Madison History

Early Settlers

The initial settlement of the area now known as Madison occurred around 1710 by people from the Elizabethtown and Newark areas. The majority of the settlers purchased their land from the West Jersey Proprietors, holders of large grants from the British Crown. Some settlers bought land from the Indians. The general area was known for many years as South Hanover. The little cluster of homes along Ridgedale Avenue and Kings Road was known as Bottle Hill. A tavern had been built near what is now James Park, at Park and Ridgedale Avenues. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army established their quarters in the area called the Loantaka encampment of 1777. Of the soldiers encamped at Loantaka most were militia. A number of the officers were garrisoned in the homes of Bottle Hill residents. Colonel Matthias Ogden probably stayed with the Millers and General “Mad”Anthony Wayne with the Sayres. It is thought that General George Washington visited and used the Miller’s Forge during that time.  Both houses and the forge remain on Ridgedale Avenue.

Morris County was formed from Hunterdon County in March 1738. Originally, it included the area now known as  Sussex and Warren counties, and it was named for colonial governor Lewis Morris. Settlement of the area now known as Madison began in earnest circa 1730. Settlers, were attracted to the area for its proximity to both fertile land with an ample water supply, and to the burgeoning ore industry in Northern New Jersey. Ridgedale Avenue, the center of the Bottle Hill Historic District, is believed to have been part of a connecting trail to the north branch of the Minisink Trail.  The Bottle Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

The origins of the name Bottle Hill are debated, but some sources indicate that it might have been a reference to an early sign in the shape of a bottle at a tavern on the corner of Ridgedale and Park Avenues. Other sources suggest the name may have come from the bottleneck shape of an early land parcel. The first use of the name Bottle Hill has not been determined specifically, although it does appear on Major Robert Erskine’s Loantaka Valley Campsite map from 1777.

One of Madison’s earliest settlers Andrew Miller arrived from Long Island in the early 1700s, purchased a tract of land along Ridgedale Avenue, and either he or his son, Josiah, constructed a house there circa 1730, assumed to be the present structure at number 105. The property became known as “Miller’s Station.” Andrew’s grandson, Luke, was born at Miller’s Station on September 8, 1759, and became a significant force within the development of Bottle Hill and its various institutions. Luke Miller served as trustee and assessor of the First Presbyterian Church and was a founding trustee of Madison Academy, working to prepare plans for that institution, which would be erected at the corner of Park and Ridgedale Avenues in the first decade of the 19th century.   Today The Luke Miller House has been part of a collaborative  research project with METC, The Madison Historic Society and Madison High School.

18th Century

In the late 18th century, the Sayre and Miller houses were joined by several small dwellings identified stylistically as “East Jersey Cottages.” These vernacular dwellings were typically one-and-a-half stories tall and side gabled, with small kneewall windows at the upper story and wide clapboard siding. William Parkhurst Tuttle, author of several histories of the community, described the village of Bottle Hill in 1801 as comprising approximately twenty dwellings, most of which were located on either King’s Road or Ridgedale Avenue, thus indicating the street’s early importance.

Development in the 19th Century

The chartering of the Morris Turnpike (which ran along present day Main Street) in 1801 brought new importance to the area along this route, and the location of the toll house at 196 Main Street assisted in fostering the growth of the community to the south of Ridgedale Avenue at the center of what was then still known as Bottle Hill. Ultimately, by the late nineteenth century, this area to the south would grow in commercial importance, preserving the core of Bottle Hill for residential development with only scattered commercial and civic interests.

With the construction of the Morris and Essex Railroad in 1837, Madison developed stronger links to the metropolitan regions of New Jersey, as well as to  New York City. Not only were commercial goods transported to expanding markets, but the village also began to attract cosmopolitan homeowners who earned their living elsewhere and visitors attracted by the beauty of the region. The railroad station was initially located at approximately the site of  the James Library Building (the current home of METC), just to the south of Ridgedale Avenue and the Bottle Hill Historic District. The depot was relocated to the northwest corner of Waverly Place and Kings Road in 1855, helping to shift the community’s “center” further south.

In addition to a growing residential population, Madison had begun to attract visitors from New Jersey cities such as Newark, as well as from New York by the mid-19th century, as transportation made the village readily accessible and its rural atmosphere made it physically attractive. The Ridgedale Inn, a popular 19th and early-20th century hotel, stood at the corner of Ridgedale and Park Avenues. While portions of the hotel were said to have dated to the late-18th century, the main structure was erected circa 1850. Historic photographs show the hotel’s considerable landscaping, which incorporated such amenities as tennis courts and croquet grounds.

