James Library Building Details

Historical Overview

The James Library building which now houses the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts was a gift to the people of Madison by philanthropist D. (Daniel) Willis James. Born in Liverpool, England in 1832, James grew up to be one of the wealthiest men in America. His father was a merchant first in Liverpool and later in Baltimore and New York. His mother was the daughter of Anson G. Phelps, of Phelps, Dodge, and Company. After graduating from Amherst College in Massachusetts, James married Ellen S. Curtiss, with whom he had one son, Arthur Curtiss James.

James was the head of Phelps, Dodge, and Company with interests in mining, investments, and transportation companies. Among other interests, James was a director of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, the Arizona, El Paso and Southwestern Mining Company, and the Ansonia Clock Company. He also served as vice president and director of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company in Bisbee, Arizona.

James and his family lived in Manhattan, as did many wealthy 19th-century industrialists. In the early 1880s, James decided to build a summer country estate, and in 1885 he purchased a plot of land on the corner of Loantaka Way and Madison Avenue in Madison. James died in 1907, but the James Estate stayed in the family until 1916 when, after the death of his mother, son Arthur Curtiss James sold the property to Mrs. M. Hartley Dodge (Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge). The property is now part of Giralda Farms.

As the Dictionary of American Biography notes:

While (James) was still in his thirties, before he could be counted as a capitalist on a large scale, he was active in philanthropic effort. For half a century of his life in New York there was never a time when his personal contribution to religious and charitable causes were not far greater than was known to the public. Enough has come to light, however, in the records and reports of organizations to show that the sum total of the gifts that he made in his lifetime, if it could be computed, would place him is a high rank among the philanthropists of his generation.

He was a supporter of the Children’s Aid Society in New York, acting as president from 1897 to 1901 and trustee until 1907.

James gave many gifts to the town of Madison, starting with James Park in 1887. Being deeply interested in the town’s welfare, he built the James Library in 1899, believing that “a free library would be a means of public enjoyment and benefit.” Characteristically, he did not put his name on the building but instead had inscribed in stone the words “Library” and “Free to All.” In an unusual move, James provided for the Library by designating that the income he earned from his commercial block across the street be used to support the Library.

The building’s interior appeals to the finer senses, soothes and interestes the wearied mortal until all sense of the outer world has departed; to be allowed to pass inside the gated enclosure and handle the beautiful bindings, turn the righly decorated leaves of the rows and rows of books is equivalent to being turned loose amid countless brilliant gems and precious stones.
letter to the Editor of the Madison Eagle, September 28, 1900

The building served as Madison’s public library until 1969, when the library moved to its new quarters on Keep Street. Since 1970 it has been home to the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts.

Architectural Details

Architectural style:

Richardsonian Romanesque Revival


Brigham & Adden, Boston

Decoration & Windows:

A.D. Cutter Co., Boston


Jeremiah O’Brien


Fenton Art Metallic Co., Jamestown, N.Y.


Cassidy & Son, New York


Edward Feisch


John V. Corbett, Madison


Edward L .Cook

Roof & Slate work:

John Farquhar, Boston

Iron work:

V. Hedden, Newark, N.J.


Seth Thomas, N.Y.


C.E. Cook, Madison

Cost (building & lot, 1900):


Opened to public:

May 30, 1900, 10:00 a.m.

The tablet on the wall honors Madison resident Amabel Scharff Roberts. She died in Etretat, France on Jan. 17, 1918 of blood poisoning contracted while tending to wounded soldiers.

This tablet was dedicated on July 4, 1918. It hung in the James Library for many years, and now hangs in the Madison Senior Center.

The Charge Desk ca. 1948
Book stacks and mezzanine in background.

Historical Photographs (courtesy Madison Public Library)

< James Library on opening day
"Decoration Day" May 30, 1900.

Note James's "mercantile building"
in background.

