Bottle Hill Historic District
The Bottle Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Bottle Hill Historic District is significant in the area of community development as the earliest and best preserved concentrated residential settlement within what became the Borough of Madison. The Bottle Hill Historic District encompasses the site of the tavern said to have inspired the town's first name, Bottle Hill (now the site of James Park), and extends to the northeast along Ridgedale Avenue, originally known as "the highway to Hanover Neck" and later as either Columbia Avenue or Columbia Street. The period of significance for the Bottle Hill Historic District is defined as circa 1730-1930, encompassing the oldest remaining residential structures (the Sayre House, 31 Ridgedale Avenue and Miller House, 105 Ridgedale Avenue), as well as the continued, largely residential development that occurred over the next two centuries. The growth of the district over time reflects the local impact of the railroad and the early automobile, and the Bottle Hill Historic District itself exhibits the evolution of the single-family house over two centuries, encompassing small Colonial dwellings, Victorian suburban villas, the practical suburban house, and mail-order suburban housing. No other area within the borough reflects the earliest as well as the successive waves of development in quite the same way that the Bottle Hill Historic District does, with dwellings from a variety of eras in a range of styles standing side by side.
While the majority of the structures that lined Ridgedale during this two hundred year period were dwellings, there have been some notable exceptions, and these exceptions helped to spur further development within the neighborhood. For instance, the village's first school was established on Ridgedale Avenue in 1809 (the Madison Academy), and when the village decided to change its name from Bottle Hill in 1834, it took its new name from this school. The continued development of Ridgedale Avenue reflected the importance of the establishment of the Morris and Essex Line in 1837, which linked the community to the city of Newark. The Roman Catholic Church erected a house of worship in the center of residential Ridgedale in 1839. Madison became a destination for travelers wishing to escape the city for the country, as is evidenced by the construction of the Ridgedale Inn, also located on Ridgedale Avenue, circa 1850. While the essential character of the Bottle Hill Historic District is today defined by the variety of its 18th and 19th century dwellings, there are notable examples of early-20th century design as well.
Origin of "Bottle Hill" and Initial Settlement
Morris County was formed from Hunterdon County in March 1738. Originally, it included the area now known as Sussex and Warren counties, and it was named for colonial governor Lewis Morris. Settlement of the area now known as Madison (formerly Bottle Hill) began in earnest circa 1730. Settlers, primarily from Long Island, New York and Elizabeth, New Jersey, were attracted to the area for its proximity to both fertile land with an ample water supply, and to the burgeoning ore industry in Northern New Jersey. Ridgedale Avenue, the center of the Bottle Hill Historic District, is believed to have been part of a connecting trail to the north branch of the Minisink Trail.
The origins of the name Bottle Hill are debated, but some sources indicate that it might have been a reference to an early sign in the shape of a bottle at a tavern on the corner of Ridgedale and Park Avenues. Other sources suggest the name may have come from the bottleneck shape of an early land parcel. The first use of the name Bottle Hill has not been determined specifically, although it does appear on Major Robert Erskine's Loantaka Valley Campsite map from 1777.
Bottle Hill's earliest settlers came from Long Island, New York and Elizabeth, New Jersey. Andrew Miller arrived from Long Island in the early 1700s, purchased a tract of land along Ridgedale Avenue, and either he or his son, Josiah, constructed a house there circa 1730, assumed to be the present structure at number 105. The property became known as "Miller's Station." Andrew's grandson, Luke, was born at Miller's Station on September 8, 1759, and became a significant force within the development of Bottle Hill and its various institutions. Luke Miller served as trustee and assessor of the First Presbyterian Church and was a founding trustee of Madison Academy, working to prepare plans for that institution, which would be erected at the corner of Park and Ridgedale Avenues in the first decade of the 19th century.
Together with the Miller property, the Sayre Homestead (erected circa 1745) was one of the first homes to be constructed within the village of Bottle Hill along Ridgedale Avenue. Daniel Sayre built the home and his son, Deacon Ephraim Sayre, a participant in the American Revolution, took part in the battles of Connecticut Farms, Springfield, and Monmouth. The Sayre house is reputed to have been a haven for Continental soldiers, and famously hosted General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, who made the dwelling his own headquarters during one of the two winters (probably 1777) that Washington was stationed in nearby Morristown.
In the late 18th century, the Sayre and Miller houses were joined by several small dwellings identified stylistically as "East Jersey Cottages." These vernacular dwellings were typically one-and-a-half stories tall and side gabled, with small kneewall windows at the upper story and wide clapboard siding. William Parkhurst Tuttle, author of several histories of the community, described the village of Bottle Hill in 1801 as comprising approximately twenty dwellings, most of which were located on either King's Road or Ridgedale Avenue, thus indicating the street's early importance.