Madison’s growing reputation as “The Rose City” during the last quarter of the 19th century fueled its development, as did the founding of Drew University (1866). Beginning around the time of the Civil War and continuing for almost 100 years, Madison was home to 45 different rose-growers. In his photographic history, Madison, author John T. Cunningham noted that at one time, a survey showed that there was a half-million square feet of glass in the town being used in rose-growing greenhouses. By the late 1800s, more than 30 greenhouses shipped their roses to New York City via the railroad. Madison’s nickname, “The Rose City,” was certainly warranted.

William Gibbons, a millionaire from Georgia, bought land west of Bottle Hill in 1832 after his fell in love with the scenery in the area. They called it “The Forest”. By 1851, Gibbons had accumulated about 1,000 acres. In 1866, Daniel Drew purchased  this land for the purpose of erecting a seminary. The Drew Theological Seminary received its charter from the state of New Jersey in 1868 and continues today as Drew University. While the increase of jobs and students to the area may have been limited at first, Daniel Drew’s selection of Madison as the site for his new school certainly heightened public interest in the burgeoning town. The original Gibbons Mansion  is now the administration building for Drew University.

The development of Madison’s downtown, which had continued to expand along Main Street, was slowed, but not halted, by a fire that broke out on October 21, 1877 in a grocery store on Waverly Place and spread to other, nearby structures, most of them commercial in nature. After a short period of recovery, growth returned and the downtown — which was focused intensely on Main Street — continued to develop. By 1889, Madison boasted a population of 3,250 and decided to secede from Chatham Township to become a borough. This political redefinition enabled the town to have its own mayor and city council, and allowed its officials to develop a more localized water supply system, which was a primary reason for the secession.

Daniel Willis James and Elizabeth, his wife, purchased a large tract of land just west of what is now downtown Madison in 1892.  Mrs. James demolished all the buildings and constructed an Elizabethan mansion known as “Onuda.”  Mr. James’ first gift to the people of Madison was James Park, dedicated on July 4, 1898. His next project was a free public library given to Madison in 1899.  The style of the building is Richardson Romanesque, designed by  the Boston firm of Bingham and Aiden. Church-like in its appearance with Tiffany stained-glass windows, it is now the home of METC, and is a  Madison landmark listed on State and National Registers of Historic Sites.

Twentieth-Century Changes

In 1905, the parish of St. Vincent’s erected a new church building outside of the Bottle Hill area to replace their existing 1839 structure at 69 Ridgedale Avenue. The 69 Ridgedale Avenue building was subsequently converted to a private residence. The years between 1912 and 1921 were a time of development and growth for the community. More dwellings were erected in the Bottle Hill Historic District during this period, and they reflect the national popularity of the Bungalow style, in addition to examples of the Tudor and Colonial Revival styles. Their construction, along with a small number of structures erected in the 1920s and early 1930s, brought the neighborhood to nearly full development, where it has remained largely intact.

In 1917, The D. Willis James estate was purchased by Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, the daughter of William Rockefeller. She married in 1907, M. Hartley Dodge, heir to the Phelps-Dodge industrial empire. They expanded the property by buying the adjoining Wilder, Harkness and Ballantine estates. They named the property “Giralda Farms”. Mrs. Dodge founded an animal shelter, St. Hubert’s Giralda, to serve the animals she loved. St. Hubert’s was endowed in her will and so continues as a shelter and conducts programs concerning pets. She generously supported many local organizations and gave to the Borough: Dodge Field, land for commuter parking lots and the ambulance corps, and the Hartley Dodge Memorial Building and the land it sits on. Her will established the Dodge Foundation which is providing philanthropic support for many New Jersey non-profits.

As the Borough of Madison developed, it became a prominent suburb of New Jersey’s larger cities, such as Newark and Morristown, as well as a suburb of New York City. Throughout this growth and development, the community’s original core — the Bottle Hill Historic District — remained largely intact, reflecting the expansion of the community from its beginnings in the mid-18th century into the 20th century and representing the earliest (as well as the most continual) wave of suburban settlement within the borough.

In 1988, ground was broken for the Route 24 extension west from Short Hills to Route I-287 in Hanover

Township. Express trains to NYC have also been a factor in the development of Madison as a desirable suburb of New York , with high-performing schools, an accessible and beautiful downtown, arts and cultural events and many lovely parks and recreational facilities.

Madison Today

According to the 2010 US Census, there were 15,845 people, 5,485 households, and 3,675 families residing in the borough of Madison.  In 2014, Madison celebrated 125 years of incorporation.  With a stunning downtown and tree-lined streets, Madison has been the backdrop for a number of television shows and films, including episodes of The Sopranos, scenes from A Beautiful Mind, The World According to Garp and The Family Stone.  It’s bustling downtown, seasonal Farmers Market and eclectic mix of top restaurants which includes one of New Jersey’s hottest jazz clubs,  make it an appealing town for residents and visitors.