The James Library Building

History of the James Library Building

D. Willis James


The James Library building, the current home to the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts, was a gift to the people of Madison from philanthropist D. (Daniel) Willis James. Born in Liverpool, England in 1832, James grew up to be one of the wealthiest men in America. His father was a merchant, first in Liverpool and later in Baltimore and New York. His mother was the daughter of Anson G. Phelps, of Phelps, Dodge, and Company. After graduating from Amherst College in Massachusetts, James married Ellen S. Curtiss, with whom he had one son, Arthur Curtiss James.
James became the head of Phelps, Dodge, and Company with interests in mining, investments, and transportation companies. Among other interests, he was a director of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, the Arizona, El Paso and Southwestern Mining Company, and the Ansonia Clock Company. He also served as vice president and director of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company in Bisbee, Arizona.

Connection to Madison
James and his family lived in Manhattan, as did many wealthy 19th-century industrialists. In the early 1880s, James decided to build a summer country estate, and in 1885 he purchased a plot of land on the corner of Loantaka Way and Madison Avenue in Madison, NJ. After his death in 1907, the James Estate stayed in the family until 1916 when, after the death of his mother, son Arthur Curtiss James sold the property to Mrs. Marcellus Hartley Dodge (Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge). The property is now part of Giralda Farms.

While James was still in his thirties, before he could be counted as a capitalist on a large scale, he was active in many philanthropic efforts, including as president of the Children’s Aid Society in New York, from 1897 to 1901 and trustee until 1907.For half a century of his life in New York there was never a time when his personal contribution to religious and charitable causes were not far greater than was known to the public. Enough has come to light, however, in the records and reports of organizations to show that the sum total of the gifts he made during his lifetime would place him as one of the most generous among the philanthropists of his generation.

Building the Library
James gave several gifts to the town of Madison, starting with James Park in 1887. Being deeply interested in the town’s welfare, he built the James Library in 1899, believing that “a free library would be a means of public enjoyment and benefit.” Characteristically, he did not put his name on the building but instead had inscribed in stone the words “Library” and “Free to All.” In an unusual move, James provided for the Library by designating that the income he earned from his commercial property across the street be used to support the Library.
The building which is now owned by the Borough of Madison, served as Madison’s public library until 1969, when the library moved to its new quarters on Keep Street. Since 1970 it has been home to the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts.

Renovation, Restoration & Preservation
In the mid-1990s, the Museum embarked upon a capital campaign and the building was restored to reveal its long hidden architectural features and the many literary quotations that decorate the windows, walls and fireplaces. A new glass-roofed conservatory now provides an elevator and ground-level entrance for visitors with limited mobility. All public areas of the building are now air conditioned for the benefit of both our visitors and our collection. The Museum continues to act as the steward of this building which is listed on both the State and National Registers of Historic Buildings. In partnership with the Borough of Madison and the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust, there is currently an on-going restoration and renovation project that will ensure this magnificent building with continue to grace the downtown for generations to come.

METC Historical Sign
The building’s interior appeals to the finer senses, soothes and interestes the wearied mortal until all sense of the outer world has departed; to be allowed to pass inside the gated enclosure and handle the beautiful bindings, turn the righly decorated leaves of the rows and rows of books is equivalent to being turned loose amid countless brilliant gems and precious stones.D. Willis James in a letter to the Editor of the Madison Eagle, September 28, 1900

Literary Quotations

The James Library building is full of intricate stained glass windows with quotations. Preview the windows, or see if you can find them all in the museum!

Historic Photos of the James Library Building

Architectural Details


  • 20+ foot high ceilings
  • 7 chandeliers
  • 250 light bulbs on opening day
  • 56 stained glass windows
  • 3 fireplaces
  • Glass floor in the gallery
  • Rare stencilled and hand painted brick interior walls
  • Vault for valuable papers and holdings
  • Literary quotations on walls, windows and fireplaces (details)

The building originally had second set of stairs leading to the mezzanine. It was removed, and the bridge installed, sometime after 1948.

The Librarian’s office had a window overlooking the entrance. The circulation desk ran across the archway leading to the stacks.

Features include:

  • vaulted ceilings
  • stained glass windows
  • stenciled and painted brick interiors
  • elaborate fireplaces
  • carved stone and wood detailing
  • a tower housing a working
    1899 Seth Thomas clock.

Architectural style: Richardsonian Romanesque Revival

Architects: Brigham & Adden, Boston

Decoration & Windows: A.D. Cutter Co., Boston

Woodwork: Jeremiah O’Brien

Bookstacks: Fenton Art Metallic Co., Jamestown, N.Y.

Chandeliers: Cassidy & Son, New York

Electrician: Edward Feisch

Mason: John V. Corbett, Madison

Plumbing: Edward L .Cook

Roof & Slate Work: John Farquhar, Boston

Iron work: V. Hedden, Newark, N.J.

Clock: Seth Thomas, N.Y.

Superintendent: C.E. Cook, Madison

Cost (building & lot, 1900): $65,000

Opened to public: May 30, 1900, 10:00 a.m.