The Borough of Madison is a small suburban community in southeast Morris County, New Jersey, about fifteen miles due west of Times Square. Madison borders on five other municipalities: the boroughs of Florham Park and Chatham are to the north and east, the townships of Chatham, Harding and Morris are to the south and west. Morristown and Summit are nearby, to the northwest and southeast, respectively.
Madison is served by Morris and Essex Morristown Line trains of NJ Transit direct to Penn Station in New York City. It also provides service to Hoboken (with connections to lower New York City by the Hudson Tubes.) In addition, Morris County Metro provides local bus service.
NJ State Route 124 passes through Madison. From a distance access by auto is easiest from the NJ Route 24 freeeway. If traveling west use Exit 7A and then follow Route 124 through Chatham to Madison. If traveling east use Exit 2A, turn right off the ramp and take the first left onto Park Avenue. Follow Park Avenue into Madison.
Madison is located on a ridge of land extending from near Summit northwest toward Morristown. This ridge is made up of the remains of the terminal moraine left by the Wisconsin Glacier more than 10,000 years ago. Low-lying wetlands are on either side of this ridge; the Great Swamp to the southwest and the Black Meadows/Troy Meadows area to the northeast. These lowlands are part of the remains of Lake Passaic, which was formed by melting ice as the glacier receded. Until the lake disappeared the higher elevation portions of Madison were on a small island in the lake.
Eventually the lake drained when the ice receded enough to reveal the Little Falls Gap to the north. However, the signs of the glacier can still be seen around town. There are many "potholes" in Madison, which mark the place where huge chunks of ice were left behind to melt, buried in the rubble which had been pushed forward by the glacier. One of the largest of these is visible from Glenwild Road, on the property of Drew University. In recent years Morris County acquired the "Moraine" property as public parkland. This is part of the outwash plain from the glacier in its terminal position.
This ridge provided a natural route from the Short Hills gap in the Watchung Mountains to the higher country north and west of Morristown. The Minnisink Trail, used by the Lenape Indians, passed along what is now Kings Road in Madison. In 1804, the Morris Turnpike was established along the route of present Main Street. In 1837 (only seven years after the first public railroad in the United States!) the Morris and Essex railroad was completed, following this natural ridge through Madison. Being on the "main road", Madison developed earlier than many neighboring towns and was heavily influenced by its access to good transportation.
The earliest settlers of European descent arrived about 1715 and established "Bottle Hill" at the crossroads of Ridgedale Avenue and Kings Road. The Luke Miller house at 105 Ridgedale Avenue is thought to be the oldest remaining home in the Borough, built around 1730. Morris County, created in 1739, was divided into three townships. The area in Madison north of Kings Road was in Hanover Township and the area to the south in Morris Township. A meeting house for the Presbyterian Church of South Hanover, as Madison was then called, was started in 1747 where the Presbyterian Cemetery still exists between Kings Road and Madison Avenue. Later, in 1806, Chatham Township was formed, comprising the present Madison, Chatham Borough, Chatham Township, and Florham Park, and thus the political division of the village was ended. In 1834, the name of the village was changed to Madison, and in 1889, with a population of 3,250 persons, it seceded from Chatham Township and became a borough in order to develop a local water supply system.
Madison's growth accelerated after the Civil War. The railroad provided good transportation for its farm produce. Later it made possible the establishment of a flourishing rose growing industry, still commemorated in Madison's title as The Rose City. The Morris and Essex Line became one of America's first commuter railroads, attracting well-to-do families and contributing to the development of "Millionaire's Row," which stretched from downtown Madison to Morristown.
The rose industry and the large estates in the area attracted working class people of all kinds. As a result, Madison very early developed a varied population, both in terms of socio-economic status and ethnic background. The original settlers were of British stock; French settlers came after the Revolution; African-Americans have been members of the community from early in the 19th century; Irish came in mid century and then Germans and Italians around the turn of the century. To this day there is a substantial community of Italian descent in Madison. Today Madison remains a diversified community, with many of the more recent immigrants coming from Central and South America and from Asia.
Rapid population growth in the 20th century, especially in the 1920's and following World War II, has created an almost fully developed municipality. Madison, with an area of four square miles, has a population of approximately 16,000. The dominant land use is single-family housing, occupying 52 percent of the developed land, largely on lots well under one acre. Public and quasi-public uses occupy 25 percent of the developed land and commercial uses 13 percent. Most of the remaining land is used for multi-family housing with less than two percent vacant. Industrial uses are minimal.
The center of Madison's borough government is in the Hartley Dodge Memorial building, an imposing structure located across King's Road from the railroad station. The borough government provides a high level of services to the community including: efficient police and fire services; comprehensive refuse collection and recycling programs; a public water supply system and an electric power distribution utility. A sewage disposal plant, located in Chatham Borough, is operated jointly by Madison and Chatham. Its capacity is adequate to meet local needs and it has recently been substantially upgraded to meet revised federal and state standards of performance. The Borough is well endowed with parklands and has strong recreation and seniors programs. The Health Department provides comprehensive services, not only to Madison but to other communities on a contract basis.
Though Madison today could be characterized as a "bedroom community", since most of its citizens work out of town, it has a special character generated by an ethnically diverse population, a wide range of housing types, the influence of local universities, and its unique historical development.
Madison is known as a community with strong educational, cultural and historical amenities. The Free Public Library of the Borough of Madison is exceptional for a community of Madison's size and is widely regarded as one of the finest small community public libraries in New Jersey. The program of Drew University Minicourses at the library gives adults a convenient means for college level courses in an informal atmosphere.
Madison is the home of Drew University and has the Madison-Florham Park Campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University and the College of St. Elizabeth immediately adjacent.
There is a strong public school system, which maintains relatively small class sizes and a broad curriculum. There are three elementary schools, one junior high school, and one high school. The high school is also attended by students from nearby Harding Township. In addition, St. Vincent Martyr Church operates a parochial elementary school here.
Madison is the home of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, the Playwright's Theater of New Jersey, the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts, and the Adult School of Chatham, Madison, and Florham Park.
Madison's downtown is a thriving central business district. It is supported by a Downtown Development Commission and a Downtown Manager. The Madison Civic Commercial Historic District, which includes much of "downtown" as well as Borough Hall and the train station, is on the State Register of Historic Places. At any time there is very little vacant commercial space. In recent years Madison has become noted for the number and quality of its restaurants.
Madison has a wide range of housing opportunities, from garden apartments, affordable housing and starter homes to large residences. Residential areas exhibit many positive attributes, with neighborhood parks and tree lined streets which reflect the historical development of neighborhoods. The initiation of direct train service to Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan has made Madison even more desirable for commuters. Recently the Borough Council has taken steps to preserve the current residential character of Madison by limiting the size of new homes on small lots.
Madison has been very successful in providing federally subsidized low and moderate income housing. The Madison Housing Authority, established in 1981, has been responsible for the construction of a two senior citizen housing complexes (one with seventy-nine units and the other with twelve) and fifty townhouse units. The latter have been developed under a "scatter site" plan and are integrated into the community. The work of the Housing Authority has been nationally recognized for its quality and performance and its management expertise is in demand from other communities.
For the latest demographic data on Madison from the 2000 Census, go here (PDF).
You can also read about Madison in Madison Magazine.
Page author: Frank Benedict