The Rise and Fall of River and Rail transportation in Madison, Indiana.

The Golden Age

In 1911, Charles Alling published in the Madison Courier a list of businesses located in Madison between 1847 and 1857. While this is only a partial list, is does give an idea of the magnitude and variety of commerce existing at that time.

They Make Those Out of Mud, You Know

Several brickyards were kept busy during that time of rapid development. Silas Ritchie’s yard was located at the head of what is now Jefferson Street and Jacob Luck was situated just west of St. Michael’s Church. John Kirk and John Kaufman also owned brickyards and other yards were scattered about the town. Bricklayers of that time included Ben Calloway, William Thomas, John Kaufman and Wes Hunter. A cantankerous businessman when presented with the bill for a load of bricks, which he evidently thought was excessive, once complained, “They make those things out of mud, you know”.

You’re Not From Around Here, Are You?

Jacob Shuh owned an oil and woolen mill on Crooked Creek. E.G. Whitney also owned a woolen and oil mill for a time but it was turned into a spoke factory. A third woolen and oil mill was owned by the firm of Greg and Moorehouse. This is a bit surprising because there is little evidence that sheep farming was of much importance during this time in the local area. Hogs and cattle were the cash crops of the animal world. One can only surmise that the wool for these factories was mostly imported. It’s obvious that the wool was used for the manufacture of blankets, and other woolen materials. It is likely that the oil went into soaps, lubricants and such.

So Refined

Trow's Mill

The earliest mill known in Madison was on Crooked Creek and was owned by founding father, John Paul. This mill was in operation for quite some time but by the 1840’s new and larger refineries began to flourish. A large stone mill run by David White was located on the east end of town in the Fulton area. Interestingly, this mill produced mostly kiln dried corn meal which was shipped to Ireland during the great famine. The Magnolia Mill was a large brick building located on the northeast corner of Broadway and Ohio Streets. W.W. Page was an early miller in Madison. His large frame mill burned down and he afterwards built the Star Mills on the same site on Plum Street. At the bend of the railroad on the west side of town was the Palmetto Mills. A few years later the famous Trow Mills, built by William Trow, would be built at the foot of Broadway.

New and Used Cars

Map of South Western Car Shop locationThe railroad brought new business to the town. For instance, the complex at the top of the hill housed many buildings associated with the railroad. There new cars were built for the road and repairs were made to existing cars. William Clough also built cars for the railroads at his concern located in the west end of town near the river. These cars were shipped all over the country for use on many different railroads under the name of the Southwestern Car Company.

Steel Ribbons

Madison was well known for its intricate and lovely iron work. Some called it steel ribbons. There were several iron works at the time. You can still see examples of the wrought iron that came from the Madison foundries around town. Lovely fences and fancy work still are evident but much of the iron work fabricated here was shipped by steamboat down the Mississippi and was destined to ornament old homes and businesses in New Orleans. The Jefferson Iron Works was located on Second and Vine Streets, the Madison Foundry was at Elm and Ohio Streets and there was also the Indiana Foundry run by Walch and Halfenburg.

The Great Beer Controversy

Greiner's Brewery and staff

Early breweries were McQuiston’s Malt House, later called the Weber Brewery on Main Street. Greiner’s Brewery (above) was located in the Fulton area just above the river. It was said that there was a spring on the side of the hill that produced the most wonderful tasting beer in these parts. Weber’s, not to be outdone, had a deep well in the basement that was said to impart that same wonderful quality and so there was a rivalry between the Weber Brewery and Greiner’s about town. If bar owners promised to use only one beer in their establishment they got a pretty good reduction in the price. Supposedly, if a patron had a preference for one beer over the other, he could only patronize certain bars because most did not carry both brands.

If You Need It, We’ll Make It

Lumber mills supplied industries turning out spokes, wash tubs and churns, barrels, cabinets and coffins. There was a large copper shop on the east side of Cherry Lane (now Central). The Gerratts Brass Factory made bells, boilers and any number of brass articles. They were originally based in Cincinnati but opened a shop in Madison in 1849 because there was so much work to be had. Wagons and carriages were turned out and dispatched to the rest of the country. Bacons and brooms, rope and rakes, spices and stove pipe, crackers and candles, all were in demand. If there was a need for it someone made it.

Texas Holdem

The business atmosphere was so optimistic that it is almost impossible to keep track of the new businesses springing up and the old ones being converted. Many businesses changed hands faster and more times than a Texas Holdem tournament but like any game of chance there were risks and one’s luck does not always hold firm.

The financial situation started to change as Madison began to lose its grip on the railroad monopoly and other towns openly competed for trade. The newspapers, occasionally at first, began to report bankruptcies, closings and relocations. Then more and more notices appeared until it was commonplace.

The halcyon days were over and workers and industries moved to other towns that were just now experiencing a real growth surge. Madison never experienced such a time of prosperity and development again.

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