District Development in the 19th Century
The chartering of the Morris Turnpike (which ran along present day Main Street) in 1801 brought new importance to the area along this route, and the location of the toll house at 196 Main Street assisted in fostering the growth of the community to the south of Ridgedale Avenue at the center of what was then still known as Bottle Hill. Ultimately, by the late nineteenth century, this area to the south would grow in commercial importance, preserving the core of Bottle Hill for residential development with only scattered commercial and civic interests.
Among the community's civic interests was The Madison Academy, their first schoolhouse, named for the fourth President of the United States. The Academy originally stood at the corner of Green Village Road and Kings Road, but was relocated to the corner of Park and Ridgedale Avenues and erected on a lot donated by local resident James Burnet in 1809. The name of the community was changed from Bottle Hill to Madison in 1834, taking its name from the local school. The Madison Academy played a central role in the life of Bottle Hill (and, later, Madison), serving as a district schoolhouse for 72 years (until 1881), and also for public meetings, including the Presbyterian Tuesday Evening Prayer meeting. When the school functions were removed in 1881, the building was used by the AME Church until it burned on December 1, 1886.
With the construction of the Morris and Essex Railroad in 1837, Madison developed stronger links to the metropolitan regions of New Jersey, as well as to New York City. Not only were commercial goods transported to expanding markets, but the village also began to attract cosmopolitan homeowners who earned their living elsewhere and visitors attracted by the beauty of the region. The railroad station was initially located at approximately the site of today's James Library Building (Museum of Early Trades and Crafts), just to the south of Ridgedale Avenue and the Bottle Hill Historic District. The depot was relocated to the northwest corner of Waverly Place and Kings Road in 1855, helping to shift the community's "center" further south.
In addition to a growing residential population, Madison had begun to attract visitors from New Jersey cities such as Newark, as well as from New York by the mid-19th century, as transportation made the village readily accessible and its rural atmosphere made it physically attractive. The Ridgedale Inn, a popular 19th and early-20th century hotel, stood at the corner of Ridgedale and Park Avenues. While portions of the hotel were said to have dated to the late-18th century, the main structure was erected circa 1850. Historic photographs show the hotel's considerable landscaping, which incorporated such amenities as tennis courts and croquet grounds.
Madison's growing reputation as "The Rose City" during the last quarter of the 19th century fueled its development, as did the founding of Drew University (1866). Beginning around the time of the Civil War and continuing for almost 100 years, Madison was home to 45 different rose-growers. In his photographic history, Madison, author John T. Cunningham noted that at one time, a survey showed that there was a half-million square feet of glass in the town being used in rose-growing greenhouses. By the late 1800s, more than 30 greenhouses shipped their roses to New York City via the railroad. Madison's nickname, "The Rose City," was certainly warranted.
The centenary of American Methodism occurred in 1866 and in an effort to structure theological education in Methodism, Wall Street financier and Methodist convert Daniel Drew purchased land in Madison for the purpose of erecting a seminary. The Drew Theological Seminary received its charter from the state of New Jersey in 1868 and continues today as Drew University. While the increase of jobs and students to the area may have been limited at first, Daniel Drew's selection of Madison as the site for his new school certainly heightened public interest in the burgeoning town.
The development of Madison's downtown, which had continued to expand along Main Street, was slowed, but not halted, by a fire that broke out on October 21, 1877 in a grocery store on Waverly Place and spread to other, nearby structures, most of them commercial in nature. After a short period of recovery, growth returned and the downtown — which was focused intensely on Main Street — continued to develop.
Architecturally, the late 19th century brought examples of the Second Empire and Stick styles to the Bottle Hill Historic District, as well as dwellings in the popular Queen Anne style. The construction of these relatively large and high style residences reflected a local growth in population and a prosperity fueled by local industry. As Esposito notes, the generosity of local, wealthy benefactors such as James Augustus Webb, Daniel Willis James, and Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge also enhanced the community's appeal. In fact, by 1889, Madison boasted a population of 3,250 and decided to secede from Chatham Township to become a borough. This political redefinition enabled the town to have its own mayor and city council, and allowed its officials to develop a more localized water supply system, which was a primary reason for the secession.
In 1905, the parish of St. Vincent's erected a new church building outside of the Bottle Hill area to replace their existing 1839 structure at 69 Ridgedale Avenue. The 69 Ridgedale Avenue building was subsequently converted to a private residence circa 1912-1921 by the contractor for the new building, John V. Corbett, who purchased it for his family home. Despite its grand scale, the building today bears little resemblance to the earlier religious facility; rather, its current appearance clearly identifies it as an early-20th century Colonial Revival dwelling. Similarly, the Ridgedale Inn, despite modernization during the early 20th century, did not survive on Ridgedale Avenue long into the 20th century; a victim of the Depression, it closed in April 1935 and the building burned several years later. The loss of St. Vincent's and then, finally, the Ridgedale Inn by the 1930s marked a distinct break with the past along Ridgedale Avenue and within the Bottle Hill Historic District, signifying the end of commercial and civic interests in this area and its future as an exclusively residential neighborhood.
