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Turning a Corner

Former Madison Country Club
revived as public facility


The riverfront property
has been transformed
many times over the years

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

Madison, Ind. (July 2003) – In January, a cornerstone of Madison society for nearly a century, the Madison Country Club, closed its doors. Once a premier gathering spot for the town’s coterie, the club had ultimately outlived its heyday.
“The club was failing financially; we just didn’t have enough members,” said Madison Chemical CEO and former club member Dick Goodman.

Madison Country Club

Photo by Don Ward

Madison Country Clubhouse today.

Unwilling to let the facility fall into obscurity, about 30 former club members, including Goodman, formed Crooked Creek, LLC, which purchased the property in April. The idea behind the action, according to Goodman, was to preserve the historical use of the property for dining and golf, but not as a private club. Rather, both the golf course and club house have been leased to separate outside operators to be opened for public use. So to remain a viable enterprise, the property is undergoing yet another transition.
Although best known to most local residents as the Madison Country Club, the clubhouse and surrounding grounds has had a storied past over the years – much of which may be unknown to today’s area residents. The site has served many different purposes before becoming a social retreat. Existing at various times as privately owned property, fairgrounds, a Civil War hospital, horse race track and Chautauqua festival location, the property’s rich history is worth a closer look:
Hunter House, 1842: According to old newspaper clippings and deed records, the clubhouse was built around 1842 as the private family home of John W. and America Hunter. “It is believed the house was built about 1842 and was occupied first by J.W. Hunter, and later by Cortice W. Hunter. At least the building was known as the Hunter house in 1865...” reads a Madison Courier article dated Jan. 1, 1959.

Civil War hospital wards

Photos courtesy of the Jefferson Co. Historical Society Museum

Civil War hospital wards

State Fairgrounds, 1854: Plat maps reveal that adjacent to the Hunter property was land owned by Jesse Whitehead. According to archives of the Jefferson County Historical Society, Whitehead donated his land for use as a fairgrounds, and in 1854 the Indiana State Fair was held there. At that time, it was not unusual for the state fair to be held in a different location each year.
Madison General Hospital, 1863-1865: In the spring of 1863, the Madison General Hospital, one of the largest Civil War hospitals of its day, was built on the bulk of the former Hunter and Whitehead properties.
According to a historical report of the hospital, compiled by Phillip L. Hall, the hospital was built at the request of Gen. William McKee Dunn, a member of U.S. Congress and a Jefferson County, Ind., native. “It was to be built on the sight of the Old Indiana State Fair grounds approximately one mile west of downtown Madison,” Hall said in his report.
“The site was a total of 37 acres, which now encompasses the Madison Country Club and its golf course,” Hall continued. The Hunter House became the commandant’s residence, according to Hall, and more than 60 buildings were constructed as hospital wards.

Beech Grove Horse Park

Photos courtesy of the Jefferson Co. Historical Society Museum

Beech Grove Horse Park

The hospital, which cared for wounded Union soldiers from Civil War battles, was one of the largest Union hospitals of its time, “second in size only to the permanent major army hospital in Philadelphia,” according to Hall.
In September 1865, the hospital was closed. It has been speculated by some local residents that the wards of the hospital were sold and moved, becoming row houses along West Main St. But according to Jefferson County Historical Society archivist Ron Grimes, the size of the houses and the pitch of their roofs make such a scenario unlikely.
Grimes has recently compiled a number of records of the hospital, now on display in the historical society’s museum of history as part of a Civil War exhibit.
Beech Grove Trotting Association, 1875-1900: In his book, “The Early Architecture of Madison,” the late John Windle wrote about the formation of the Beech Grove Trotting Association in 1875. “Its stockholders purchased the Whitehead and Hunter properties encompassing the grove and the Hunter mansion,” Windle wrote.
Prior to the association’s purchase of the property, in the 1870s it was known as Beech Grove Park because of an impressive stand of beech trees located on the Whitehead property. According to Windle, “A half-mile race track was erected, along with stables and a baseball diamond in the track’s infield.” Photos dating back to the time period reveal the location of the track and its use for horse racing. Old photos show the track location along the Ohio River, and an oval-shaped impression where the track was once located is still visible on the fairways of the golf course.

