In my twenties, my in-laws always took me down to Madison, Indiana, for a birthday weekend. A big part of the appeal was Kentucky peaches which were at their peak of perfection about the time of my birthday. We always stayed at the Hillside Motel which, as the name indicates, perches on a hill high above the Ohio River so that you can sit on your balcony and watch the barges being shepherded down the river by their guardian tugboats. Some time during our stay, we crossed the bridge to Kentucky to visit Bray Orchards and buy peaches. The rest of the time, we wandered around Madison, which is one of the gems among Indiana cities, containing 133 blocks on the Historic Register, one of the largest historic designations in the nation.
Brenda and I decided to recreate what was a nostalgia trip for me. Not much has changed in Madison - which is one of the great things about it. Madison was formed in 1809. Its location on the Ohio River made it a boom town for a while, a center of transportation, manufacturing and agriculture. Then, like so many other places, the good times ended. Progress, if by progress, you mean destroying the old to make way for the new, was stopped in its tracks.
Fortunately, the town leaders recognized early on that their blocks of historic buildings, including 1600 homes, government centers and businesses, were something to be treasured and protected and themselves could become a source of tourism and income. They acted to put regulations in place so that any business wanting to locate in the city center had to conform to the architectural integrity they wanted to preserve. In Madison, no gaudy signs or bright plastic or metal store fronts were allowed downtown.
In the same way, the blocks surrounding the city center are filled with venerable old homes dating from the early 1800s, several open for tours. To the north, Madison is encircled by high wooded hills and to its south, it ends at a park fronting on the Ohio River.
On Brenda's and my trip, 35 years after my last visit, the Hillside Motel was still there and I even found Bray's Orchard on the internet. We made a run to the Kentucky side of the bridge so I could buy my peaches, then had dinner and meandered around town. In the evening, we sat on our balcony and watched the traffic on the river, including barges, boats and flocks of honking geese.
This weekend (Aug 17 thru 19) is Madison's Ribberfest, which they advertise as "barbeque, blues and balloons". Brenda and I had debated which weekend to take our trip. Our choices were the hustle-bustle, crowd-filled, music-drenched, mouthwatering barbeque of Ribberfest or the quiet of a weekend when nothing special was going on. In the end, we opted for the peace and relaxation of watching the river go by. Another year, we may try Ribberfest.
Either way, its nice to know that Madison will still be there, timeless as ever.