from national preservationists amid
leaders are mobilizing an effort
to try and attract more visitors
MADISON, Ind. (November 2004) The fruits of Madisons
four decade-long dedication to historic preservation were thrust into
the spotlight in late September when two prestigious groups of preservationists
toured the town as part of the National Trust for Historic Preservations
annual conference in nearby Louisville.
The chance to show off Historic Madison Inc.s properties,
such as the Schroeder Saddletree Factory Museum and the Francis Costigan
House, plus the state-owned Lanier Mansion State Historic Site gave
local heritage site representatives a reason to be proud. Even Madison
Mayor Al Huntington was beaming as he greeted a bus load of 50 preservation
enthusiasts from around the country on Friday, Oct. 1, prior to their
tour of town.
Huntington also greeted a group of National Trust officers at City Hall
on Sept. 27 prior to the opening of the Louisville conference. At that
meeting, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation officers
recognized Madison as Indianas first Preserve America
community. John Fowler, executive director of the Advisory Council on
Historic Preservation, announced the designation by the White House
and cited Madisons 113 blocks of downtown on the National Register
of Historic Places, including two National Historic Landmarks, the Lanier
Mansion and the Shrewsbury-Windle House.
Both tours, organized chiefly by HMIs John Staicer and Kim Franklin
Nyberg, brought national exposure to this town of only 13,000. Fridays
day-long tour was a sellout and culminated with a reception with HMI
matriarch Ann Windle, 93, who greeted the visitors at her Shrewsbury-Windle
House on First Street.
After a day of touring and lunch at Eckert, Alcorn, Goering & Sage
law office, an award-winning adaptive re-use historic building, those
people loved Madison, and some of them had tears in their eyes when
they boarded the bus to go back to Louisville, said Nyberg.
Whats more, Madison gained national recognition on Thursday, Sept.
30, when HMIs Saddletree Factory Museum was among 21 national
award winners announced by National Trust officials at the Louisville
Palace before a crowd of nearly 2,000.
Huntington and Staicer were among a group representing Madison in accepting
the award, and a short video presentation explained the significance
of the decade-long effort to preserve and open as a musuem the Saddletree
Factory. On Friday, the museum was prominently featured in a Louisville
Courier-Journal article as part of its weeklong coverage of the conference.
This is a great honor because the National Trust is the premier
historic preservation conference in the United States. And for them
to come to Madison all day is very significant, said Staicer,
who last year took over for retiring John Galvin as HMIs executive
director after having spent nearly a decade working exclusively on the
Madison has become one of the great historic towns in the country
and the National Trust recognizes that. Were just excited
and delighted to be honored in this way.
Staicer called the Saddletree Factory Museum award a really big
deal a once-in-a-lifetime event. Its like youre at
the Olympics and youve just won the gold medal.
Disturbing trends in visitation
But amid all the hoopla and rejoicing was a somber message emanating
from the conference workshops that of dwindling attendance at
the nations heritage tourism sites. And Madisons historic
properties are not exempt from this national trend.
In fact, walk-in attendance has been steadily declining for several
years at some properties (see graph, page 18). Although Staicer reports
an increase in overall visitation this year over last year at HMI historic
properties, he says the number of walk-in visitors is down. The increase
is due mainly to group and bus tours.
by Don Ward
Madison Inc.s John Staicer and Kim Franklin Nyberg read
a Louisville Courier-Journal article about Madisons participation
in the National Trust for Historic Preservation Conference.
Visitors at Madisons top tourism attraction, the
Lanier Mansion, steadily dropped from 29,326 in 1999 to a five-year
low of only 12,367 last year. Visitation is down 25 percent so far in
2004 from the previous year, figure show. In early September, the mansion
began charging an admission for guided tours of the house. No self-guided
tours are available. Admission to the 10-acre grounds and gardens is
still free. To tour the mansion, the charge is $4 adults, $3.50 seniors
and $2 for children ages 6-16.
In November, state officials are expected to discuss changes to the
various other user fees in place at the states historic sites,
including those fees for weddings and other specialevents booked at
Lanier Mansion, said curator Link Ludington.
The user fees we have now have been in place for a long time,
he said. The fees may be adjusted for each site, depending on
demand for usage and location.
The Jefferson County Historical Society Museum reports a 20 percent
decline through the end of September compared to the same period last
year. And that was even despite a bump in last years attendance
created by the Harlan Hubbard art exhibit, said executive director Joe
And while HMI reports a slight increase of 2 percent compared to this
time last year, last years total of 6,710 walk-in visitors is
dramatically below the 7,929 reported in 2000.
Well aware that heritage tourism comprises a large portion of the citys
attraction for visitors, representatives of local historic properties
in October began meeting on a regular basis to formulate an action plan
to try and stem the attendance slide.
Developing a plan of action
Specifically, this group, which calls itself the Madison Area Heritage
Sites Roundtable, is working to revive the combination ticket system
that was in place a few years ago that offered discounts on admission
to the areas historic sites. The ticket would include admission
to HMIs properties (the Judge Jeremiah Sullivan House, Dr. William
Hutchings Office, Francis Costigan House, and the Talbott-Hyatt
Pioneer Garden), the Lanier Mansion, the Jefferson County Historical
Society Heritage Museum, the Madison Railroad Depot, the Lanier-Schofield
House and two new museums that have opened since the last time the tickets
were used the Gatehouse Mental Health Museum at the Madison State
Hospital and Eleutherian College in Lancaster. After having gained the
support of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau board members
at its October meeting, the group hopes to have the ticket available
for the 2005 tourist season, said Staicer.
Its an informal group; the properties just want to speak
with a unified voice on this issue and see what we can do by working
together, said the historical societys Carr. I feel
better about us working together than I have in many years. Theres
a good spirit of cooperation among other properties.
Lanier Mansion curator Link Ludington said, I see
this group as an informal opportunity to get together on an occasional
basis to establish some regular communication between the historic properties
in town and to coordinate any activities we undertake with other groups,
like the CVB or the chamber or whoever, so we are all operating on the
To help develop additional ideas, the group on Nov. 8 plans to meet
with an Indianapolis-based heritage tourism consultant, Brenda Myers,
vice president of marketing and public relations for the Indiana Historical
Society. With 20 years of experience in cultural heritage tourism marketing,
Myers said it can be useful for heritage site operators to hear a fresh
perspective from someone on the outside.
Heritage sites can often go through cycles, and I hope that we
can get some creative thinking going when I meet with the people in
Madison, Myers said in a recent telephone interview.
A Tennessee native, Myers graduated from Indiana University then returned
to work in newspapers before eventually moving into cultural tourism
marketing. Prior to taking her current post at the Indiana Historical
Society, she spent 13 years at Conner Prairie, a living history museum
north of Indianapolis where she helped develop what she calls aggressive
programming that led to increased attendance. The marketing
is only as good as the programming, she said.
While in Madison, Myers plans to help local heritage site operators
do some self analysis and see what works and build on what works.
In doing so, she believes the site operators can develop some targeted
programming, either individually or collectively.
She said sites must work within their limited budgets and that no matter
how large the facility, your resources are relative. Were
a large facility (at the Indiana History Museum) and we feel like we
never have enough money.
At the National Trust Conference in Louisville in late September, a
panel of experts discussed the downward trend in heritage site visitation
nationwide. They reported that only two for-profit historic
properties reported an increase in attendance last year Elvis
Presleys Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., and George Vanderbilts
Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. Both sites rely on slick advertising
campaigns to attract visitors.
Thats a luxury that few non-profit heritage sites can afford.
Back to November 2004