The Legacy of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge

by Sally Capone, Publicity Coordinator
March 8, 2022

Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge with her son Marcellus Hartley Dodge, Jr.

Born into one of the most powerful families in the country, Geraldine Rockefeller married Marcellus Hartley Dodge, Sr. in 1907 and moved to Madison in 1916.  Recognized as a philanthropist, a benefactor to Morris County communities, and a patron of animal welfare, Mrs. Dodge used her wealth and prestige to champion causes that were of particular interest to her, leaving a lasting legacy both locally and statewide.

Mrs. Dodge’s contributions to her community began in 1920, when a fire destroyed several barns on her grand 550-acre estate, Giralda Farms. Realizing that the borough lacked modern fire equipment, Mrs. Dodge purchased a top-of-the-line Ahrens-Fox model P-4 fire engine for $18,000 – at a time when engines averaged around $800. In recent years, the fire department affectionately named the fire truck, long out of service, “Geraldine.”

Hartley Dodge Memorial, Madison

Perhaps nowhere was Mrs. Dodge’s generosity more notable than the stately Hartley Dodge Memorial on Kings Road, which she donated to the borough in 1935 for use as an administration building. Dedicated to her only child, Marcellus Hartley Dodge, Jr., who died in a 1930 car crash in France, Mrs. Dodge spent the enormous sum of $800,000 ($10 million today) for construction of the neoclassical building. During construction, the Madison Eagle reported that the “finest materials coupled with the most expert workmanship” created a building “equal to any public building in the United States.”

Renowned for her love of dogs, Mrs. Dodge founded St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Morristown, and the famed Morris and Essex Kennel Club Dog Show. She was also an early supporter of The Seeing Eye in Morristown, the oldest guide dog school still in operation today. After her death in 1973, her estate was converted into a corporate park.

While nearly all of the estate’s structures were demolished in 1978, Mrs. Dodge’s legacy continues through the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, which includes the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, the New Jersey Recovery Fund, Sustainable Jersey and Creative New Jersey. The New Jersey Recovery Fund awarded 25 grants totaling more than $4 million to groups working to address the Hurricane Sandy recovery.