Between 1912 and 1921, the Sanborn Map Company's coverage of Madison expanded considerably, indicating a time of development and growth for the community. More dwellings were erected in the Bottle Hill Historic District during this period, and they reflect the national popularity of the Bungalow style, in addition to examples of the Tudor and Colonial Revival styles. Their construction, along with a small number of structures erected in the 1920s and early 1930s, brought the neighborhood to nearly full development, where it has remained largely intact.
The alignment of Ridgedale Avenue was altered in 1914, when the decision was made to close the road between Park and Madison Avenues in conjunction with the elevation of the railroad through that area. Mrs. Willis James, one of the town's most important benefactors, supported the expense of this endeavor, and the necessary modifications to James Park. The closing of Ridgedale at this point was a popular decision, as its intersection with Madison Avenue (just west of the district) was considered by local sources to be "the most dangerous road intersection between Morristown and Newark." Mrs. James purchased the Callmeyer, Schmidt, and Force properties on the site (no longer extant) and also assumed the expense of rerouting Madison Avenue and widening Park Avenue in 1914. The first park, established in 1898, accommodated an elaborate pedestrian bridge, closer to Madison Avenue than the current pedestrian bridge. After the railroad tracks were elevated, the park was expanded and both the old pedestrian bridge and the road bridge were disassembled. The new pedestrian bridge was then built approximately where the car bridge has been located (at the end of Ridgedale Avenue).
Madison had begun to macadamize its roads as early as the 1880s; articles in The Madison Eagle from the first decades of the 20th century reflect ongoing interest in this undertaking — moving from dusty dirt roads that required regular oiling to clean, macadamized streets bordered by sidewalks. This interest, particularly in the 1920s, parallels the larger concern regarding "good roads" that occupied many communities in the state as well as the nation as a whole. Apparently the progress represented byroad paving and the building of sidewalks and curbing was not entirely embraced by the community at large, as editorials entitled "Keeping Madison Rural" attest. Such an editorial, authored in 1922, was prompted by the laying of curbing and gutters along Fairview Avenue, a road that intersected with Ridgedale Avenue just to the east of the Bottle Hill Historic District. The writer noted "Madison is a country town in aspect. The majority of its citizens wish to keep it so. Many residents were attracted here because of the borough's rural beauty, its magnificent trees. Anything that would destroy this element, which constitutes a main reason for establishing homes in Madison, should be eschewed." It was the author's opinion that curbs and gutters were only appropriate in the business section and along main arteries, and called the process "urban development."
During the summer of 1932, The Madison Eagle featured several articles regarding improvements along Ridgedale, including new paving between Park Avenue and "a point close to" Burnet Road, considered to be the most heavily traveled section of the road. Original plans called for resurfacing the extent of Ridgedale within the borough limits, but a change in material (from a re-tread surface to the more costly "penetration method") was necessitated by Ridgedale's sandy foundation. As the article reported, "the old surface had been untouched for many years and was a source of complaint to residents along the route."
In 1975, The Madison Eagle reported that Ridgedale Avenue was considered "neglected." Local residents complained to the Borough Council that the flow of trucks needed to be controlled and the road resurfaced. Petitions were also brought to Council that requested the speed limit be reduced to 25 mph from 35 mph. Residents were successful in exacting change; an ordinance prohibiting large trucks (defined as over 4 tons) was passed by the Council in June of 1976, and the road was resurfaced and provided with new Belgian block curbing that same year. Despite these changes more than 25 years ago, traffic and speed limits continue to plague Ridgedale Avenue, which serves as a major thoroughfare, despite its historic, residential character.
As the Borough of Madison developed, it became a prominent suburb of New Jersey's larger cities, such as Newark and Morristown, as well as a suburb of New York City. Throughout this growth and development, the community's original core — the Bottle Hill Historic District — remained largely intact, reflecting the expansion of the community from its beginnings in the mid-18th century into the 20th century and representing the earliest (as well as the most continual) wave of suburban settlement within the borough.
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† Meredith Arms Bzdak, Architectural Historian; Katherine Frey, Ann Keen, Heli Ojamaa and Catherine Vieth, Ford Farewell, Mills & Gatsch, Architects, LLC, Bottle Hill Historic District, Morris County, New Jersey, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.