Not many people realize that the community we call Madison was an early commercial center in New Jersey, and that it was dramatically changed by a major fire in the business area, in 1877, that reportedly began in the first floor right where you are sitting now, at POOR HERBIE’S. In those days the building was owned by David Sayre of New York and operated by Isaac L. Ayres as a grocery store on the ground floor. The upstairs floors were the original home of Madison’s YMCA, with a reading room and exercise areas. The building was closed at the time, and the cause of the blaze is unknown.
The fire of 1877 spread south toward the railroad depot, destroying homes and stores. Damage to the building to the north was deflected when firefighters pulled parts of the new metal roof off and draped it over the exposed facade! Following the fire, a plan to widen Waverly Place, which had been advanced by visionary members of the community, like the Rev. Samuel Tuttle and Judge Lathrop, was put in motion. The new wide boulevard helped local rail commerce bloom – encouraging the flourishing rose business, as well.
Madison’s Downtown center, including 13 Waverly Place, was listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and 1991 respectively, honoring the sense of history and community that is part of Madison’s unique ambience. A new Millennium clock adds a further sense of time and place to the center of the business district, which is marked by historic integrity to details.
An early photo of #13 Waverly Place, hanging in our pub, shows Wilson & Ross custom grocers in operation and a barbershop at #11, now our dining room. Later that storefront housed the first Esposito’s Market. Next, William Montagna operated a butcher shop there and lived upstairs. In 1971, he and his sister sold 11-13 Waverly to the Sainato family, who own the neighboring TV store. For many years Pete O’Brien ran a pub in the #13 store, and Cattano’s Modern Barbershop occupied #11 Waverly.
The changes at #13 Waverly were started by Marguerite Littel, who had an idea for a cozy restaurant in the late 70’s, then sold to a partnership, led by the owner of the Widow Brown’s restaurant with Joe Artiglere, Richie Giordano and others. They developed the eclectic atmosphere, hearty menu and casual style, which have made POOR HERBIE’S a centerpiece in Madison. The Artigleres, as successors of the partnership, expanded in 1985, creating a Dining Room in the #11 storefront. In 1992 they elected to retire and sold to Judy and Dennis Mullins, long-time customers and civic supporters, who along with son Dennis, Maureen Holly and staff, have committed to preserving POOR HERBIE’S atmosphere and traditions!