Madison Historical Society Connects With Local Community At Bottle Hill Day

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Elise Hart

Madison High School junior and Madison Historical Society student volunteer Yanyan Li (left) explains the concept of a museum focus group to Madison High School junior Kate McElvanny (right) Photo Credits: Elise Hart

Yanyan Li, Staff Writer

MADISON, NJ- Located in a small room inside of the Madison Public Library, the Madison Historical Society acts as a historical database of the town. Members of the Historical Society work to preserve hundreds of years worth of Madison documents and are always available to answer any questions that people have about the town’s history,

On October 2nd, they were able to showcase themselves to the entire town for the first time in two years at Bottle Hill Day, a yearly festival dedicated to the local businesses of Madison.

This year, the historical society had the goal of shedding light on their new museum, centered around the local history of Madison. Although this museum has not been created yet, the plan is for it to be on the main floor of the East Wing of the Hartley Dodge Memorial Building. At Bottle Hill Day, individuals were allowed to sign up to attend “focus groups” — meetings that will give the general public opportunities to share what they would like to see in the museum.

“I’m glad to learn that the historical society is opening a museum! I’m sure it will be beneficial to the community and I love that input from locals is welcomed.” Madison High School junior Elise Hart said. Hart was one of the individuals who put their name down to sign up for a focus group.

It was not difficult for the Madison Historical Society members to attract visitors, as people of all different kinds were captivated by the material shown at the Historical Society stand, located in front of the Chase Bank on Waverly Place. This location holds historical significance, as the Chase Bank building was the old location of Bottle Hill Tavern, where the Historical Society first met in 1922 to save the Tavern from being torn down.

This was not the only glimpse of Madison’s history present at the stand. History fanatics were drawn to the various signs exhibiting Madison’s history, which included maps of Madison in 1910, a list of famous people from Madison such as NFL quarterback Neil O’Donnell, and pictures comparing the past and present buildings of famous Madison landmarks like the Bottle Hill Tavern.

“It was interesting to learn about the famous people that originated in Madison. The people working [the stand] were also kind and approachable,” Madison High School junior Kate McElvanny said.

Even children too young to comprehend history were eager to grab a free Revolutionary War coloring book and a box of crayons that the Historical Society offered. The drawing for a bottle of Madison Wildflower Honey was also a popular attraction, and winners were announced when Bottle Hill Day concluded.

Throughout the day, passersby engaged in various conversations about Madison’s history with the Madison Historical Society members, creating a lively atmosphere that resulted in a large number of people signing up for the museum focus groups.

“Bottle Hill was a lovely sunny day which brought out the public in droves. Spending the day with the public explaining what our organization is about was right up my alley,” Madison Historical Society member Noreen McManus said.

The Historical Society was forced into virtual Zoom meetings in March 2020 when the library was shut down due to COVID-19. Even though they have been open for scheduled appointments once a week since the start of 2021, they have mainly been working in isolation. A big event like Bottle Hill Day presented an amazing opportunity for the organization to re-introduce itself to the public again.

“The Madison Historical Society has many collections, including maps, old photographs, vertical files of information, and historic objects related to Madison. The museum will be a big undertaking. We need more involved members of all age groups,” McManus said.

Although it may be a challenge to recover from 2 years of COVID-19 uncertainty, Bottle Hill Day is most certainly an indicator that the organization is thriving even after the effects of a pandemic.

To learn more about the Madison Historical Society, visit http://www.madisonnjhistoricalsociety.org/