Madison, Indiana (population 12,000), was founded in 1809 along the Ohio River in southern Indiana, and is one of the most historic river cities in the United States. With the arrival of the steamboat, Madison earned the nickname "Porkopolis" from its growth in livestock exports. This prominence led to the construction of the first railroad west of the Alleghenies, the Madison/Indianapolis line. By the mid-1800s, this booming city was the center of transportation, industry, and commerce for the entire region.
The railroad led to the development of Indianapolis as the new commercial and industrial center in the State. As Indianapolis and other parts of Indiana gained prominence, Madison's lack of growth served to preserve many of its historic resources. This in turn created an architectural legacy that spawned a preservation movement in the 1960s.
Today, Madison's entire downtown is a National Register historic district, with more than 1,700 contributing structures, including two National Historic Landmarks. Madison is one of the original participants in the Main Street program, and blocks of early to mid-19th century commercial architecture line Main Street. Though a small city, Madison has successfully preserved and promoted its rich history through government commitment and the assistance of hundreds of community volunteers, including members of Historic Madison, Inc.
The city has worked with local preservation organizations on many projects, including restoration of the local African Methodist Episcopal Church, a station on the Underground Railroad. This project received a Save America's Treasures grant. Riverfront redevelopment, including nearly $2 million in private funds along with some local and State funds, has created a setting for community heritage festivals and pedestrian access to interpreted historic sites.
A unique local effort is the preservation and restoration of the 1878 Schroeder Saddletree Factory, America's sole remaining property of this type. The factory closed in 1972 after 94 years of operation. Transportation enhancement funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation allowed the physical restoration of the factory. Many hours of meticulous documentation, followed by careful restoration, created a working museum where visitors can see the original machinery and manufacturing process that produced wooden saddle frames, horse collars, clothespins, and related products.
Designated a Preserve America Community in August 2004.