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is like heading back in time. It’s the type of community where people
wave hello whether they recognize you or not, and a 10-cent cup of coffee
isn’t unheard of.
About half of the buildings that dot
Main Street — the town’s main drag — are more than 100 years old.
The town, set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was founded in
1800, eight years after
was formed from
to its north.
Residents take great pride in the
history of the community, which was named for James Madison, who later
became the fourth president of the
’s family owned several properties in the county at the time, including
The Residence, built in 1793 for James Madison’s brother, William
Madison. The home was later bought and remodeled by Robert Walker, the
, a private boarding school in the county.
Citizens of Madison — the county
seat and the only incorporated town within the county — have worked over
the years to restore deteriorating buildings and compile information about
historical spots in town. Visitors equally appreciate the community’s
history, as it’s often noted as the number-one attraction to the area,
according to Madison Chamber of Commerce Director and Tourism Coordinator
Madison County Courthouse, built in 1829-1830, is a unique example
of Jeffersonian architecture.
The most prominent stop along
, located at the center of town, is the Madison County Courthouse. The
brick structure — built in 1829-’30 — is still in use today. The
courthouse was constructed by a set of workers who had previously helped
under the direction of Thomas Jefferson.
“It’s a rare, if not unique,
example of architecture from that time,” says Willie Lamar, who has
served as the town’s mayor for eight years.
The Greater Madison Main Street
Project, a collaborative effort between the town and county first started
in 1999, has resulted in over $1 million in grants used to replace
sidewalks, repave roads and refurbish a previously nondescript park on the
and Church Streets.
“People actually notice we have a
park in town now,” says Williams. The park — now home to a stamped
concrete walkway and handcrafted archways — was named for Town
Councilman Lawrence Beasley, a longtime county groundskeeper who continues
to tend to areas in town on a volunteer basis.
Town Councilman Lawrence Beasley relaxes on a bench in Beasley
Park in downtown Madison. The park was named for Beasley, a former
longtime county grounds keeper.
Other grant funds were used to assist
property owners with repairing the facades of deteriorating buildings. The
recently completed venture has given new life to the town’s look,
according to Williams. “The whole project has given town residents a
boost. Some property owners did improvements on their own as well. It’s
really been a collaborative effort,” she said.
Store Serves Community
Madison Drug Company — established
by Dr. Walker S. Jones in 1856 — was among the town’s businesses that
upgraded its outward appearance. The family of Mayor Lamar now owns the
drug store, one of the oldest pharmacies in the
His parents, Jim and Marjorie Lamar, purchased the business in 1960.
The longtime pharmacy features an
old-fashioned lunch counter serving fountain drinks, ice cream and
sandwiches. “We’re famous for our chicken salad and egg salad
sandwiches,” says Jim Lamar. “We still use the same recipe after all
these years.” Although the prices have changed over time, they’ve
stayed reasonable, the owner adds. A dime at Madison Drug Company will get
you either a glass of Coke — albeit small — or a cup of coffee. “We
had nickel Cokes until the late ’70s, and then we went up to 10
cents,” Lamar notes.
Nearby Piedmont Episcopal Church
—built in the 1830s in an architectural style similar to the courthouse
— featured an obituary for the drug store’s five-cent Coke in its
weekly bulletin at the time. “It said, ‘We mourn the demise of the
five-cent Coke that suddenly made its departure over the weekend,’ ”
the owner recalls with a laugh.
Right around the time the Lamar family
first took over the establishment more than 40 years ago, Madison
County’s first volunteer rescue squad was formed. During the first three
years of the squad’s existence, the drug store served as a dispatch
center during the weekday hours. “It was fairly easy to get calls
covered because I knew where to find people,” Lamar recalls. “There
were lots of squad members in and around town who were allowed to leave
work to go on calls. That doesn’t happen anymore.”
Marjorie Lamar, one of the rescue
squad’s first members, continues to serve on the squad, which now has a
dispatch center north of town.
Town Remains Untouched
upgrades are welcomed by most, some residents resisted one recent proposed
change. A 35-foot-tall hemlock tree in town — said to be infested with a
type of tiny insect called the woolly adelgid — was set to be removed
as part of the
A group of citizens — headed by
Madison County natives Bobby and Joan Tanner, who own an antique shop in
town — banded together to help “save the hemlock.”
County native Joan Tanner shares some photos and a laugh with her
husband, Bobby Tanner, in their downtown antique shop.
“As long as it’s living and
looking good, I don’t think you ought to cut it down,” Bobby Tanner
says of the approximately 65-year-old tree, which stands adjacent to
property. The 72-year-old has watched the tree grow over the past 50 years
from the porch of his store, called
when it first opened as a feed store in the 1950s and known as The Feed
Store Antiques and Collectibles ever since the owners switched gears about
a decade ago.
“I remember when it was 6- or 8-feet
high, it used to be what they decorated for Christmas,” Tanner says. The
couple was able to raise enough money to pay for the necessary treatments
for the tree, which a county volunteer then injected into the soil around
it. The “save the hemlock” campaign is a testament to why
has remained mostly untouched throughout the years. The county’s
character as an island of slow growth in a sea of development is primarily
due to its residents’ heartfelt attachment to the history and uniqueness
of their community. “There’s been very little change here in my 72
years,” Tanner says. “There’s been some, but very little. Is it a
good thing? I think so.”
wasn’t always so quiet. In the latter part of the 19th century,
was a popular stop along the newly constructed Blue Ridge Turnpike, which
connected New Market in
and Gordonsville in
The Hunton House hotel — a
now-vacant three-story structure on
built in 1804 — served many of those passing along this route.
During the former hotel’s later
years, President Herbert Hoover was among its list of regular guests. At
maintained his presidential getaway, then known as Rapidan Camp, along the
Blue Ridge Mountains within what is now
President Hoover’s visit to the
county on Aug. 17, 1929, which attracted more than 10,000 people to the
site of his speech, is commemorated annually. The event took place on an
expanse of land near town, now known as Hoover Ridge.
view from the 3,291-foot-high summit of Old Rag Mountain is one of
the area's most popular attractions. Don Richeson/Madison Cuonty
, almost the entire length of town is afforded views of the area’s most
prized feature — the
Blue Ridge Mountains
Almost 75 years ago, eight counties
— donated land along the mountain range to create
. In order to make way for the park,
villages that had been in existence for hundreds of years were dismantled
and families were forced out of their homes. Recently, park officials
created an exhibit — on display at the
within the park — that tells the stories of these relocated families.
Overall, the majority of the
county’s acreage is covered by forest and farmland. Agriculture remains
the basis of the county’s economy with local farms producing beef, dairy
and hogs as well as a variety of crops. A number of small wineries operate
locally in addition to Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery, one of the
largest wineries in the state, located in the northern end of the county.
The wood industry — production of
finished lumber as well as furniture — is another important business
has been home to Madison Wood Preservers since 1959, and furniture-makers
E.A. Clore Sons, one of the oldest family-owned businesses in the
, since 1830.
Williams has watched tourism in
increase in recent times. Just three years ago, the chamber of
commerce’s Web site averaged about 500 hits per month. Now the site is
tallying more than 7,000 visits every 30 days. The tourism coordinator
attributes the growth to a greater desire to travel closer to home.
“People aren’t flying as much, they’re driving,” she explains.
is situated conveniently along U.S. 29, within 100 miles of major cities,
. The county’s scenic views and friendly residents make it a perfect
destination for those looking to escape, according to Williams. “I
to be a getaway from the faster pace,” she concludes. “The history and
outdoor recreation, and just the peaceful, small-town atmosphere, are what