Ten thousand years ago, the Wisconsin Glacier carved a ridge in the New Jersey landscape. The town of Madison now rests on that ridge, and that same ancient land has long since been rearranged to suit its inhabitants, with train tracks lifted high off the bustling streets and sprawling lawns evenly landscaped.
Like most early settlements, Madison was started by Europeans who built a house here, a house there until, in 1749, the community took the name of a popular local tavern, Bottle Hill. The lush area, with its cool shade trees, attracted the wealthy, and summer mansions cropped up as respites from the urban centers of New York City and Philadelphia.
Flash to modern day Madison. As one nears the downtown section, homes are closely aligned. Then, suddenly, as if the business district should be a surprise, the road twists and turns, weaving under railroad overpasses, emerging among store fronts and restaurants, such as Garlic Rose, Rose City Bakery Café, Rose City Limo, even Rose City Vacuum and Rose City Transmission. These names boast of a time when greenhouses dominated the area and trainloads of fragrant rosebuds were railed as far as the Morris and Essex lines would reach.
For over a century, Madison flourished as one of the nations prime producers of roses. In 1896, 45 rose growers owned and constructed greenhouses with an astonishing half-million square feet of glass. Growing and harvesting the flowers, as well as constructing and maintaining the greenhouses, required hundreds of workers and supplies. The local rose industry peaked in 1950 but was completely gone by 1980. Left in its place, though, was a mixture of cultures and a legacy remembered.
High society found comfort among the rose growers. The stretch between downtown Madison and Morristown became known as Millionaires Row. Names of tycoons like Vanderbilt, Twombly, Morgan, Gibbons and Dodge still conjure an image of great wealth, and the mark of their fortunes is evident throughout the town. The library, the YMCA, the train station, museums and schools are housed in breathtaking structures built with no limit to expense. The towns most dramatic symbol of fabled fortune and gracious generosity, according to historian John Cunningham, is Madisons borough hall, built and furnished in 1930 in memory of the son of Marcellus Hartley Dodge and Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, the towns all-time wealthiest family.
Madison has preserved its inheritance, displaying its preference for Victorian, Georgian and Edwardian touches by installing old-fashioned street lamps and cast-iron benches. Storefronts repeat the theme with gingerbread filigree and window boxes adorning second-floor apartments.
The two universities in Madison were built on the estates of millionaires. Drew University, which admitted its first students in 1928, has as its centerpiece the magnificent Mead mansion. In 1957, Fairleigh Dickinson University purchased the 178-acre Vanderbilt-Twombly estate and opened the Florham-Madison Campus in 1958. While maintaining the architectural legacy of the Mansion and its surrounding buildings, the former estate has been transformed into an ideal educational setting.
Fairleigh Dickinson students enjoy the idyllic landscape, of course, but a good many of their practical needs are met by the bustling town that lies outside the gates. Madison is thriving today with a central business district and corporate headquarters of several major firms, such as Maersk, Inc. and Schering Plough Corporation, based on the 370-acre former estate of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge. Professional and recreational opportunities abound in Madison, where FDU students can look to the future yet still have a window on the past.