History Meets Modern in Madison, IN

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Photo credit: Nathan Lambrecht

Looking for a road trip to take this spring? Consider adding Madison to your list. “Spring in Madison is like no other. The blooms accent the architecture and the city becomes a mecca for photographers,” says Sarah Prasil, marketing and advertising director for Visit Madison. “Besides fall, it’s truly a breathtaking time to visit our beautiful river town.”

Located among the rolling hills and limestone bluffs of southern Indiana, this city is home to Michigan Road, the very first road commissioned by the state in 1826. It’s a place where history comes alive, as the largest contiguous National Historic Landmark District in the country. It’s nestled along the 185-mile John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail, which follows the footsteps of the Confederate raider and his men during the American Civil War.

Photo credit: Nathan Lambrecht

There’s also the iconic Broadway Fountain. Originally cast in iron when it was exhibited in Philadelphia in 1876, it was presented to Madison more than a century later and recast in bronze in 1976 to commemorate the U.S. centennial. Now it’s a hot spot for photos.

You can trace the routes traveled by runaway slaves to safe houses on the fascinating, self-guided Underground Railroad Byway Driving Tour, or check out the Stained-Glass Walking Tour downtown, highlighting beautiful windows in historic churches and businesses.

Ready to plan your trip? Come for the history, then stay to explore the many other attractions Madison has to offer.

See more: Old-Fashioned Finds in Madison

Antiques and Boutiques

More than a dozen antique shops throughout the city are packed with unusual antiques and collectibles of all kinds, sure to delight those hunting for treasures. Stop into Muddy Fork Antiques & Collectibles for vintage and reclaimed wood gifts, Lumber Mill Antique Mall for the largest selection in town and Riverwest Antique Mall for hard-to-find items. A couple miles up the road, find Persnickety Antique Mall and Flea Market, which has a wide selection of home décor and cute gifts. If you’re a coin collector or love jewelry, a visit to Gold-N-Treasures should be high atop your list.

Photo credit: Nathan Lambrecht

Madison is also known for its 133-block downtown historic district, packed with locally owned specialty shops and businesses. Visit spots such as Blush on Main, Fine Threads and Betty Jeffries for the latest women’s fashions; Bourbon & Bird Dogs, a new gentlemen’s boutique; gift shop The Primitive Porch for scented candles and home décor; and Fountain Alley BodyCare for homemade natural soaps and body care products. A newer business called Olde Tyme Marketplace offers rustic farmhouse décor, while Crawdaddy Music is another highly unique shop that sells and appraises vintage musical instruments. Indulge your inner child at Madison’s newest addition, McWhiggin’s Wonder Emporium, a whimsical toy store with something for everyone.

Eats and Treats

With nearly 20 locally owned restaurants downtown, Madison offers many delicious dining options to suit your taste and mood. Start the morning off right with creamy iced coffees and breakfast paninis at G.H. Coffee Co., which roasts its own beans weekly. Bad Apple Mac’s is a perfect choice for lunch, with a hard-to-miss pink exterior and a menu of seasonal items from salads to sandwiches. For dinner, choose from options such as Harry’s Stone Grill on the hilltop or the Historic Broadway Hotel & Tavern, two of the town’s go-tos for good steaks. Or, head to Crystal & Jules for authentic, seasonal Italian, including the best hand-rolled pasta. When the weather’s nice, enjoy a casual alfresco meal at Rivercrest Lighthouse Marina Restaurant & Lounge, which overlooks the river. And don’t forget dessert: The Red Peppermint on Main offers Madison’s only frozen yogurt, along with your choice of United Dairy Farmers ice cream.

Photo credit: Nathan Lambrecht

See more: Here’s the Scoop on Indiana Ice Cream 

Outdoor Pursuits

Madison is a recreation lover’s paradise, with plenty of options for getting active outside. Pack a picnic and head to Clifty Falls State Park to see 70-foot gorges and four waterfalls – there’s even a nature center and swimming pools to entertain the kids. You can also hike the Heritage Trail right from downtown all the way to the hilltop for spectacular views. If you don’t have a boat, you can still enjoy being on the water, thanks to Rockin’ Thunder River Tours, a New Zealand-style jet boat that’s the only one of its kind in the Midwest. Fascinated by birds? You’ll want to head 5 miles north of Madison to Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, which is named a global Important Bird Area due to its value to migratory birds. Don’t forget your camera! If you’re in the mood for an activity the whole family is sure to enjoy, check out Laser Command, a new laser-tag facility, or Crystal Beach Pool, which features a curvy water slide.

Photo credit: Visit Madison

2 Comments

  1. Neal

    March 3, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Correction on the Broadway fountain. It was presented to Madison in 1886, not “more than a century later”.

    • Brad Miller

      March 5, 2020 at 8:16 pm

      To call Madison’s Historic Landmark District, (which is the largest contiguous district in America) simply a historic district is insulting. This is not a run of the mill town, it’s very special.

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