The historic James Library building on the corner of Main Street and Green Village Road in Madison, which is owned by the borough and houses the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts, would not exist in the condition it does today if it was not for the work of W. Stanley Brown.
Brown, a Chatham resident, served on the museum’s Board of Trustees from 1986 to 2012 and, as its chairman, oversaw a more than a million-dollar fundraising campaign to restore the historic building in the 1990s. The effort came at a time when borough officials were considering selling it because it was not being adequately maintained.
"There was a very high likelihood the town would have sold that building and it would be a real estate office or law firm, out of public eye, and not in the condition it is today," former Madison Mayor Gary Ruckelshaus said.
Brown died Jan. 16 at the age of 77. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Stanley Congregational Church on Fairmount Avenue in Chatham. A light lunch will follow. In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts will be greatly appreciated, his obituary says.
The building, a gift of D. Willis James, opened as Madison's free public library in 1900. It has chandeliers, stained glass windows, and literary quotations on its walls and around the building's three fireplaces.
After a new library was built, the building was mostly vacated and used on a casual basis to show off a private collection of historic tools owned by Edgar Land, which eventually grew to become the museum. Over time, the roof leaked, there were asbestos problems and it was not ADA accessible.
"The museum certainly didn't have the funding and it sort of fell on the council's lap as to what to do about the building," Ruckelshaus said.
Some council members were ready to sell the building and just get rid of it, figuring any investment in the property would not be money well-spent. Ruckelshaus said he was "on the fence"—he loved the building, but could not see making an investment in a building that had limited purpose for the borough.
Another council member said, How can we sell the building? It's our heritage.
Then, Brown and Ruckelshaus had lunch. Brown was aiming to see if he could get the council to commit an amount of money to the renovation, and for every dollar from the borough, the museum would raise two dollars.
"I said, 'Stan, I think you've got something up your sleeve,'" Ruckelshaus said. From that meeting, a challenge grant was set in a motion.
The borough put up $80,000, meaning the museum had to raise $160,000. It did, many times over.
"Before you knew it, Stan was raising money like you wouldn't believe."
In the end, $1.8 million was raised, including grants, and when the building reopened on Bottle Hill Day in 1997 after a 16-month renovation, the museum had an elevator, met ADA requirements, and the museum had a small but healthy endowment, Ruckelshaus said.
"It was extraordinary, and he was the key guy," he said of Brown.
The museum honored Brown last year and said his work will always be appreciated.
"The Museum is thankful to Stan for his leadership vision, creativity and the countless hours he contributed to the Capital Campaign and restoration of the James Library Building," the museum said in a news release. "His positive impact on the Museum, Building, Board of Trustees and Staff will be always deeply appreciated."
Brown, a graduate of Yale University who earned his PhD. from Princeton University, worked for the Bell Labs Research Department, where he was a pioneer in the emerging fields of computer science and information systems, according to his obituary. He served as a trustee of the College of Science and Liberal Arts at NJIT and as president of the Stanley Congregational Church. He also served as President of the Chatham Youth Hockey Club and the Chatham Historical Society.
He is survived by his wife, Leanna Brown, the first Republican woman to serve in the New Jersey Senate, and had two children and four grandchildren. Brown visited over 70 countries and shared his passion for travel with his grandchildren, taking each of them on different international trips, his obituary says.