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28 Walnut Street
Madison, NJ 07940 (map)
LOOKING BACK COLUMN
Commerce in Madison started in the early 1800’s. One of the first manufacturers in Madison was Henry Keep’s Bonnet and Umbrella Factory which opened in the 1830’s. They made parasols, clothing and wove straw for hats and bonnets. Rattan was used for umbrella ribs and also “switches” for the schoolmasters. The factory employed 100 females and 6 males. It was a long frame building located on the corner of Kings Road and Prospect Street. The Public Safety Building now occupies this corner. An atlas from 1868 shows that Mr. Keep owned the entire block from Kings Road to First Street (now Keep Street), east down Keep Street to Fairview Avenue, which no longer exists, but would have been an extension of what is now Edgewood Road. His property also extended across Prospect Street to where the Ambulance Corps is now located. The umbrella factory was also used, temporarily, by the Madison Methodist Church from 1840 to 1843. Services were held in private homes starting in 1803, but by 1840, the congregation became so large it had to be moved to larger facilities. Construction for their new church started in 1843 at 7 Waverly Place. That building remains standing today in its original location. The need for umbrellas was evident in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, when the Madison area was hit by several damaging storms. In August of 1889 torrential rains turned Spring Garden Brook into a raging river decimating crops and flooding homes. The rain also washed out the sand beneath a 20-foot stretch of railroad tracks at Seaman’s Crossing on the Seaman Estate, suspending the tracks in mid-air over the chasm. An approaching train, whose engineer was unaware of the washout, was traveling too fast to make the stop. The entire train made it across the washout, except for the last car, which flew off the tracks causing a derailment, closing the tracks for the next two days. In the summer of 1902, a severe rainstorm caused Spring Garden Brook to overflow its banks and eventually met the culverts in Hillside Cemetery causing washout of 59 graves. Bodies and coffins were scattered everywhere. Volunteers were called in to help put the remains back into coffins before on-lookers arrived.. The Madison area was swept by a tornado in July of 1903. It uprooted trees, crumbled chimneys, and blew away outhouses. Large trees fell across telegraph and telephone wires closing streets and railroad tracks, also stopping traffic and communication. A gate keeper at one of the railroad crossings took refuge in his little shed which was lifted from the ground, careened over three times and landed bottom side up. He escaped through a small window when the shed finally stopped rolling. Some of the heaviest damage occurred when hail stones “as large as hickory nuts” destroyed much of the glass in almost all of the area greenhouses. Fortunately, no deaths or major injuries were reported.
Researched and written by Staff Asst. Helene Corlett