On a sunny day in spring, what is better than to get out on the road and travel to another county in Indiana? Today, though, I’ll have to be content with getting out a map and paying a virtual visit — this time to Jefferson County. (By the way, geology.com has a very handy map of Indiana’s counties with each of their county seats.)
Madison, Indiana, has almost too much history to describe. Founded on the Ohio River in 1809, it became the gateway to Indiana Territory. Thirty years later a railroad was put in place to connect Madison with the new state capital at Indianapolis. Today Madison’s downtown district, consisting of more than 130 blocks, is a superstar on the National Register of Historic Places.
The visitors bureau for Madison describes a number of historic sites, many of which have been long-time partners of the Indiana Humanities Council. The Jefferson County Historical Society offers a Heritage Center and Railroad Museum, under the direction of Joe Carr. The Lanier Mansion, a state historic site, recently received a grant from the council for its Lanier Days celebration, June 13-14, 2009, with historic interpreters and re-enactors and a Historic Trades Fair on the mansion grounds.
My personal memories of Madison include a stay at the Broadway Hotel, established in 1834 and known as Indiana’s oldest. It was easy to imagine stopping there in the mid-1800s and climbing the narrow stairs to a Victorian room lit by lanterns, no TV or phones, just summer sounds outside on Main Street and voices from the tavern below.
Before we leave Jefferson County, we might stop at Hanover College, a few miles west of Madison. Hanover, with a commanding view of the Ohio, is the home of the Rivers Institute, a center for the interdisciplinary and collaborative study of river environments. Interdisciplinary — for now that we are reassessing everything in our society, it is becoming clear that the environment, along with other aspects of science and technology, must be approached with all the insight that humankind can bring to bear. Such thoughts are inspired by Jefferson County, a place where the concurrence of nature led to the construction of history, coming together to form the beginning of the Indiana we have today.