Thomas Family Winery

The Thomas Family Winery in downtown Madison, Indiana is housed in, appropriately, a vintage 1850’s old stable and carriage house. The interior is most welcoming, with tables set amidst a rustic motif, and there are outside tables as well for your pleasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This winery takes a bit of a different philosophy concerning their wine creations than other establishments. From the Thomas Family Winery website: “We feel that wine is food, and fills its greatest role as a mealtime beverage. We craft our wines in the European tradition of finesse, balance, and structure which particularly enhances the variety of flavors in meals.” Steve Thomas told us that they do not have any sweet wines, rather wines for pairing with meals. He expanded on their European style of wine making.

Maj tasting Gale Hard Cider

Owner Steve Thomas with our purchase

 
Owner Steve was most gracious and took plenty of time to explain what their winery is all about. The tastings were complimentary, and we did purchase a bottle of Niagara 2020. We did not partake of the bread and cheese offerings. That will be on another trip. We will be returning to enjoy the weekend live music. The supply of Gale Hard Cider will be restocked then as well. I liked that Cider! The Thomas Family Winery should be on your list of places to visit in Historic Madison, Indiana.

Hanging Rock, Madison, Indiana

Traveling from Columbus, Indiana to Madison on the Ohio River via Highway 7 you’ll enjoy a slightly rolling countryside of farms interspersed with small towns and villages. As you approach Madison you see smoke stacks of a power plant that is right on the Indiana side of the Ohio. Soon you will see road signs warning of hairpin turns and steep grades. No lies there, Highway 7 drops very fast and twisty on the way down to the town of Madison.

Soon you come to Hanging Rock. There on the north side of the road is a quite impressive rock cliff complete with an active waterfall. Hanging Rock has been an important landmark in Madison since, well, when the first winding path snaked its way from the top of the hill down to the river. Today there is a pull out that allows uphill traffic to drive behind the falling water. Even during droughts the water always cascades down the cliff.  The feature was formed by glaciers thousands of years ago.

Old concrete fence posts dot the Midwest

A 1915 Purdue University guide to concrete fence posts

Take a drive on most any rural Indiana road or some other Midwest states and it won’t be long until you spot some rather massive concrete pillars apparently serving no purpose. These are in fact old, now abandoned concrete fence posts. Decades and decades ago almost all farmsteads raised livestock, including work horses, thus strong “cattle and horse tight” fencing was an absolute necessity.

Constructing livestock fencing that is functional and remains functional year after year is a skill that farmers and ranchers had. One of the important parts of a good fence is the end post and/or corner posts. These posts anchor the wire fence that stretches along the length of the particular fence line. If the end and corner posts do not hold, the fence wire will sag and livestock will get out, causing quite the kerfuffle.

Remnants of fence wire is still wrapped around this post

This post had white wash and weeds clipped

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old concrete fence posts can be seen alongside many roads in the country. Sometimes you can tell from the locations of these relics coupled with the position of mature trees where once stood an old house and barn yard. Some will be painted, others will be nearly covered with weed and bush growth. They do stand as a reminder of the days when all farm families raised livestock as a part of their livelihood.

This is the link to the 1915 pamphlet pictured above.

 

 

 

Greek Revival Lanier Mansion finished in 1844

Madison, Indiana is known for it many historic buildings, including some of the best examples of Greek Revival architecture preserved in the country. The Lanier Mansion was the home of James Franklin Doughty Lanier, a banker, railroad developer and Clerk of the Indiana General Assembly. The south face of the home faces the Ohio River, and is considered the “front door” to the mansion.

The Ohio River is behind the camera

Spiral staircase in the mansion. Photo courtesy Ind. State Museum

From an Indiana State Museum website: Francis Costigan designed the mansion with many Greek Revival features. These include its square plan, the full façade porch on the south elevation, the Corinthian columns on the south portico, the Doric pilasters that appear on several locations on the exterior, the massive exterior entablature and dentilated cornice, the ornamental anthemia, the ornamental pediments over the windows and doors, and the Ionic columns that separate the double parlors on the first floor.

