Monday, May 5, 2014

Historic Upper Montclair Walking Tour With a 21st-Century Twist

Historic Walking Tour With a 21st-Century Twist
Town-Gown Collaboration Tells Upper Montclair History in a New Way

It’s now possible to time travel in Upper Montclair if you’ve got a smartphone in your pocket. You can, for instance, hold your phone in front of the Bellevue Theater to see a photograph of what stood on that spot a century ago (a building that resembled a giant trunk). Or hold your phone toward St. James Episcopal Church (you’ll see what it looked like before the bell tower).

Dozens of sites in the Upper Montclair Historic Business District can now be viewed in this “then and now” fashion, thanks to a collaboration among Montclair State University communications students, the Montclair Historical Society, and Friends of Anderson Park. The students used a website called to build a map of numerous Upper Montclair historic spots, charting the district’s evolution from a rural community in the 1880s to a burgeoning suburban town in the 1930s.

Once users download the Historypin app onto their smartphones, the exploration can begin. Each spot “pinned” on the map correlates to a notable site, and includes historic photos and brief text. These pinned sites can also be viewed on a computer or tablet. In the next few months, the Montclair Historical Society will be adding more historic photos to Historypin and creating self-guided walking tours using the app as a tour guide. And Historypin is there even when a human tour guide isn’t, so you can satisfy your curiosity at any time.

The tour focuses on how the Upper Montclair commercial district developed from a rural community in the 1880s to a burgeoning suburban town in the 1930s. “Our goal is to help people see this part of town with new eyes, a new awareness,” said Jane Eliasof, executive director of the Montclair Historical Society. “When we walk around Upper Montclair shopping, we may not think twice about the history that started this place. But these buildings tell fascinating stories, and Historypin is a new way for us to get those stories across in a way that is engaging and accessible.”

Montclair State University and Montclair Township have been working for several years to build stronger connections between town and gown. For the past two years, for example, students in an archaeology class participated in a dig on the Montclair Historical Society’s grounds. “This is another productive step in that direction,” said Conrad Fink, the adjunct professor whose Transmedia students took on the project. “The students acquired some in-depth knowledge about the community, and Montclair got a new way to tap into its past.” Fink, a Montclair resident, is also president of This Is TV, a production company and a member of the Montclair Film Festival Board of Directors.

The Montclair Historical Society plans on expanding the Historypin “pins” throughout Montclair this summer. The focus on the Upper Montclair Business District serves as a demonstration project for that wider goal.

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