Museum of Early Trades and Crafts

Housed in a 1900 Richardsonian-Romanesque Revival James Library building listed on the National Register of Historic places, the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts explores 18th- and 19th-century American history, with a focus on New Jersey. Drawing on its collection of over 8,000 hand tools and their products, METC uses material culture to interpret the lives and technologies of people who lived and worked before the rise of large-scale industrialization in this country. The Museum offers visitors of all ages a broad range of changing exhibits, and related programs that address many facets of early American history, craftsmanship, and the diversity of trades performed by men and women.

It all started with Madison residents, Edgar and Agnes Land who shared a passion for collecting 18th and 19th century objects that were made and used by ordinary people in New Jersey. Their collection had grown to almost four thousand items when they approached the Borough of Madison and requested the use of the
vacated James Library building as a museum.

Their objective was to interpret and preserve the history of the farmers, artisans and crafts people who settled in New Jersey. It was also to educate about the lives of ordinary people, an aspect of history that they felt was not being adequately addressed by other museums. On February 18, 1969, the Articles of Incorporation were filed and the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts was created.

Since that time, the collection has grown to over 8,000 artifacts representing more than twenty-one different trades. The Museum’s mission continues to fulfill the vision of the Lands. Over 8,000 visitors a year enjoy the programs and exhibits of the Museum, and marvel at the magnificent building that houses it.

Originally given to the town of Madison by D. Willis James as the first free library, the building was solidly constructed of stone on the outside and brick on the inside. Accented by a clock tower and arched stained and painted glass windows, the building is an example of Richardson Romanesque Revival architecture. Many people think it was a church until they look more closely at the windows to see that the images are of artistic and educational themes. Meant to inspire library patrons, over sixty quotations excerpted from classic literature exalting science, art, music and reading accompany the the visual images in the windows. There is even an angel dispensing knowledge to the young.

Bringing the building back to life meant removing everything that had been added to or changed about it since 1899. The goal was to restore the building's beauty and make it accessible to all. A conservatory was added to bring more light into the building and to house the new elevator and a second staircase. Craftsmen removed and restored the stained and painted glass windows. When plywood and plaster walls were removed from one interior room, built-in bookcases and a large mantel piece appeared, complete with andiron and the carved inscription: How forcible are right words. This room at the back of the building, lighted by windows which show a lighthouse and running brooks, is enlivened each time a train goes by on the elevated track outside as the sun shines through the wheels and spaces between the cars. The restoration cost nearly two million dollars, required four years of preparation, and took two years to complete.

Family activities, school and scout programs and special workshops are scheduled throughout the year. Lectures, gallery tours on historic preservation and architecture, local walking tours, music and craft demonstrations allow participation by visitors of all ages. Activities during school vacations and holiday weekends add to the excitement at the Museum. Bus tour and collaborative programming with other museums, arboretums and historic houses are some of the activities that the Museum inspires.

Regular Museum admission is $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for seniors, students & children 6 and older, and free for members and children under 6. Family maximum admission $13.00. The Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. and Sunday Noon to 5 P.M. Closed Monday. (SUMMER HOURS- July & August, Tuesday-Saturday 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. and Closed Sunday & Monday.) 973-377-2982. For more information, visit their website.

This story was first published: Winter, 1994
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