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

i. In the beginning...

Madison was for many years after its founding an unexceptional little town on the Ohio River. It had, in the twenty years since its inception, added some 1,700 people to its population, mostly in “fits and starts,” and it had progressed to the point of being a respectable place of commerce and business.

However, it was due to the advancement in the steamboat’s design and its expanded capacity to carry goods in a timely fashion that gave Madison its real motivation for development. When the steamboat became a faster and more reliable conductor of goods, the merchants of Madison began competing with other cities along the Ohio River. There is no evidence of a wharf in Madison in 1830 but by 1836 four had been built and the town seemed to be blessed with businessmen who knew how to turn a profit. Indeed, they were not content with a piece of the pie, they intended to own the bakery.

Prosperity begets prosperity

Pork production, always a part of Madison’s economy, now became a major factor in its expansion. Hogs were driven to Madison markets from the interior of the state and surrounding areas. It is said some hogs were driven from Illinois and had to be halted and fattened up on mast in the surrounding woods before going to market. The auxiliary industries from pork production alone were staggering. Lard, oil, candles, soap, bristle brushes, cooperages and tanning concerns sprang up all due to the lowly hog.

As prosperity begets prosperity, other businesses came into being. Foundries cast iron fencing and ornamentation for local use and for shipment to the South. By the mid-1830s boat building became an important factor in Madison’s growth. The shipyards necessitated more complimentary manufacturing.



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