Geraldine Dodge’s generosity has given Madison Borough many beautiful buildings and parks. Certainly one of her most popular gifts is Dodge Field. The Borough Council approved the recreation field in 1923 and dedication took place in 1924. Mrs. Dodge also financed the installation of a cinder track, a playground area, tennis courts, and a wading pool which was on the corner of Chapel Street and Greenwood Avenue where a sandbox now sits.
Madison High School football and soccer games drew 2,000 to 3,000 people on Saturday afternoons until the high school was built on Ridgedale Avenue in 1959. In the 1940’s Gil Lusardi’s semi-pro baseball team also drew large crowds.
In 1925, many residents of Greenwood Avenue registered a complaint asking that the pool be closed because of the noise. A second complaint was registered because of alleged indecencies, claiming that some of the children were disrobing in the corner of the park, there being no facilities for changing out of wet swimsuits. The Recreation Commission investigated and reassured the residents that there would be stricter enforcement of the rules. Then in 1931, the wading pool was closed for a period of time due to an outbreak of infantile paralysis.
On Friday afternoons in the 1940’s the park was a hub of activity. There were beauty contests for the children, and one of the biggest attractions was the pet show. Usually a variety of dogs won first, second and third prizes, but the oddest pet prize belonged to Howard Bell who won first place for eleven white mice, one of which had no nose. Special programs included a jacks tournament for the girls and a Mumbley-Peg championship for the boys. There were several versions of Mumbley-Peg, one of which had two opponents stand facing each other to take turns tossing an open pen knife into the air so the blade would land point-end down. The object was to see how close they could get to the other’s foot, with the one coming closest the winner.
By 1984 a renovation project had begun. Public Works dismantled various outdated pieces of playground equipment and demolished the wading pool, making way for a new pre-school playground and other updated structures.
Dodge Field has brought many Madison children, myself included (see above left, age 5, winner Miss NJ 1960) many wonderful memories that hopefully will go on for years to come.
Researched and written by Staff Assistant Helene Corlett