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Taking pride in preservation

Marketing Madison’s Landmark District
a challenge, officials say

By Don Ward
Editor

September 2006 Madison Edition Cover

September 2006
Madison Edition Cover

(September 2006) – It took seven years and contributions from many people on many levels for downtown Madison to earn its National Historic Landmark District status from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service. The historic district comprises most of the downtown, 133 blocks and about 2,000 acres and more than 1,600 historic structures built between 1817-1939 representing Federal, Greek Revival Italianate and other styles. And it puts Madison in the same company as other famous cities, such as Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C.
The announcement of that prestigious honor in April even prompted a visit by the Interior Department’s Acting Secretary P. Lynn Scarlett to present the award to city leaders in a ceremony held at the Broadway Fountain.
Since then, several people representing various historic and civic groups and Mayor Al Huntington’s office have been meeting on a regular basis to try and develop a marketing plan to take advantage of this award, considered the National Park Service’s highest honor. They want to promote the city as a national treasure and also educate local residents and business owners on its significance so they, in turn, can become ambassadors for the city when visitors come to town.
But that task has not been easy, considering the fact there is no state or federal marketing program in place to help small cities promote themselves. That job has been left to up each individual community.
Undeterred by the lack of a precedent, this group, under the direction of Historic Madison Inc. Executive Director John Staicer, who also heads one of the state’s most respected nonprofit historic preservation organizations, continues to work on a long-range plan.

John Staicer

John Staicer

“We’re really forging into relatively unexplored territory on this. It would be great if the National Park Service had a program of some kind in place, like the (President’s Advisory Council on Preservation’s) “Preserve America” or the (National Park Service’s) “Network to Freedom” (Underground Railroad initiative),” Staicer said.
So far, the group has been at work redesigning the Madison tourism logo into an image that can capture the essense of both preservation and tourism. They have sent design proposals to area graphic designers in hopes they can come up with a modified logo. They hope that, when complete, the logo can be used by many organizations, businesses and even city government on letterhead, literature and other materials to help sell Madison. They also have produced a small one-page brochure that briefly explains the significance of the designation.
“This represents a significant part of American history – not just Madison or Indiana’s history, but the history of our nation,” said Staicer. “And it’s certainly something that people can take pride in, whether they live here or are just visiting. So it is important that we do all we can to help people in town recognize the significance because we believe it will have a noticeable impact on the area’s tourism and economic development.”

Madison’s recent designation by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark District puts the Indiana town of 13,000 in rare company with the likes of Savannah, Ga., Charleston, S.C. Historic places are so designated because they are deemed by the Interior Secretary to possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.
While there are thousands of sites listed by the National Park Service on the National Register of Historic Places, only about 2,000 properties in the country are designated as Historic Landmarks, and of those even fewer are considered districts. Madison’s 133-block downtown is among the largest such district among small towns.
To learn more about the NPS’ National Historic Landmarks program, visit: www.cr.nps.gov/landmarks.htm.

He called the Landmark District status the result of many years of preservation efforts by local citizens who have lived and worked in the downtown.
HMI Programs Director Kim Nyberg, the former founding director of the Madison Main Street Program, said she hopes the new logo will be as symbolic for Madison as was the star-shaped emblem that was created in the 1970s for the Main Street Program. It is still used today, nationally.
Other ideas are in the works, some of which will be announced during a Sept. 15 reception being planned by HMI. The 7 p.m. reception at the Livery Stable, 313 Broadway, in downtown Madison will be a party-like atmosphere to replace the nonprofit organization’s Annual Dinner, according to Nyberg. The evening will feature hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar and live jazz music by the Rob Houze Quartet, plus free rides on the Madison Trolley and presentation of the organization’s annual Dorothy Inglis Reindollar Preservation Award.
The highlight of the evening will be the unveiling of the new National Historic Landmark District engraved plaque that will soon be erected in town. The location has not been determined. He said the decision is the community’s to make, emphasizing that “this is not HMI’s award, this is the community’s award.”
Staicer noted that the nomination process was funded by three sources: the Jefferson County Commissioners’ Historic Preservation Fund; the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology; and the National Park Service itself.
As a results, many local, state and federal dignitaries are expected to attend the reception to help celebrate the recent designation and join forces in spreading the word. Another event will be scheduled at a later date when the plaque is actually installed, Staicer said.
Carol Ahlgren, the Midwest Region’s National Park Service National Historic Landmarks coordinator, plans to attend, as does Marsh Davis, who on Sept. 1 took over as president of Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, headquartered in Indianapolis. Jon Smith, who until recently served as Indiana’s preservation director at the Department of Natural Resources, now works at the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., as associate director for Heritage Preservation Assistant Programs. He cannot attend the upcoming reception but was in Madison for last April’s celebration.

NHL Marker

Historic Madison Inc. will unveil the
city’s National Historic Landmark
District engraved plaque at a Sept. 15
reception in Madison. The plaque
will be installed at a later date.

