The rich history of Montclair’s Frog Hollow neighborhood

Tucked between Bloomfield Avenue, the main drag, and Montclair High School a half mile away, is the nine-square block neighborhood of Frog Hollow. Laverne Williams was born there in 1951.

“Well, you see sidewalks. They didn’t have sidewalks then when I grew up here. It was many, many years later,” Williams said.

She has lived on every street in the neighborhood, and stays in touch with childhood friends here and around the country.

“We all were family here, and we all got along together. If you mess with one person from the Hollow, you mess with everybody. We stuck together. And that’s why people are still together,” she said.

Williams lives in East Orange now because the taxes in Frog Hollow are too high for her. But, her friend Joanne Childs-Ash still lives in the neighborhood. She remembers when her son was very young and neither she nor her mother-in-law on the next block could care for him during the day because of work.

“So everybody watched him, through the neighborhood everybody watched him. Jackie Fuller watched him on Dey Street. May Haley watched him on Talbot, and Diomi watched him on William Street. It was home. It was family. Everybody looked out for everybody,” Childs-Ash said.

And the name Frog Hollow?

“This side of the street, because the houses weren’t built until the 20s, was completely marshland, and they had to walk on planks,” Childs-Ash said. “There were wooden planks all around and that’s the only way you could walk down Central on this side. And there were literally bullfrogs in the swamp area that hollered, so the original name was Frog Holler, and then eventually it just morphed into Hollow.”

It was the black section of town. Many worked as cooks, gardeners and maids for the white people. The old Frog Hollow Day Care Center closed two years ago but once served as the heart of this place.

“This is where many, many, many children came, learned a lot of life skills, and where people who were working class were able to drop their kids and know they were safe,” said Williams.

Union Baptist Church, a few blocks away, was another draw.

“We all used to walk from the Hollow to this church, and we had activities here on Friday nights. It was a great place to be nurtured spiritually as well as physically,” Williams said.

Some famous people came from Frog Hollow: baseball commissioner and Kean administration cabinet officer Len Coleman, and Notre Dame football great Aubrey Lewis.

“He was the Athlete of the Century for Essex County, but he did go to Notre Dame. He worked for the FBI. He was Jackie Kennedy’s bodyguard. He was wonderful,” Childs-Ash explained.

Childs-Ash has seen the gentrification of the neighborhood.

“Frog Hollow today is a totally diverse community. Back in the day it was 99.9 percent African-American. Now we have Asians, the people two doors down from me are Asian. We have white people who wouldn’t even walk through Frog Hollow at one time. We have, everybody lives here,” she said.

We bumped into Sharon Rudy and her son Tejus and daughter Neela.

“Diversity is what drew us to this neighborhood. Before, we were in the South End, which is also diverse, which we loved. But in moving over here, that was an important part. In looking, we wanted a more modest house in a diverse neighborhood. And it was the first house we looked at and we loved, and we said, ding, this is it,” Rudy said.

Childs-Ash recalled her grandfather having to house family members who fled the south in a hurry.

“And the basement was cordoned off into various rooms. And as my family migrated north out of terror, because they were always bucking against the system, lynching is wrong, and things like that, they would have to come up here in the middle of the night, like sneak out of town, otherwise they’d be lynched,” Childs-Ash said.

One thing Frog Hollow still has is a corner store that now serves Dominican food.

“It’s a great neighborhood right here. I’ve been here for five years and everybody get along. You don’t hear nobody arguing or fighting. It’s a great neighborhood, and we got a lot of people coming, moving in. People love Montclair. It’s a great town,” said the owner of Paraiso Cocina Dominicana, Johan Inoa.

Childs-Ash teaches at Montclair High School. Williams is a social worker. She may live in East Orange, but some still call her Miss Frog Hollow. What does she want people to know about the community?

“That we are a very special people who have stayed in touch with each other, who love each other still. When it comes to family, it doesn’t always have to be your immediate blood family, it can be your neighbors, your neighbors’ children and others. We are all family, and anytime we get together anywhere, the first thing we say is ‘Hollow Love, Hollow Love,”” Williams said.