Saddle Factory Future

First phase is complete on
historic Saddle Tree Factory

By Don Ward

MADISON, Ind. (March 2000) – The first phase of the $970,000 restoration of the Ben Schroeder Saddle Tree Factory is complete, and project manager John Staicer has begun the arduous task of returning the dozens of original artifacts to their original places inside the blacksmith shop.

Saddle Tree Factory Before

Photo by John Staicer

The Saddle Tree Factory before renovation.

“This is the exciting part for me, and if the weather improves, I can be out here a lot more,” Staicer said. “It’s pretty much a one-man job.”
The artifacts had been labeled and their places marked along the walls and benches. The artifacts were then stored in a warehouse. Staicer shot nearly 200 rolls of slide film of the site prior to restoration to use as a record of the interior’s original condition. He will use the slides to reinstall tools, patterns and other artifacts in their original locations.
Work will now begin on the second phase, restoring the woodworking shop next door. The final phase will be restoring the Schroeder house.
German immigrant John Benedict “Ben” Schroeder founded the factory, located at 106 Milton St. in downtown Madison. It operated from 1878 to 1972, employing a handful of people who made the interior wooden frames for horse saddles.
After Schroeder’s death in 1909, and the arrival of the automobile in the early 1900s, the family expanded its operation to include production of stirrups, hames (curved supports for horse draft collars), clothespins, work gloves and lawn furniture.
The Schroeders’ business was among 13 saddle tree factories that operated in Madison, supplying saddle frames for clients as far away as South America and the U.S. Army. Schroeder’s was the nation’s longest-running, continually operating 19th century saddle tree factory.

Saddle Tree Factory After

Photo by John Staicer

The Saddle Tree Factory after renovation.

Four of Ben and Elizabeth Schroeder’s eight children continued to run the business after their parents’ death. They all lived in the house and never married. The last surviving family member, Joseph Schroeder, lived in the house until his death in 1972.
The Schroeder Foundation in 1975 donated the site to Historic Madison Inc. with the intention of restoring the factory and opening it as an interactive museum. The museum is expected to open sometime in 2001 and will entertain school and civic groups and other visitors interested in learning about this unique aspect of Madison’s industrial past.
Staicer, 39, a Valley Stream, N.Y., native who holds an advanced degree in museum management, was hired in 1991 to direct the project and will stay on to supervise programming for the new facility, which will likely be open from April to October each year.
About 80 percent of the money to restore the factory came from the state of Indiana. The rest was provided by private sources, including the Lilly Endowment, Ogle, Horn and Cinergy foundations.
The ambitious restoration project required stripping away the floor and walls to shore up the building’s foundation and support structures. Much of original flooring was replaced, but some of the wall boards had to be reconstructed. The knob-and-tube lighting, with its hanging bulbs, however, was retained.
“One of the things we wanted to do was retain the integrity of the property and make it a museum-quality restoration,” Staicer said. “That meant retaining as much of the original fabric as possible.”

• To learn more about the project, call Staicer at (812) 265-3426 or visit the Saddle Tree Museum website at: http://www.imh.org/imh/saddle/home.html.

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