Lillian McCoskey

Photo by Ruth Wright

Lillian McCoskey

In his book, Windle also maintained that the association talked the county fair board into moving its annual agricultural fair from North Madison to the new park.
Chautauqua, 1901-1929: In 1901, the first Chautauqua, part religious revival, part social festival, was held in Beech Grove Park. “In 1900, it was proposed to convert a former fairgrounds and race track in Madison into a summer-long Chautauqua and pleasure resort,” according to “Chautauqua in Indiana,” by Frank Miles.
The first event, held in July 1901, was less than successful. But a revival of the event in 1903 met with more enthusiasm. People came from the surrounding area and pitched tents to enjoy a variety of entertainment, including speeches, lectures, music and plays.
“From this grew one of Indiana’s most successful independent chautauquas. It continued until 1929,” Miles wrote.
Today’s Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art, held each year in September in downtown Madison, is nothing like its original predecessor.
Country Club, 1913-2003: In October 1913, a group of 11 Madison men formed a corporation with the “purpose of establishing a house and grounds for social meetings, and for athletic exercises,” according to a certificate of incorporation on record at the Jefferson County courthouse. The men adopted the name “Madison Country Club.”
Lillian McCoskey, 83, probably knows more about the country club’s early years than anyone. When she was four years old, her parents, Stewart and Phillipine Douglass, were hired to manage the club. The family lived in rooms on the second floor of the clubhouse, which McCoskey recalled being very cold in the winter because they were not heated.
Despite having chilly bedrooms in the winter, McCoskey has many fond memories of growing up at the country club, during a time when gentlemen tipped their hats to ladies and called them “miss.”
For nearly 18 years, she called the clubhouse her home. “I learned to play golf when I was real young,” said McCoskey, who, along with her brothers, Forrest and Robert, also used the greens as their play yard when they weren’t in use by club members.

Chautauqua barn

Photos courtesy of the Jefferson
Co. Historical Society Museum

Chautauqua barn

In the summer and on holidays, McCoskey’s parents would let out rooms to travelers for $21 a week, which included three square meals a day. Her mother developed an excellent reputation for her cooking and was well known throughout the area. Sometimes the demand for rooms was such that the family would let our their own private rooms, but just to regular patrons, McCoskey said.
The country club played host to a variety of travelers from as far away as Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington and Indianapolis, including Mr. and Mrs. Eli Lilly, who McCoskey remembered once stayed at the club.
McCoskey’s close association with the club didn’t end when she became an adult. Although her parents no longer worked there, McCoskey joined the club in 1936 and remained a member until the club closed this year. “It always kind of seemed like my home,” she said.
Montpelier Inn Restaurant; River Chase Golf Course, 2003: After Crooked Creek, LLC purchased the country club this year, the group of owners decided to sublet the property. “The driving force was that we wanted to perpetuate the idea of a golf facility and a restaurant,” said Goodman. That goal was realized with the lease of the clubhouse to Robin Henderson and the golf course to Mike Guthrie, adding yet another chapter to the country club’s history.
In June, Henderson opened Montpelier Inn, a restaurant in the clubhouse. An Indianapolis native, Henderson moved to Madison from Virginia a little more than a year ago. He and his wife, Margo, also own the Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop on Main Street.
Henderson hired former country club chef Adi Kienle to manage the kitchen. The restaurant offers a fine dining experience at a reasonable price, Henderson said.
Mike Guthrie Development Corp. leased the former country club’s nine-hole golf course and renamed it River Chase. Guthrie also owns Westwood Golf Course in Scottsburg, Ind. Guthrie offers joint membership to both golf clubs. River Chase is also open to the public for daily play. It is managed by Johnny Gullion, who also manages Westwood.
Goodman and his LLC partners say they are satisfied with the results of their effort so far. “We’re very hopeful. Both the operators seem very committed to making it work,” he said.

• To view a historical display on the Madison Country Club, visit the Jefferson County Historical Society, 615 W. First St., in Madison. For admission information and hours, call (812) 265-2335.

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