West side of the mansion, Ohio River to the right

The Lanier Mansion was designed by renowned architect Frank Costigan, with the project completed in 1844. It is now part of the Indiana State Museum system as an official Historic Site. It has been referred to as the Crown Jewel of the Madison Historic District, and provides insight into the life and times of the 1840’s Indiana along the Ohio River.

 

Jefferson Proving Grounds use today

In 1940 the US War Department designated 56,000 acres in southern Indiana as a future munitions testing area. In May of 1941 the first round of ammunition was fired from the firing line. Thus began the long history of the Jefferson Proving Grounds (JPG).

View from US Highway 421

Driving on US Highway 421 (the old Michigan Road) north of Madison, Indiana you’ll see on the west side of the road a long barbed wire topped tall chain link fence set back from the road. It runs for 17 miles. Inside the fence there will be another road, and US Govt. No trespassing signs evenly spaced on the fence. This is the old JPG site.

The JPG closed in 1995, but is still utilized by different entities. Part of the acreage is now the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge. Over 1000 acres is still used as a munitions training area for Indiana National Guard Aviation wings. A local railroad museum has a collection of rail stock on an old rail line within the site. Some areas are open for camping and seasonal permit hunting.

Signage on US 421

Boarded up original gate house

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following is from a Site Status Summary from this USNRC website: “JPG was established in 1940 for the purpose of production and specification testing of all types of ammunition, projectiles, propellants, cartridge cases, primers, fuses, boosters, bombs, and grenades. From 1941-1995, over 24 million rounds of conventional explosive ammunition were fired.” To this day there are areas within the old firing range that still contain millions of rounds of unexploded ordinance making those areas extremely dangerous.

Indiana’s First Volunteer Fire Department

Madison, Indiana was founded in 1809 on the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Louisville. The entire downtown has been designated part of a National Historic District. One part of this town’s fascinating history is the story of the Fair-Play Fire Co. Firehouse.

From a National Park Service article: “The Union Volunteer Fire Company organized in 1830 to help protect Madison’s citizens from fire, a very serious threat to 19th century communities. Several years later, the City of Madison voted to fund a paid municipal fire department, but within ten months the service was cancelled and the responsibility again rested on volunteer forces. In 1841, about 100 men, who originally were members of the Union Volunteer Fire Company, organized the Fair Play Fire Company No. 1, which is now the oldest volunteer company in Indiana.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of several active Volunteer Fire Departments protecting Madison, Indiana. Fair-Play Fire Company first saw action as a bucket brigade. They bought a hand drawn piece of equipment in 1851, and it is still owned by the department.  The tall tower on the firehouse was built to hang hoses to dry. Go to the NPS article, link above, for more details about the history of this fire company.

Another Indiana Bison-Tennial statue

Indiana’s Bicentennial was celebrated in 2016. As part of the celebration, fiberglass statues of bison were made available to each of Indiana’s counties. Local artists decorated them with themes and scenes of the local area and features. We have seen several of these during our travels around the state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We discovered this one in Osgood, Indiana, in south central Indiana. Named Ozzy, this bison was decorated/painted by Nancie Scott Davis. The bison Ozzy stands proudly on a gravel path with a beautiful mural on the wall of the adjacent building.

Treat yourself to the best

This barn’s Mail Pouch paint job is fading fast.

A Mail Pouch Barn is a barn with one or more sides painted with the slogan:

CHEW

MAIL POUCH

TOBACCO

TREAT YOURSELF TO THE BEST

Starting in 1890 the Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company of Wheeling West Virginia began offering farmers a bit of cash and a years supply of their Mail Pouch chewing tobacco in exchange for painting at least one side of their barn with their slogan. Even without the cash or product, a free coat of paint helps keep your barn siding protected, and this deal would look inviting.

The advertising campaign continued until the mid 1990’s. Over 20,000 barns in 22 Midwest and Southeastern states were painted during that 100+ year run. If you have any of these in your area or when you spot one while traveling, take a look. They won’t be around forever, and are an interesting slice of American rural history.