Destination: Chatham & Madison

Museum of Early Trades & Crafts 

By William Uhl 

Since the founding of the American colonies, Chatham and Madison have been key historic locations from the Revolutionary War. Chatham was even named after a member of British Parliament who advocated for colonist rights, while the later-formed Madison was named after founding father, Constitution writer, and fourth president James Madison. Since then, Madison and Chatham have stayed connected to their roots both in the arts and soul.

Historic Arts and Crafts

Madison’s historic spirit shines in places like the Redtail Gallery, which features traditional, handmade Native American art from an array of tribes. Display cabinets are filled with Navajo turquoise jewelry, Hopi katsina dolls, and all manner of traditional masks and figurines. Each item is handpicked and carries a wealth of symbolism.

For a look into Colonial America, Madison’s Museum of Early Trades & Crafts holds several sets of tools from the 1800s. Permanent exhibits display the tools of trades like distillers and coopers, while past exhibits delve into trades like burial, terra cotta industries, and the tools of the Lenni Lenape, the Native American tribe who inhabited Chatham and Madison for thousands of years. Even the building itself is worth seeing, built in 1899 to house the Madison Public Library.

Downtown Chatham

Meaty Eats

With a focus on fresh food and a friendly atmosphere, Charley’s Aunt bar and grill captures the down-to-earth honesty of Chatham. Quaint and cozy, the doors open right before noon and close well after midnight, giving visitors plenty of time to enjoy a night out on the town before settling in. Charley’s Aunt has been around for decades, and they’ll likely be just as ready to serve a beer and a burger in decades to come.

For a hearty assortment of Chatham-born drinks, the Twin Elephant Brewing Company is unparalleled. Handcrafted ales and lagers with names like Derby and the Moustache, Fuzzy Duckling, and Chuck’s Garage hint at the relaxed, homey atmosphere inside. Tours are free, counters are hardwood, and the beers are fresh.

Mind and Body After Sunset

As evening rolls into in Madison and the streetlamps flicker to life, crowds funnel into The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey to see the latest performance of The Merchant of Venice or Molière’s The Bungler. If the air is warm, the cheers and cries from A Midsummer Night’s Dream might echo from their grass-and-stone amphitheater. Modeled after the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, it is one of the only stages of its kind hosting a professional theatre company. On a good night, low-backed beach chairs and picnickers circle the stage as lovers and fairies begin their performance.

For anyone in Chatham looking to flex their muscles even after sundown, the Gravity Vault’s rock climbing center opens at noon and stays open well into the night at 10pm on weekdays. Housing over 13,500 square feet of climbable surface and a variety of wall types and difficulties, it can provide an interesting challenge to heat up a cool evening.

Anyone in Madison looking to test their wits should investigate the two local escape rooms from Escape Room NJ—The Lost Cabin: Books of Souls, and King Arthur’s Castle: The Holy Grail. Players have an hour to work together, think creatively, and solve the slew of puzzles to make their way out before the timer runs out.

Chatham and Madison aren’t the bubbling, high-traffic tourist traps some may find in other places. They’re handmade and thoughtful, where others are mass produced and breakneck. They’re honest, hearty boroughs, in touch with their history and a home for anyone.