Arts & Entertainment

Historical Society Presents “Madison’s ‘Villa Lorraine’ and the Stemmler Family”

August 12, 2014 at 5:42 PM

In a rare Saturday in August event, the Madison Historical Society, together with the Villa Lorraine Facebook group, will trace the history of Madison’s “Villa Lorraine” estate and the family of Theodore Washington Stemmler.  The principal speaker will be Stemmler’s great granddaughter, Lorraine Harper.  Following Harper’s presentation, Society Trustee Cathie Coultas will describe how the current Summerhill Park was created from the estate and adjoining properties. 

The event will take place in the Chase Room of the Madison Public Library beginning at 10:00 AM on Saturday August 23.  The program is open to the public and there will be no admission charge.  Attendees are also invited to join a 1:30 PM tour of the Villa Lorraine/Summerhill Park property led by Cathie Coultas. 

Ms Harper will present some Villa Lorraine artifacts and many archival photographs from her family’s collection as she traces the history of her family at Villa Lorraine.  She will also relate some of the comments and recollections that have been shared by other members of the Villa Lorraine Facebook group.

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“The Villa Lorraine estate house was built in 1875.  During the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries it was the home of international business man and prominent Madison rose-grower Theodore Washington Stemmler.   He maintained over 36,000 square feet of greenhouses on the property,” stated Society program chairman Jim Malcolm.  

“Although Mr. Stemmler came from New York City his wife, Jane (Jennie) Taylor Hunting was deeply connected in Madison for many generations.  She was the granddaughter of Lt. Col. Stephen Darby Hunting who owned the Madison House (then called ‘Waverly House’) and entertained Gen. Lafayette upon his July of 1825 visit in to Bottle Hill,” added Harper.

The event had its genesis in social media.  Harper said that she received the following email message from Julie Bonanno, who had been engaged in a ‘You know you're from Madison if.....................,’ Facebook discussion on Villa Lorraine, “We’ve been trying to find you…..I hope you don’t find that too creepy!”

Harper said that after she had read the hundreds of comments posted on the site, “I was delighted to join the conversation about Villa Lorraine and the Stemmler family.  Soon after, Julie moved the conversation to its own Facebook page and we took off on a most enjoyable adventure. I would scan and post a photograph and by the next morning there were comments posted about the clothing, photographer, location or activity seen there.  Villa Lorraine researchers ferreted out maps, personal reflections, bits and pieces of Madison’s history with wit and humor and serious skill.   Research is normally a solitary pursuit.  In this case it was shared both by present day Madison residents and many former residents.  We have had a ball!”

Lorraine Harper was named after her great aunt, Lorraine Stemmler.  With a background in history and education, she is an avid researcher and collector of family memorabilia.   She has worked both in developing hospice in New York State and in museum education and is currently a Shade Tree Commissioner for the City of Allentown, PA.  She encourages everyone to remember the importance of telling family stories.  She says that “all families are interesting!”

The Madison Historical Society’s role is to assemble, record, and preserve all matters of historical interest concerning Madison and its residents.  Formed in 1922 to preserve the old Madison House/Bottle Hill Tavern, the Society has organized a significant collection of historic documents, maps and photographs over the intervening years. These are housed at the Local History Center at the Madison Public Library.  For more information about the Society or to inquire about membership, call 973-377-0722, ext 8 or visit the Society’s website at www.madisonhistoricalsociety.org.  

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