Northern New Jersey is home to many interesting places and people. Over the years, a melting pot of restaurants, retailers, and residents has blended into the distinct, diverse culture that’s unique to the area. Geography-wise the region certainly has its benefits. Traveling an hour and a half by car will get you to some great ski areas, and if you go in another direction you’ll arrive at beautiful beaches. But with so much on offer right here, it can be easy to forget that Essex County has international ties that are also worth exploring.
Montclair alone has four global sister cities, each with a special history connecting them to the township. Sister Cities International was officially founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, though some relationships pre-date the organization. SCI’s website asserts that the idea behind the nonprofit was to encourage “a network that would be a champion for peace and prosperity by fostering bonds between people from different communities…” Eisenhower believed that cross-cultural kinship might deter the outbreak of future conflicts.
To achieve the designation, officials from the two proposed sister cities have to sign off on the program. Beyond inception, there is no set protocol for the ensuing relationship. Each pair of sister cities adopts its own method of moving forward, though exchanges and partnerships are commonplace. Here’s a closer look at three municipalities— located in Austria, England, and Italy— and their particular relationships with Montclair.
Graz, the second-largest city in Austria (after Vienna), became the town’s first official sister city in the years following World War II. Essex County locals might find that the name rings a bell – Montclair’s Graz Park was named in honor of the relationship in 1950. The association began with Mountainside Hospital providing medical supplies to the hospital in Graz, which sustained great damage during the war. Over time, the committee behind the initial connection became “Overseas Neighbors,” and finally, Graz was named an official sister city to Montclair.
Today, Montclair’s Austrian sibling is considered to be a food and arts destination in the region of Styria. Students at Montclair State University can opt to study abroad at universities in Graz and a scholarship even exists to promote the exchange. While Austrian food might be harder to come by in Montclair, Essex County is a bit of an arts destination in its own right. Residents can always plan a visit to Montclair Art Museum to get cultured while remaining stateside.
A relationship between Montclair and Barnet (a suburb of London) was also established following World War II. In the early 1940s, millions of British children were relocated from their war-torn cities in an initiative known as Operation Pied Piper. By 1943, 52 such children made their way from Barnet to Montclair. This inadvertent exchange ultimately prompted the creation of “The Friends of Barnet” organization in 1949. Today the group still facilitates exchange programs for high school students and adults alike. Montclair residents can participate in concerts, events, and trips meant to build camaraderie between the two sister cities. To get all of the tea on upcoming programs follow The Friends of Barnet on social media. And, if traveling abroad isn’t in the cards, you can still get a taste of England closer to home at these local tea rooms.
From Frank Sinatra to The Sopranos, New Jersey’s Italian community has long been acknowledged and depicted in pop culture. Yet, Montclair’s relationship with Aquilonia is the youngest on this list. The bond was forged in 2017, at the recommendation of resident Raffaele Marzullo. Then-Mayor Robert Jackson and Marzullo were among the group to participate in a set of exchange trips between the cities that year. As the connection was only a few years old by the time the pandemic hit, it will be interesting to see how this fledgling friendship will grow as international travel restrictions continue to ease. In the meantime, be sure to check out the great options for pasta and pizza right here in Montclair.