Most people may not know just how much history is behind the City of Madison, and that it started as nothing more than just a train stop.
While some of Madison’s historical landmarks date back to the early 1800s, the community of Madison was not established until 1856 following the arrival of the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroads.
To celebrate Madison’s abundance of history, city officials unveiled 10 different historic sign markers across the city in June and traveled to each sign in a horse carriage to symbolize the city’s roots and how old it is.
These markers reflect more than 100 years of history, between 1840 and 1946.
The History of Madison (1856)
The History of Madison marker honors the founding of Madison in 1856. The city was originally known as Madison Station, named after President James Madison. In the late 1800s, Madison became known as the “Strawberry Capital of the World” due to how many strawberries were harvested and shipped north by train. Madison also gained recognition in 1950 as the first in Mississippi to elect women to the office of mayor, board of alderman, and town clerk.
The Montgomery House (1852)
The Montgomery House, built in 1852, began as a simple dog trot house. The property was first purchased by Thomas Nicholson Jones (1855-1920), who added an impressive façade that doubled the size of the house. Jones went on to become the first president of the Bank of Madison in 1901.
The house was inherited by the Montgomery family in 1920. It stands as one of the few remaining local examples of Gothic Revival architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most recently, the house grounds have become home to a beautiful botanic garden, funded by the city, America in Bloom, and the Canadian National Railroad. Over the past year, volunteers such as Alan Hoops, Gary Tolbert and Boy Scout Troop 15, master gardeners, local nursery suppliers, and more have assisted in planting flowers and keeping the garden beautiful to preserve the late Miriam Etheridge’s vision of turning the grounds into an expansive botanic garden.
Madison’s Water Tower (1946)
This tower, erected in 1946, is an all-steel 50,000-gallon water tank that supplied running water to Madison’s residents until 1979. It was built by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Co. of Birmingham. The tank drew water from a deep well on land deeded to the city by the Montgomery family. To fund the project, a $40,000 bond issue was approved by a vote of 85-0. By 1950, the well water was found to contain a large amount of iron, which stained residents’ laundry. These woes resulted in the election of Mayor Dorothy Crawford and five women to the board of alderman.
The John Curran House (1839)
This house predates even the founding of Madison. It is locally known as the Hoy House and was included in the Village of Lamarca. It is believed that Captain W.T. Hickle, Madison’s first postmaster, built the house in 1839. It was most likely built when John Curran, an Irish immigrant and wagon maker, owned the property from 1839 to 1851. President of Madison Services, Inc. John Lange writes that the house got its current name from the Hoy Family who moved to Madison in 1916 when no more than 600 residents lived there.
When the house was built, there were just five rooms and two porches with a detached kitchen. Sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s, the kitchen was joined with the main house, along with a bathroom added to the back of the house.
The kitchen, which had an old brick chimney, was rebuilt in the early 1900s after the original kitchen burned. Lange writes that he enjoys a fire in the brick fireplace in his office on cold mornings, as the house now serves as the headquarters for Madison Services, Inc.
The house serves as an excellent example of Greek Revival architecture as applied to a modest residential structure. It is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places, known as the Hoy House after longtime residents Tom and Maymie Hoy.
Farr Mercantile Company (1890)
This structure was built in 1890 by the Hesdorffer brothers of Canton and is the last 19th-century structure in Madison’s downtown commercial district. It was the center of Madison’s social and civic life throughout most of the 20th century and was used as the telephone exchange, for town meetings, and Thanksgiving potlucks. First owned by George Farr and followed by Joseph Harrell, the building was known as the R.B. Price Mercantile Company Building. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Madison-Ridgeland High School (1910)
The old Madison-Ridgeland School has an abundance of history. It was built sometime between 1910 and 1922, and at the time was the area’s only high school. After housing students for many years, it became the home of the Madison Square Center for the Arts and is now being renovated into Madison’s new City Hall. The center holds multiple different events, such as classes and performances throughout the year, along with weekly drama, art and dance lessons, ballets, plays, and musicals, a recent example being Disney’s Newsies Jr., performed by the Center Players Community Theatre.
