The famous Montclair Springs were an amphitheater-like field, above South Mountain Avenue at the top of Hillside. Before the train lines that brought development circa 1856, West Bloomfield, soon to become Montclair, was a popular health resort with springs, brooks and pools of fresh mountain water flowing down the mountainside.
Downhill from the rocky ridge of the first mountain, the waters were tamed by stone swale culverts along the roadsides, while brooks and pathways intertwined through the wooded fields towards Eagle Rock, a famous destination for Hudson River Valley School Painters like George Inness and his son.
This landscape of natural pathways under Montclair’s mountainside cliffs is captured brilliantly by Howard Van Vleck’s site design concept for the MKA Lloyd Road Campus. Van Vleck felt that a little village of colonial revival buildings would not embody the spirit of Montclair’s natural beauty.
Hillside Avenue was a place for the destination’s hotels, guest houses and weekend cottages. The Montclair Inn is a survivor of this moment in time.
Development speculations required more water. Mr. John Owen became the first township engineer. He formerly worked for the firm Olmsted and Vaux, that designed Central Park and Llewellyn Park, (including the Stonebridge section of Montclair). With the goal to preserve the natural beauty of the landscape, the township’s first chosen engineer had professional ties with the most illuminated planners of the day as well as George Inness, a favorite visionary artist of Fredrick Law Olmsted. John Nolen, Montclair’s first planner was of this same school. Together they worked to preserve Montclair’s natural beauty.
Dr. Pinkham, the first municipal health officia,l had the task of insuring of the pureness of the town’s water and a mountaintop reservoir was required for the growing town. As reported in the 1883 Montclair Times, Mr. Stephen R. Parkhurst had purchased the old Prospect Academy on the top of the mountain and constructed a new well that surprisingly had such an ample supply of water it could have served the whole town. On the opposite side of Bloomfield Avenue at Parkhurst Place, (the road leading up to Afterglow Way) a reservoir was planned which would hold sufficient water to supply from 10,000 to 30,000 people. Water could be carried to any part of the town by gravity because of the mountain slope. The town developed more and more and the Montclair Water Company came about in 1890. A larger plant was established and relocated to Watching Avenue at the cost of $1,700,000.
Today, the surge of the underground waterways can still be heard quite clearly on a quiet summer night walk up Hillside Avenue, past the old Montclair Inn.