Historic River Town, Madison

  • Historic river town
  • 40 boutique shops, 30 restaurants
  • Three wineries
  • River festivals galore
  • B&B’s worth staying at
madison town photo

Madison lures in a variety of travelers; there are attractions to entertain all types of visitors, but the town’s biggest draw to outside travelers is its deeply-rooted history, shops and small town village atmosphere. With a population of roughly 13,000, Madison sees almost 350,000 visitors a year. About 96 percent return according to a Madison Visitors Center survey, but to many, Madison is still a hidden gem.

Madison’s long history is apparent for all to see. Founded in 1809, some of the buildings downtown are the original structures built over a hundred years ago.

In the early 1960s, the community passed the Historic District Ordinance to protect the old homes, which have been transformed into a star attraction. Many of these 19th-century homes are listed on the National Historic Register. The National Park Service calls Madison’s 130-block historic district “the home of a superb and very large collection of historic buildings.”

Madison also has nine historic museums. The Lanier Mansion, built in 1844, is the main attraction on the history tour, given the fact that it holds Madison’s Historic National Landmark title.

Another part of history lies in Clifty Falls State Park just outside of Madison, where tourists can see the remains of fossils covering the stony bed of Clifty Creek. Or for a bit of adventure, Clifty Canyon offers year-round hiking. The park is also available for many other daily activities such as camping, tennis, and swimming.

Madison holds events along the river like RiverRoots Music and Folk Art Festival and Chautauqua Festival of Art, which brings in about 50,000 people.

Food may not be the main reason for a trip to Madison but it is just as unforgettable. Visitors have a choice of 30 restaurants downtown. Hinkle’s Sandwich Shop has been a town favorite since it started in 1933. But Shipley’s Tavern, gives Hinkle’s $1.60 hamburgers a run for its money. “Shipley’s is a great place. It’s definitely the hometown bar,” Madison native Megan Potter said. “They have the best burgers in town.”

Tradition continues to be popular, but new arrivals are making a home in Madison’s historic downtown. “The Bistro is probably the best. The menu is kind of limited but it’s excellent,” Madison resident Mike Riffle said. “It’s about as good as you’ll get at a big city but you don’t get the big ticket price.”

These features have been a part of Madison from the beginning. The town is a part of history frozen in time, but this past is as alive today as it was in the 19th century. The pride Madison has in its history is part of what makes it so memorable.

Story by Kayleigh Steigerwalt