MADISON, NJ - You never know what you might find when you dig in historic Madison. Back in May, Jo-Med Contracting Company was digging a trench for a new water main to be placed along Highland Ave between Brittin Street and Rosedale Avenue. At a point near where Highland intersects with Rosedale, Jo-Med construction foreman, Ruben Amorim, spotted a red-brown object.
Although he was not sure exactly what it was, Mr. Amorim realized that it was old and could be of historical value. He therefore carefully removed it and then turned it over to Assistant Borough Engineer Frank Russo, who contacted the Madison Historical Society about the find.
“It has been determined that what Ruben found was a nearly intact mid- nineteenth century ceramic bottle that once contained carbonated mineral water from what is now the state of Hesse, Germany,” stated Society president, Susan Simon.
A map in the 1868 Beers Atlas of Morris County shows that today’s east-west leg of Highland Avenue was constructed on what was then the property of William Bryce. According to articles in contemporaneous editions of The Madison Eagle, Bryce died in 1887 and by the mid-1890s, the estate was known as “Rosedale Villa” and was the summer residence of New Yorker, Hugo A. Thomsen. From 1920 to 1923 the estate house, originally built by Mr. Thomsen, operated as the Rose City Inn – and was the site of at least one violation of the 1920s Prohibition laws. The house is and has been the home of the Madison B.P.O. Elks Lodge #1465 since 1924.
An article in the Winter 2018 edition of “Open Rivers Rethinking Water, Place and Community” by Nancy Buck Hoffman, describes a collection of sherds from a similar bottle found on the grounds of Historic Fort Snelling in Minnesota, with the words “HERZOGTHUM NASSAU” below the image of a standing crowned lion that identify its original contents as “mineral water from the Niederselters spring in the Duchy of Nassau.” Ms. Hoffman estimated that the Fort Snelling bottle must have been imported to the US “sometime between 1846 and 1866.”
“As the bottle on Highland Ave looks exactly like – and includes the same words and image as – the one pictured in Ms. Hoffman’s article, we can conclude that our bottle arrived in Madison sometime during those same twenty years – a time when William Bryce owned the property,” stated Ms. Simon.
“We appreciate Mr. Amorim’s and Mr. Russo’s efforts to save and protect this important artifact from 19th century Madison and thank them for doing so. We hope to be able to put it on display in the library sometime in 2021 after the library is fully open and our lives finally return to normal. I am also happy to report that the Madison Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) will be honoring Jo-Med Contracting and this find as part of its Preservation Celebration at the upcoming September 30 Borough Council Meeting.”
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 Bottle Hill Tavern, the society has organized a significant collection of historic documents, maps and photographs over the intervening years.
The Madison HPC was formed in 1983 out of concern for the preservation of the central business district, lined with late 19th and early 20th century and the many well-preserved structures within Madison reflecting 18th, 19th, and 20th century styles. The HPC, along with the Downtown Development Commission, the Sign and Façade Committee, and other groups within town have worked together to help preserve the character, use, and appearance of the vibrant downtown that gives Madison a unique identity in the region.