Erin Foley has driven past the James Howe House hundreds of times and she had always wondered what the story was behind the property at 369 Claremont Ave.

“I was like: ‘This little house here just sticks out. Like what's the story behind it?’” Foley said.

She had not anticipated the house’s connection to a freed slave.

“When I found out the story, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!” she said.

Once she learned that the house had been owned by freed slave James Howe, Foley, director of One River School of Art and Design, felt compelled to support the efforts to save the house in the best way she knew how, through art.

So One River School of Art and Design will be hosting a Howe House Party on Friday, Jan. 27, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., to raise money for the preservation effort.

The event will include an open bar, hors d’oeuvres, and an art-making session, in which ticket holders can make a rendering of the Howe House either by painting, drawing or digitally.

“One River also feels it's very important to align yourself with causes that really truly matter and, and sometimes it's these smaller causes that really need the most attention,” Foley said.

Built by town founder and merchant Israel Crane around 1780, the residence is known as the James Howe House because Howe was the first African American man to own property in Montclair. Howe was enslaved and freed in 1831 by Nathaniel Crane, who also bequeathed the house to Howe.

Since October, the organization Friends of the Howe House worked to raise awareness and funds to purchase the home. Through a rally and a benefit at the Montclair Brewery, along with other efforts, the organization purchased the home last month for $400,000.

The group hopes to turn the house into a site to teach the history of slavery in America and recognize and celebrate the impact of the African American community throughout Montclair. This event is one of three planned to raise $50,000 toward spreading awareness about the home. The money will be used to repay loans taken out to secure the house.

Betty Holloway, member of Friends of Montclair African American Heritage Foundation and a board member of the Friends of the Howe House, said of the coming event: “We’ve had so much support already from our community toward this venture and we need that support to keep coming. We urge folks to come along and have some fun at our Howe House Party on January 27 and try their hand at art.”

When ticket holders attend the event they can expect teachers to guide them through their artistic interpretation of the Howe House. Foley is hoping that participants will become creative in the ways that they see the Howe House through the different art mediums provided.

“Just because the house happens to be gray shiplap on the outside, it doesn't mean everyone has to paint it that way,” Foley said.

She hopes that participants use vibrant colors and different textures while also creating a scene they believe may have happened there. Final works will be on display in the One River Gallery through the month of February

Alongside this event, there will be a panel discussion, “The History of Howe House,” at the Montclair Public Library on Wednesday, Feb.8, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. On Thursday,  March 9  an art exhibition and auction titled #HoweHouseMatters will take place at the Gallery at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices from 5 to 8 p.m.

To buy tickets for the Howe House Party at the One River School of Art and Design visit All proceeds will be donated to Friends of the Howe House.

The James Howe House on Claremont Avenue (Courtesy of Friends of the Howe House)
The James Howe House on Claremont Avenue (Courtesy of Friends of the Howe House)