The "Reference Room" ca. 1900. >

The portrait over the fireplace is of benefactor D. Willis James. Painted in 1900 by famed New York artist Daniel Huntington, it now hangs (in its original frame) in the Madison Public Library on Keep Street.
"The portrait, which is the work of Daniel Huntington and has been done during the past winter, will grow mellow with age but for years to come will show to succeeding generations the benevolent features of their fellow townsman."
Madison Eagle June 1, 1900

< The "Reading Room" ca. 1900, now renamed the Madison Room to commemorate the support of the Borough of Madison during the 1990's renovation of the building.


The basement "Periodical Room". It was kept open from 7 AM until 10 PM so that Madisonians could read the newspapers before or after work.

Several foreign-language papers were provided for the convenience of Madison's many immigrant workers.

The front paper in the left-hand rack is the Newark Daily Advertiser. It ceased publishing under that name on October 14, 1904 so this photo was taken between that date and the library opening on May 30, 1900.

Building Trivia

Wall detail

Interior wall stenciling

  • 20+ foot high ceilings
  • 8 chandeliers
  • 250 light bulbs on opening day
  • 56 stained glass windows
  • 3 fireplaces
  • Glass floor in the gallery
  • Rare stencilled and hand painted
    brick interior walls
  • Vault for valuable papers and holdings
  • Literary quotations on walls, windows and fireplaces (details)
The building originally had second set of stairs leading to the mezzanine. It was removed, and the bridge installed, sometime after 1948.

The Librarian’s office had a window overlooking the entrance. The circulation desk ran across the archway leading to the stacks.

< View towards circulation desk and stacks ca. 1948.

The seven seals above the Trustees' Room doorway
represent the first seven colonial colleges:
Position of Seals
1 Harvard University, 1636
2 College of William & Mary, 1693
3 Yale University, 1701
4 University of Pennsylvania, 1740
5 Princeton University, 1746
6 Columbia University, 1754
7 Rutgers University, 1766
(Queen’s College)
Library Trivia

Number of books the day it opened:


Total number of books it could hold:


First book withdrawn:

Bryce’s American Commonwealth, Vol. 1,
by Mrs. James A. Webb, Jr.

First librarian:

Miss Wildman

First janitor:

Mr. Joseph Volta

First Board President:

D. Willis James

James Library Building Today

The building is listed on both New Jersey State and National Registers of Historic Places and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style in the State. It is owned by the Borough of Madison and has been home to the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts since 1970.

The 1899 Seth Thomas tower clock still runs off the original weights. The winding mechanism was mechanized in 1991 by Madison resident Alpheus Dolan.

The building is accessible by the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The conservatory that was added as part of the restoration provides a ground-level entrance with an elevator that allows stairs-free access to all levels of the building.

Building Restoration

Restoration of the building in the mid 1990's was partially funded by a partnership among the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts, the New Jersey Historic Trust, and the Borough of Madison. Additional funding was provided through the generous support of both public and private donors.

Four top donors:  

F.M. Kirby Foundation
  New Jersey Historic Trust
  Borough of Madison
  Tomlinson Family Fund

The cost of restoration and renovation was in excess of $1,000,000. All $100 and up donors are honored by a panel in the new conservatory.

Principal players in the restoration effort were:

Lindemon, Winkelmann, Deupree, Martin, Architects
Stanley Schrek, Borough Engineer, project manager
Herbert Berman, METC Trustee, advisor
Carter Contracting, Linden, N.J., general contractor
Michael Padovan, Jersey Art Stained Glass, windows
Edwin Rambusch, Rambusch Interiors, chandeliers
Joe Cottingham, paint and wood restoration
Vespa Electric, electricians
Amdega Construction, Cases del Sol, local representative, conservatory
Steve Feldman of Steve Feldman Design, exhibit design
Lynch Industries, exhibit fabrication and installation
Dorothy Hartman, Past Perspectives, exhibit research

The beautifuly restored building re-opened to public on October 4, 1997 in a gala celebration attended by NJ Governor Christine Todd Whitman, numerous other dignitaries and invited guests, and many Trustees and loyal Friends of the Museum..

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