MADISON, NJ – In Madison, the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts (METC) has hosted a variety of events. Last Saturday, September 12th, a walking tour was held for residents to learn about certain buildings, their style of architecture and what the structure says about the borough.
“As a history museum we understand the importance of these structures, why they were built, who they were built for and how they were built,” said Jennifer Reilly, METC communication coordinator.
“We focus on the different architectural styles and discuss that these 19th century buildings harken back to other specific eras: Renaissance, Victorian, Medieval, etc. We are happy to be able to bring these tours to the community, especially during this global pandemic and showcase just a few of the architectural gems in Madison.”
The METC has hosted architectural tours for the past two years. However, in recent month due to the COVID-19 threat, the museum has offered a virtual version of the architecture tour. But last Saturday, museum staff gathered a crowd of more than 20 people in person to walk around two blocks of Madison, viewing four significant building.
The first destination was the James Building, located across the street from the museum.
This structure is known as a Renaissance Revival-style building, with eye-catching gargoyles statues, and follows the curve of Green Village Road, which it is located on, into Main Street.
“The style of the James Building was chosen because it is in the middle of the town,” said tour guide Alison Grenier-Poupel. “It stood for social life in Madison, and its top floor served as the town’s community center and even the first mayor’s office.”
Hailing from France itself, Grenier-Poupel is an architectural historian and a former member of the French Ministry of Culture who has worked with restorers, architects, and other professionals in Paris and at the Lyon Cathedral, being well versed in various architectural styles.
The second location was the James Library Building, which serves as the home of METC, and is considered a Richardsonian Romanesque Revival-style building; a style that dates back to the 12th century, with it stain-glass windows, round arches with stone and granite material.
Both James Building and Library were found in 1899 and 1900, by Madison philanthropist Daniel Willis James, also known as D. Willis James.
“D. Willis James was a prominent philanthropist and felt strongly about civic duty,” said Reilly. “He paid for and personally supervised three projects in Madison: James Park, the James Building, and the James Library Building. James built the James Building which now houses METC’s Education Annex as a commercial space in order to use the revenue from that building to maintain the Library and the park.”
“D. Willis James funded and built the James Library Building for Madison as a temple of knowledge, which also accounts for its unique exterior and interior appearance that often gets confused with a church. This building was created with the intention of being a quiet and peaceful space that citizens could use to escape from the outside world.”
The Madison Public Library eventually outgrew its space during the 60s and moved to their current location today on Keep Street. It was in 1969 that the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts was created by Edgar and Agnes Land, of whom opened its doors the following year.
The third location was the Old YMCA building was created in 1907 for a utilitarian purpose (such as bible studies), but also has design elements of neo-classicism style, with larger windows, simpler lines and elements of stone and copper. It was also once used as a makeshift hospital during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-20.
“Madison is very historical,” said Deborah Shaker, from Madison. There are buildings that date back to the late 1700s. We’re truly fortunate to live in this area with all this history and culture.”
The fourth and final location was the St. Vincent’s Martyr Church, which was constructed in 1905 with a Gothic style, featuring granite and limestone material, pointed arches, massive row windows, bigger gargoyle statues, and a cross-shaped pathway. The architectural structure also speaks to the French/Italian/Irish immigrant history of Madison.
“St. Vincent’s was built in 1905 but the history of the Catholic community in the Madison Area dates back to the 1700s,” said Reilly.
“The first Catholic Masses were celebrated by French refugees in a private home on Park Avenue since there was no Catholic church in the area. During the early 1800s, a growing Irish population began to settle in Madison. With the addition of the Irish community, the worship space became too small. The Italian immigrant population grew in the early 20th century as many looked for job opportunities in the area. These immigrants were also largely Catholic adding to the already growing community.”
“In 1905, St. Vincent Martyr was built as the ‘mother church’ for the area. The gothic style is reminiscent of a style of churches found in both medieval France, such as Cathédrale de Soissons, and Ireland, such as Christ Church in Dublin. Additionally, gargoyles can be found on many French cathedrals, and at the top of St. Vincent’s is a Celtic cross. These architectural details acknowledge the heritage of the early parishioners.”
Attendants, who loved architecture and history, found the walking tour fascinating.
“I’ve wanted to learn more about Madison and its buildings, historically and architecturally,” said Madison resident Nikolina Uzicanin. “If we can keep our masks, I don’t see why we must stay at home all the time.”
Attendee Katherine de Koninck, who came all the way from Landing, was also happy to witness all the historic structures in town.
“This was a lovely afternoon,” said de Koninck. “I’ve attended similar walking tours in Boonton and Morristown. I wish we had more stuff like this to do. This event gives the town more meaning, and you get a bigger connection with Madison.”
Later, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the METC intends to open a new exhibit on the history of pandemics in America on September 22nd.
For more information on the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts, visit their website at https://www.metc.org/.