. Hope there are more Montclair historical articles to come! Thanks, all.

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