is over 200 years old. As far as is known the first non-Native American cabin
was built in Madison about May 30, 1808. In 1810 Jonathan Lyon, with John Paul
and Lewis Davis, laid out the town. The first sale of lots was in 1811. Situated
on the Ohio across from Kentucky, the settlement was a favored and inviting spot
for commerce and industry and it grew rapidly. It was incorporated as a town
April 15, 1824, as a city by the act of Legislature of 1838.
was a place of much note at the early part of last century. A great number of
people of all classes, characters and occupations came to it. In 1816 and up to
1850, it was one of the points of attraction as a new and growing town in a new
and growing country .
Today the pleasant thriving city that nestles amid
the hills of Jefferson County is one of the most picturesque and beautiful spots
in the state. It has an ancient lore combined with a modern progress that makes
it attractive to all who have an eye for the beautiful in scenery or a mind for
the history of the achievements of the past.
has a geographical location that is as outstanding as its scenic setting. On the
north bank of the Ohio River, approximately 50 miles from Louisville and 75
miles from Cincinnati, it at one time shared with both in commercial and
cultural leadership. With the building of the first railroad in the United
States, west of the Allegheny mountains, from Madison to Indianapolis, Madison
became the gateway to the settlement of the vast Northwest Territory.
Picture probably taken around 1850
During World War II, Madison was selected as the
"Typical American Town" by the Office of War Information and movies
were made of it for wide distribution.
The early industries of Madison included some of the following: Ship yards,
starch factories, furniture factory , saw mills, cotton mills, button factories,
paper mill, yarn and cordage mill, breweries, pork packing industries, and iron
foundries. The two latter played an important part in the history of the town.
but with the pork industries moving away, the growth of Madison stopped.
PORK PACKING BUSINESS
the 1840's Madison was the only city in this part of the country with a
railroad. By 1835 the Michigan Road extended through to the Great Lakes and
various roads spreading out in different directions.
this time Madison was the greatest "porkopolis" in the world, Chicago
having not stolen her franchise on the great industry of the West.
were sent to Madison by car load and wagon load. Hundreds of thousands of hogs
arrived here on foot, having traveled great distances from surrounding states. Madison
was the second pork packing city in the west and the new rail- road did a big
business hauling hogs during the winter months. In the year 1852 they handled
124,000 hogs. The hog trade was the main traffic and there were so few coaches
that the railroad was forced to use the hog cars for passengers by making seats
in them of clean lumber.
Schroeder Saddletree Company, maker of fine quality saddletrees. was in
operation from 1850 to 1971. The plant is located on Milton Street between
Mulberry and Jefferson Streets and their products were sold to all 50 states as
well as practically every South American country .During its long life the plant
supplied saddletrees for the Civil War, Spanish-American War, Boer War, First
World War and Second World War. The
building is now owned by Historic Madison. The organization plans to restore the
building and open it to the public.
1870, there were several iron foundries in Madison. They furnished most of the
old gates. fences and balconies in use today. However, the balconies on the
Lanier House were imported. Much of the iron work seen in New Orleans was made
in Madison. The
beautiful wrought iron balcony is on the John T.
Windle building at 306 West Main Street. The balcony extends in front of long
windows across the second story of a three story brick building. The
intricate detail woven into the unusual lyre pattern of the balcony makes it an
outstanding example of wrought iron work. A
picture of this balcony appears in a book, entitled "Early Architects and
Builders of Indiana", by Lee Burns.
JENNY LIND CONCERT
It is interesting to note that even as early as
1851 Madison people evidenced sufficient interest in cultural affairs to invite
the noted singer, Jenny Lind to present a concert. She
had been engaged by Billy Watson to sing in Madison and upon her arrival found
that she must give the program in the pork house or forfeit her money and return
the tickets. Jenny Lind consented and gave her performance in the large frame
pork house. The house was filled at $ 5.00 a ticket. The
management had guaranteed Mr. P. T. Barnum (Miss Lind's agent) $5,000 and the
receipts were $3,700.
Also, the famous actress, Mary Anderson gave a
performance here in 1874, (before her debut in Louisville in 1875). As the story
goes -packing boxes were used for the foundation of the balcony for Romeo and
Juliet when she gave this performance in the old Odd Fellows Building.
The first newspaper, "Western Eagle", was published in Madison. It was
owned by Colonel John Paul and published by his son-in-law, William Hendricks.
The first issue was dated May 26, 1813, Madison, Ind. Territory.
Madison Courier was published as a weekly in 1837. In 1849 it was changed to a
daily publication and purchased by Michael C. Garber. In 1937 the paper celebrated its centennial year,
and in 1949 observed its hundredth year as a daily, and also its hundred years
under management of one family. It is now the second oldest newspaper in
Indiana, (the Vincennes Sun is older) and the only one to have been owned for
over a hundred years by the same family.
The Jefferson County Jail --just a building for the
imprisonment of town drunks and petty thieves; but more like a medieval dungeon
with its stone walls two feet thick, reinforced with cannon balls and its
windowless cells just large enough to hold a single cot. Built
in 1849, the key to the outer door measuring at least twelve inches in length,
was handed to the County Commissioners in an elaborate ceremony. In 1878 when John Beaver was hanged in the
Courthouse yard for murder, people gathered for miles around, standing on roof
tops and in available space. to see the first and only hanging in Jefferson
County. Many brought lunch boxes crammed with good things to eat and it was
evidently a gala occasion for everyone but poor Mr. Beaver. The
jail is an interesting land mark. It was remodeled in 1960 and is still in use.
The heavy cornices and well designed window caps.
on the upper portions of the store fronts on both sides of Main Street were made
to resemble carved stone. They date from the 1850's and 1860's and show the
influence of the Italian Villa style of architecture which was so popular over
the country at that time. Main Street, Madison possesses some very fine examples
of this style.
Ad Circa 1915
VOLUNTEER FIRE COMPANY
the year 1831, a Volunteer Fire Fighters Club was organized in Madison. Their
headquarters and meeting place was a small one room frame building on the corner
of Main and Walnut Streets, the present site of the Soldiers and Sailors
As the city grew, so grew the Volunteer Fire
Fighters and on September 15, 1841 the organization set up a Constitution,
changing the company's name to "Fair Play Fire Company Number One". A
charter was granted for the same on September 6, 1849.
This company, being the oldest volunteer fire
company in the state of Indiana, first saw action as a "Bucket
Brigade". The company then purchased a hand drawn piece of fire equipment
in 1851. It was called "Neptune" and had to be pulled to all fires by
its members with the aid of a long rope. It is still in the possession of the
April 3. 1888 the Company purchased their present home located at the N. E.
corner of Main and Walnut Streets. The first meeting was held on October 1,
In 1871 the Fair Play Company purchased the first
steam engine (horse drawn) manufactured by Chris Ahrens. On September 15. 1886
the Company participated in a Fireman's Tournament, held at Cincinnati, Ohio and
walked away with first prize for throwing water the farthest distance. The prize
As the city of Madison grew, new companies were
organized and at the present time Madison is fortunate enough to have six
volunteer fire departments. Each company has its own constitution and by-laws,
its own officers and owns all of its equipment. The total cost to the city of
Madison is far less than one paid fire department would cost.
Madison also is one of the few cities that still
has approximately 35 cisterns in which water is stored as a sort of reservoir,
for use in fighting fires. These cisterns are filled from the city water system
and at times of fires valves are
turned on to furnish plenty of water.
"Little Jimmy", a weathervane, atop the Fair Play Fire Co. No.1 is one of the
landmarks of Madison. Mr. Peter Hoffman, a tinner by trade, cut him out of tin
working in his spare time all one winter. The figure is more than 95 years old.
A favorite story about Jimmy is: the bells rang one day and the firemen on the
horse drawn engine started down Main St. A farmer coming along, looked up and
said, "Look at that, the firemen are going the wrong direction, Little
Jimmy is pointing up the street".
Grey Barnard, the world famous sculptor, lived in Madison with his parents, Dr.
and Mrs. J. H. Barnard. (The house is now the Gans Funeral Home). It has been
said that what Walt Whitman was to American Poetry and Abraham Lincoln has been
to American government, that exactly was what George Grey Barnard was to
American Art, namely the great exponent of real democracy.
Among his masterpieces are his "Lincoln",
the original of which is in Cincinnati and a replica in Louisville on the Public
Library lawn. and also his "Let There Be Light" in Cave Hill Cemetery
in Louisville. Madison possesses a replica, in marble, of "Let There Be
Light" at the resting place of the noted sculptor's father and mother in
Springdale Cemetery, Fifth St.
Edward Eggleston, the author of the well-known "Hoosier Schoolmaster" was
born in Vevay in 1837 and later moved to Madison. In 1891 he married Frances E.
Goode and made his home here for several years.
Park was the first mayor of Madison. He established a cotton mill in 1822-23 on
the west side of Central Avenue above Front Street. He operated it a few years
and then brought Thomas Gibb to Madison to take charge of it.
William Hendricks, who was Indiana’s third governor,
established the second newspaper ever to be printed in this state. He came to
Madison bringing his printing press in 1814. Hendricks served as governor over
twenty years. He died in 1850 and is buried at Madison.
DeBaptist was the servant of General Harrison at the White House. He had lived
F. D. Lanier in Madison and was door- keeper when Harrison visited
Lanier. Harrison asked him to go to Washington with him and he was with Harrison
when he died. DeBaptist
worked with the underground railroad while in Madison.
Sarah Bolton, author of the well known poem, "Paddle Your Own Canoe", was a
native of Madison.
W. Wiley, author of this nation's basic pure food laws, was born in Jefferson
County, near Madison, and attended Hanover College.
Bradford Meeks (1817—1876), American geologist and paleontologist, the
son of a lawyer, was born at Madison, Indiana, on the 10th of December
1817. In early life he was in business as a merchant, but his leisure
hours were devoted to collecting fossils and studying the rocks of the
neighborhood of Madison. Being unsuccessful in business he turned his
whole attention to science, and in 1848 he gained employment on the U.S.
Geological Survey in Iowa, and subsequently in Wisconsin and Minnesota. In
1852 he became assistant to Professor James Hall at Albany, and worked at
paleontology with him until 1858. Meanwhile in 1853 he accompanied Dr F.
V. Hayden in an exploration of the “Bad Lands” of Dakota and brought back
valuable collections of fossils. In 1858 he went to Washington, where he
devoted his time to the paleontological work of the United States
geological and geographical surveys, his work bearing “the stamp of the
most faithful and conscientious research,” and raising him to the highest
rank as a paleontologist. Besides many separate contributions to science
he prepared with W. . Gabb (1839—1878), two volumes or the paleontology of
California (1864—1869); and also a Report on the Invertebrate Cretaceous
and Tertiary Fossils of the Upper Missouri Country (1876). He died at
Washington, on the 22nd of December 1876.
noted movie actress, Irene Dunne, though born in Louisville, Kentucky, spent her
entire girlhood in the house located on w. Second Street. Following her
graduation from Madison High School, she went to Chicago, the first step of her
road to fame.
a military standpoint Madison has not been lax, either. Major Sam Woodfill, a
native of Jefferson County, rivaled the deeds of Alvin York with his military
exploits of World War L A monument dedicated to his memory is in the Court House
Krueger, during World War II, reached the rank of "Four Star General"
and was destined to lead the invasion of Japan late in 1945 had it become
house at 610 West Main Street, was once the home of Emilie Todd Helm, widow of
General Ben Hardin Helm, who commanded the First Kentucky Brigade of Infantry,
of the Confederate Army. Mrs. Helm was also the half-sister of Mary Todd
Lincoln. After the death of her husband, she was forced to leave her home in
Lexington, Kentucky and come to Madison. While here, she was the organist at the
Christ Episcopal Church.
the early days of Madison, the activity was along the riverfront. Here were
located the hotels, commission houses, the railroad station and many business
houses. At the corner of Central Avenue and Front Street was located a famous
dive known as the "Red Onion Saloon", and it was just as hot and
notorious as the name implies. For years the river trade frequented the place.