A Riverfront Walking Tour of Madison, Indiana
Courtesy: The Cornerstone Society Inc.
P.O. Box 92
Madison, In 47250
Reprinted by Permission
Photos By Natalie Bear
In the nineteenth century, Madison was a bustling, thriving river town, for a time the largest city in Indiana. The center of activity was the riverfront, with constant incoming and outgoing boats, loading and unloading passengers and freight on the many piers.
Madison was industrious from the beginning: Colonel John Paul, one of the town’s founders, operated both a gristmill and a sawmill. There were various shipyards at the west end of Madison’s riverfront, one of them owned by the famous Howard Ship Yards of Jeffersonville. Even in 1899, after the peak of Madison’s prosperity, town businesses thrived. The cotton mills employed over .300 people. There were two woolen mills, two flour mills, three tanneries, many slaughterhouses (Madison was the early pork capital of the Midwest) , three brickyards, a tobacco warehouse, many cigar factories, two wagon factories, cooperages, breweries, a buggy and plow plant, a saddletree factory, and a tack and nail factory.
Although the waterfront area has changed greatly, it is possible to see some 19th-century buildings and to imagine the scene more than a hundred years ago. Captain W. E. Pratt’s coal fleet sat at the foot of Jefferson Street, then called Main Street; other levees held woodenware, barrels, staves, wheels, and lumber. The various taverns and hotels hosted a constantly shifting clientele. One jolly industrious old German, John Buhler, stood a sign on a tall pole in front of his hotel reading “My Friend, Your Home.”
The pork house where Jenny Lind sang is gone. The riverfront hotels have disappeared. Even John Paul’s home has been razed. But we can imagine it as it was – and work to save what remains!
1. Eagle Cotton Mill*, 1884: 100 double hung windows on the river side make optimum use of available light. An 1887 map of Madison shows railroad tracks extending along the river from the railroad cut to the Eagle Cotton Mill, where they curved north for two more blocks.
2.. David Graham Phillips House, 201 East Street, c. 1830/1870. A novelist, Phillips wrote Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise, a Greta Garbo movie in 1931; the early part of the novel is set in Madison. First Street used to be High Street; the road was cut down and the walls built in the 1840s. This corner was the southeast boundary of the original town, which extended from East Street to West Street and from the present First Street to Fourth Street.
3. Snyder House, 127 East Street, c. 1850. Home of the landscape painter William McKendree Snyder, 1849-1930.
4. Madison Gas Works, c. 1850. The first gas plant in the Northwest Territory, the buildings contained 3 coke ovens. The structure to the rear is newer.
5. Ice house, c. 1840, has walls (now covered with ivy) two feet thick. The present floor covers a pit, now the basement.
6. The Richard Talbott Inn, called the “Old Welsh House,” 218 Walnut Street, c. 1825-30.
7. St. Mary’s Catholic Church*, 1851, served the German community. St. Mary’s School stood on the parking lot to the East.
8. David Wilson House*, 315 East Second Street, c. 1825, is a fine example of the Federal style. Wilson was a Philadelphia-trained cabinet maker.
9. The Hunger Building*, c. 1850/1900, was an early hotel. The third-floor ballroom has a platform for the musicians. Open to the public.
10. Jefferson County Courthouse*. 1855. The building faces what was then Madison’s Main Street; the present Main Street was called Main Cross. The Dome was destroyed in a fire in 2009.
11. Schofield Woolen Mill*. 1877, now Meyers & Son. was designed to maximize natural light.
12. Site of the home of John Paul, one of the founders of Madison, now the Madison Post Office. The lot, like that of the Phillips house, was higher than it is today. The downtown’s first permanent dwelling was in this vicinity.
13. House at 216 East First Street, c. 1830. with stone foundation – an early tavern-type Federal-style frame house.
14. Commercial building, 313 East First Street; c. 1875.
15. Meyers Stone Barn. Said to be the oldest building in Madison, it was used in the last century as a stable and carriage house. serving as a slaughter house early in this century.
16. Site of W. E. Pratt Coal. A coal tipple extended over the road to carry coal from barges on the river to waiting delivery trucks.
17. Several residences faced the river here in the early 20th century.
18. Site of the Hotel William Tell Hotel. DC taverns were the most common businesses along the riverfront.
19. The commercial buildings on the west side of Mulberry between Second and Main are very old; Jeremiah Sullivan opened his law office on the second floor of the two-story building south of the alley in 1819. The building on the comer of Second and Mulberry was the Central Hotel, typecast in the movie “Some Came Running.”.
20. Hentz Bakery Museum, c. 1830, 316 Mulberry Street, c. 1860. The workings of a bakery run by the family from 1912 to 1980 are on display.
21. Site of the Hotel Madison, designed by Francis Costigan. Entrance pillars from the hotel are used in the Drusilla Building, Broadway & Presbyterian.
22. Site of Jenny Lind Park (slaughter) House, where the famous singer performed in 1851
23. C&R Parts, 100 East Second Street, c. 1935, one of Madison’s only examples of Art Moderne.
24. Site of the last tobacco warehouse downtown
25. A row of .shotgun. houses, c. 1860, so-called because one could shoot a shotgun from the front room through the successive doors to the back room. Some Madison shotgun houses are said to be wards moved from the Civil War hospital on the west edge of the city.
26. Site of the Western Hotel, damaged in the flood of 1913. It was noted for fine meals and a never-ending card game, which simply moved upstairs when flood waters reached the first floor.
27. Site of the City Hotel and later the Red Onion, a tavern of ill repute even before a murder was committed there.
28. Site of the Pearl Button Company, in which pearl buttons were cut from local mussel shells. Housewives sewed the buttons to cards for sale.
29. Capt. Charles Lewis Shrewsbury House., 1846-49, designed by Francis Costigan. Open to the public.
30. Talbott-Hyatt Pioneer Garden, containing one of seven early public wells. Open to the public.
31. Masonic Schofield House*, c. 1815. Open to the public.
32. Jeremiah Sullivan House*, after 1818. Sullivan suggested the name Indianapolis for the capital of Indiana. Open to the public
33. First Presbyterian Church*, 1848.
34. Site of the Woodburn House, 1846, another Costigan design.
35. Broadway Hotel and Tavern, c. 1830 & later, a stopping place for riverboat captains.
36. Crystal Beach built 1938 by PW A. Site of Trow’s Flour Mills, whose warehouse stood across the street on what is now the Lanier lawn.
37. Livery Stable and Tobacco Prizing House. c. 1890/1891. Lower one was built by W. Trow for a cooperage to make barrels for his flour mills.
38. James F. D. Lanier State Historic Site*, 1840-1844. Designed by Francis Costigan. For almost one hundred years, First Street was uninterrupted; the Lanier House sat on the street as the Shrewsbury House does. Open to the public.
39. Site of the McKim-Cochran Furniture Company. After it burned in 1929, First Street was closed here and the park created.
40. John Eckert House*, 510 West Second Street, 1872. The entire front of this house is pressed from galvanized sheet iron
41. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad, Madison Station*, 1895, now occupied by the Jefferson County Historical Society. Open to the public
42. House at 123 Mill Street, whose original stone middle portion served as a stable for a hotel nearer the river here. The front part added later, contained a wagon factory.
43. Site of Snider Catsup Plant.
44. Site of J.F.D. Lanier’s slaughterhouse, then the Madison freight and passenger stations.
* Rated “Outstanding” in Jefferson County Interim Report, Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory (JCHS, #41), “should be considered f or individual listing in the National Register of Historic Places.”