For some ten to fifteen years Madison rode the wave of prosperity and expansion but in the 1850’s she began to lose her monopoly as other railroad lines began to snake across the landscape. The hamlets spawned by the railroad along its line grew into towns and then cities and they cast about for more direct and advantageous routes for their products. Perhaps Madison was preordained to be a catalyst for expansion but, like a shooting star it had reached its zenith and now was on a downward track.
Madison’s location, once an advantage now proved to be a limitation. More centrally located cities could take advantage of the several railroads that now crisscrossed the state. The poor and almost impassable road system in the state had steadily improved over the years and the once all important river trade began to falter.
Donald Zimmer wrote in his 1974 thesis,”Madison, Indiana, 1811-1860, A Study in the Process of City Building”
“After 1850, the promise of Madison declined and with it the hope of community builders of combining personal and public growth, personal and public prosperity. During the decade of the 1850s Madison began to atrophy and its opportunity shifted from building to maintenance.”
And there you have it, maintenance. Perhaps no other word could describe the activity of Madison for next one hundred years.
The population initially dropped off then maintained a steady number. Instead of pulling down older buildings to make way for modern ones, Madison maintained her old homes and business buildings. She maintained her southern influence of good manners and hospitality and she maintained her pride in just maintaining.
As a result, perhaps no other city in the country can boast of so many homes and businesses on the National Historical Register. Tourists marvel at the small town, nineteenth century charm captured among the lush green of the surroundings hills. People vie for the opportunity to restore and live in the old homes along shady streets. In the long run, who can say if Madison might not have followed the best path after all.
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