When the Montclair Lackawanna Station was built in 1913, it was nationally acclaimed as the most handsome suburban railroad terminal in the United States. It was built to serve the second wealthiest suburban community in America and the illustrious men and women who were shaping American History at the dawning of the 20th century. The terminal’s styling, by architect William Hull Botsford, is consistent with a design movement of new stations all over Europe at that time.
When train service began in Montclair in 1857, (then West Bloomfield), a wealthy newcomer, Julius Pratt, invested $4,000,000 to create the township’s first train line. Aesthetics were remarkably important to Mr. Pratt, who also built what was considered the most amazing showplace in town, “Apple Grove,” a mansion on Elm Street (presently the Martin Funeral Home.)
Pratt also felt that the name “West Bloomfield” was not beautiful enough to attract desirable newcomers, so he rallied for the new, more picturesque name, “Montclair.” Thus, began the important aesthetic legacy when planning for the development of the township and the characteristic style standards of Montclair.
Because of the beauty of Montclair’s natural landscape, the future development of the township was entrusted to the foremost artists, architects and planners of the time, like resident painter George Inness, his follower Fredrick Law Olmsted and thus, the Olmsted team’s student, John Nolen, who not only created Montclair’s first Master Plan, but what is considered to be America’s first Master Plan for a suburban community. The station previous to this was not considered impressive enough to serve as a gateway to this prosperous Railroad suburb. Through a cooperative effort between the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad and the town officials, the new terminal was built and all the surrounding area was improved.
John Nolen proposed “Railroad stations and their surrounding areas be improved in terms of safety and appearance.” The genesis of the terminal improvement was planned and together with the upgrade in rail service from Manhattan, plans for the redesign of the site began.
The NY Times of June 29, 1913 exclaims: “Montclair Joyous in New Terminal”. The author then goes on to say:
When the plans for the new Lackawanna Railroad station at Montclair were prepared, the architects made every effort to make it one of the most artistic suburban stations in the country. The Grecian Doric style of architecture was adopted with a colonnade for the main entrances through a loggia having entrances direct to the main waiting rooms and train concourse. The entrances to three driveways are flanked by gate posts of tapestry brick, surmounted by electric light fixtures of hammered copper. The grounds about the station have been improved with lawns and shrubs.
The walls of the station are faced with genuine tapestry brick and all trimmings are of marble chip concrete adding much to the beauty of the exterior of the building.
The same good taste was used in the interior decorations. The walls of the main waiting room are faced with buff colored pressed brick, the wall surfaces being broken pilasters and a molded belt course sixteen feet above the floor line. The floor is of marble chip terrazzo, the color of which was selected to harmonize with the walls. The ceiling is paneled with heavy oak beams.
Montclairians lauded the train officials for the quality and appearance of their new terminal and the Lackawanna officials received a proclamation from the residents of Montclair for their – “appreciation of the generous spirit toward the town and the spirit of friendly co-operation”. It was noted that residents would be able to reach the “metropolis from this station in 30 minutes. Surely this is bringing the great city near to our door, and it will appeal to the many a city businessman who longs to spend his nights in comfortable quiet while he breathes the invigorating atmosphere of our mountain altitude”.
June 28, 1913 – over 300 invited guests joined in the celebration of the opening of the newly completed Montclair Lackawanna Railroad Terminal. School children lined the processional route, waving flags, as the assembled dignitaries congratulated each other before partaking in a luncheon at the Hotel Montclair, which included turtle soup, filet mignon, and French ice cream.
Notably absent from the festivities was the man who designed “the handsomest and best arranged suburban railroad terminal in the United States…” according to the Montclair Times of June 28. That young man, William Hull Botsford, died in the Titanic tragedy, April 15, 1912, and another Delaware- Lackawanna & Western architect, Frank J. Nies, took his place on the dais.
Because of the historic importance of Lackawanna Plaza and its role as an anchor that reflects the emblematic character of the original planning of Montclair, much attention must be given in future development to protect this valuable legacy. Steps can be taken in re-development of Lackawanna Plaza that could preserve the character of Montclair’s landmark station. According to international architectural historian Kathleen Bennet, Chair of the Montclair HPC:
“The Lackawanna Train Station site is listed on the national and state preservation registers (1973 and 1972, respectively). It is considered a local landmark in the Township Center Historic District (2003) where the former waiting room building is listed as a “Key” building, the highest classification in terms of building importance. This is a site with multi-faceted historic significance which could be sensitively developed to accommodate the needs of both the community and the developer. The surviving historic fabric remaining within the site of the former Lackawanna station must be saved and celebrated as highly significant to the development of Montclair. The arrival of the railroad in Montclair signaled a shift from an agricultural society into a commuter suburb. It is the reason we are the Montclair of today.”
Some Historic Views of the Original Lackawanna Plaza Area: