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The Hartley Dodge Foundation (HDF) is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt New Jersey non-profit that was established in 1934 by Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge at about the same time she gifted the Hartley Dodge Memorial (HDM) to the Borough of Madison. Mrs. Dodge recognized that maintaining a building of its size and quality should not be a burden to the taxpayers, and so set up this foundation. It was established to provide guidance for and help to cover extraordinary expenses associated with the “maintenance, care and repair” of the building. Over some years, Mrs. Dodge also installed various pieces of art and furniture from her collection, many related to American history.
In 1915 Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge (1883-1973) purchased the former James Harken estate and made Madison her adopted home. Thus began a remarkable partnership between Mrs. Dodge and the Borough of Madison that has spanned over a hundred years. And the history of the Hartley Dodge Foundation is entwined with the history of the Hartley Dodge Memorial.
It became clear that as Madison grew it needed a new town hall to conduct the business of government, and to house the police and fire departments to serve the needs of its burgeoning population. In 1927, around the time Mrs. Dodge’s cousins were engaged in the planning and construction of Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan, Mrs. Dodge purchased two large parcels of land across from the train station to plan for a new town hall she intended to build for the Borough. Despite the fact that it was constructed during the Depression, it soon became clear that this was not going to be any ordinary building. It was to be constructed of the best materials and by the finest craftspeople available, with little regards to cost. Tragically, as the building’s foundation was being dug and the steel was being delivered to the site, Mrs. Dodge’s only son, known as Hartley, was killed in a car crash in France at the age of 22. She then decided to make this building a memorial bearing his name.
The cornerstone of the Hartley Dodge Memorial was put in place in 1932 and the dedication of the building took place on a cloudless Memorial Day in 1935. Madison citizens came out to celebrate as Mrs. Dodge handed over the deed to the building to the Mayor, while state and local dignitaries looked on.
Mrs. Dodge established the Hartley Dodge Foundation and funded it with an initial endowment of $300,000. She was its President and its first trustees included her husband, Marcellus Hartley Dodge, her dog handler, Raymond L. Patterson, Anna B. Frank, James C. Bellingham, and William Crawford. When Mrs. Dodge became incapacitated in the early 1960s, her husband, Marcellus Hartley Dodge, Sr. succeeded her as President. Sadly, he died shortly thereafter, in 1963. To this day, there has always been a Dodge descendent on the Board. The other trustees have been residents of Madison and surrounding communities.
From its endowment, the Foundation provides funds for projects for the HDM and its grounds, and for the art collection. Often it works on projects jointly with the Borough of Madison. Over time, Madison has grown, governmental workings have changed, building codes have been upgraded, and the building itself has aged. Originally located in the HDM, Madison’s police and fire departments moved to their own separate facilities, and spaces in the building have been carefully repurposed.
In recent years, the Foundation has participated in and/or helped fund projects which include:
The 2009 HDM building renovation
The purchase of the historic “Geraldine” fire engine by the Fire Department
Assembling a collection of historic photos of Madison and the construction of the HDM, which now hang in the building
An assessment of the state of the building to formulate a Long-Range Maintenance Plan
An assessment of the east wing of the HDM to prepare for renovation and future tenancy
A conservation assessment of the art collection and restoration of pieces
The 2021-22 renovation of the plaza
The 2020 hiring of a Project Manager for the HDM
Polishing the floors of the HDM
Following Mrs. Dodge’s death in 1973, another foundation, the Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge Foundation (GRDF) was established from her estate. It has no affiliation with HDF and has a completely different mission, but it is often confused with HDF. For more on GRDF, follow this link: https://www.grdodge.org.
As HDF was established with a very limited scope, it is not able to make grants to other organizations.
For more information on [Ethel] Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, here are some resources:
Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, by Barbara J. Mitnick
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