Old School Gymnasium (1936)
The gym, a Madison-Ridgeland School annex, was completed in 1936 at the cost of $37,432. It was built was funding from the Public Works Administration during the New Deal Era. Designed by the architectural firm Overstreet & Town, the gymnasium is a rare example of an Art Deco school design in Mississippi. Notable features include decorative brickwork, low-relief lettering, and stylized sculptures of griffins. The gym building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Mississippi Landmark.
Bruce Campbell World War II Aircraft Hangers (1940)
In early 1940, General “Hap” Arnold, Commander of the Army Air Corps made a verbal agreement with Mr. Oliver L. Parks, President of Parks Air College, East St. Louis, Illinois, to build facilities and organize staff to train pilots in primary flying requirements. This agreement, later consummated with a thirty-day contract, with an escape clause for the Government, was an example of the trust Mr. Parks and many other civilian leaders had in General Arnold who desperately needed their help to fulfill President Roosevelt’s declaration to produce 50,000 airplanes a year to oppose the ever-threatening German Luftwaffe.
In June 1940 the Mississippi Institute of Aeronautics, Inc. (MIA) purchased from the Whaley, McMillan, and Cothern families approximately 220 acres of land, primarily cotton fields south of Madison Station along what is now Old Canton Road to build an airfield and supporting facilities.
While the airport served a national need in support of World War II, it remains a significant and positive asset in the Madison community. Approximately twenty-five acres west of Old Canton Road were sold to The Old Men’s Home, Inc., in December 1946 to begin replacing the Jackson facility that had burned in January 1946. This worthy service is still in operation on the same property today known as The Home Place efficiently operated by Mrs. Lucille Nichols and her staff. A number of the former training facilities are still on the grounds.
The airport property was deeded to Madison in 1948 with the stipulation that it be used for public aviation. The three World War II hangars, which dominate the airfield, have been nominated for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. It is anticipated the hangars and the airport will continue to be integral participants in the vibrant development of Madison.
The Strawberry Patch House (1860)
This house was built in the 1860s and sits right off Old Canton Road right next to Strawberry Patch Park. It is a large two-story home with a porch squaring around the front. A double-door balcony sits above the front door, with a tiny place to stand. Shuttered long windows reach the floor of the porch across the front. It was built by Dr. John McKay with wooden pegs, dovetails, mortices, and lap joints.
The house is located next to Strawberry Patch Park, a seven-acre neighborhood park that includes ad one-acre lake, a one-mile lighted walking trail, playground equipment, picnic tables, and benches throughout the park, Strawberry Patch Meeting Hall & Chapel, restroom facilities, and the Madison Children's Memorial Garden.
The Dorroh Street Historic District (1885-1905)
According to the National Register of Historic Places, these three houses that comprise this proposed district are significant because they are the best interpretation of the Queen Anne vernacular style of architecture in Madison. Taken as a cluster they represent the modest prosperity that came to the town at the turn of the century.
These three residences housed people who provided necessary services for local farmers. 103 Dorroh Street was the home of James F. Dorroh, a rural mail carrier in the early 20th century. He was also a poet of some prominence. In 1899, when he was 27 years old, his poems were published for the first time in the Christian Observer (Louisville, KY). Other magazines and newspapers published Dorroh’s work down the road, and he also wrote a book of poetry.
According to the present owners of 105 Dorroh Street, Dorroh’s brother lived at that address and was a physician. Joseph Harrell bought 115 Dorrah Street in 1907 and was the owner and manager of the Farr Mercantile Company. These people were able to make a living providing services for farmers because of the success of truck farming in the area. Their houses are physical evidence of this prosperous period in Madison’s History.
All of these historic markers can be found across Madison on Main Street and Old Canton Road.