All three preservation officers had a hand in Madison’s nomination process, which was guided by Camille Fife’s The Westerly Group consulting firm.
“It took seven years in the making, but it was really worth it,” said Smith, 40. “It was a longterm goal the state had when I became director in 1997. Now, branding the city as a Landmark District is going to be a huge task.”
He said the city’s recently released Walking Tour booklets “are amazing and everything is contiguous. But something new to concisely explain the significance of this designation may now be needed.”
Indeed, gaining the Landmark District status was a monumental task because it is bestowed on so few cities or properties. While there are more than 76,000 places in the country listed on the “National Register of Historic Places,” Madison joined an elite list of only about 2,000 properties that are deemed National Historic Landmarks – and even fewer are considered “districts.” Capitalizing on that status, however, now seems just as daunting for city leaders.
Local officials are encouraged, however, to see some signs that the status has already begun to pay off. A WDRB-TV Fox-41 TV News crew came to Madison in late August to broadcast its “Fox in the Morning” live show for a week. And a few national magazines have published news items or feature stories on the town since the Landmark District status was announced.“Obviously, the more publicity the better,” said Ahlgren, who is based at the Midwest Regional Office in Omaha, Neb.
Ahlgren, who admits she has a personal love for Madison, said the city’s Landmark District status was unusual in that it involved a partnership of the city, state and park service in both funding and facilitating the application process. She said other towns have held similar celebrations but agreed that there is no precedent or marketing model after which Madison officials can now use to promote the Landmark status.
She recalled attending a large celebration in nearby Columbus, Ind., a few years ago to mark that town’s landmark status, which was bestowed upon several properties.
“You can do whatever you want and for as long as you want to try and promote your town, but there isn’t any set formula that is handed down by the park service. You’re basically on your own.”

Marsh Davis

Marsh Davis

Ahlgren noted that the attendance in Madison of the Interior’s Department’s Scarlett was a highlight, but now that it has passed, it’s up to the local community to keep the excitement building.
“Flags are good – people are big on that. And brochures, if you have the money to create them. And this celebration we’re having in September will bring it to the attention of a lot of people, so I think that’s good,” Ahlgren said.
Educating local people and the business community about the award is also key to self-promotion, she said, because “it is the highest honor (the park service) can give to a place. “I don’t think anyone in Madison is surprised that the city received this award, but it’s a wonderful thing.”
Davis, who is returning to Indiana’s preservation organization after serving as executive director of Galveston (Texas) Historical Foundation, spoke at HMI’s Annual Dinner last year about the anticipated economic impact of Madison’s Landmark District status. At Historic Landmarks, Davis worked closely with groups around the state to document and preserve historic structures. In Madison, Davis played an integral role in ensuring the future of Eleutherian College, which is one of three National Historic Landmarks in Jefferson County. The others are the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site and the Charles L. Shrewsbury-Windle House.
Davis says it’s important to distinguish for people the difference between National Register status and a Landmark status because “the difference is extraordinary.” He believes state officials can help communities like Madison spread the word.
“It was always compared to Marshall, Mich., but it’s every bit as significant,” he said. “Both cities’ designations are archaeologically and historically well-deserved.”

Madison Main Street

Top photo by Don Ward;
bottom photo courtesy of Historic Madison Inc.

The facades of buildings along Madison’s Main Street today look much like they did in the 19th century (below). It is this mixture of commercial and residential properties that makes the city’s newly designated National Historic Landmark District so unique, preservationists say.

Historic Madison Main Street

Marshall, Mich., with a population of only 7,000 and situated near Battle Creek, earned its designation in 1991. At that time, there were only about 500 Landmark Districts in the country, with most located on the East Coast. The 850 historic buildings in Marshall’s district are about half as many as Madison’s. Yet, the two towns are very similar, said Sue Collins, 61, who with her late husband, John, played primary roles in Marshall’s nomination process.
The Shelbyville, Ind., native said both towns have fountains at the center of their commercial districts and both have hospitals as their largest employers. Both communities also were part of the Civil War era’s Underground Railroad anti-slavery movement.
The Collins help direct a group of local volunteers in their effort to push through that town’s nomination, which took 18 months to achieve and recognizes Marshall’s 19th century buildings of mostly Federal and early American architecture.
Collins said that in her experience, promoting the city’s Landmark District designation – one of only three in the state – is an ongoing campaign that requires as much media exposure as possible. She writes a monthly magazine column, and her late husband used to write a local newspaper column. He also stayed busy with speaking engagements for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Both have served terms as presidents of the state’s historical society, and John, who died two years ago at age 81, has even spoken in Madison, where the Collins have often visited.
Collins said Marshall’s volunteerism that emerged during the nomination process remained strong afterward to help promote it locally.
Drawing inspiration from Landmark Districts previously established in Cape May, N.J., and Port Townsend, Wash., volunteers in Marshall designed banners, a brochure and a logo that is still used on city letterhead and other tourism materials. One difference from Madison is that Marshall’s Landmark committee is a function of city government and whose members are appointed by the mayor.
But the city still struggles to fight demolition of historic buildings because it has no historic review board or commission, which Madison does have.
Still, the designation has made a difference in putting Marshall on the map, Collins said.
The city has been featured twice in the New York Times and in several national magazines.
“It has gone a long way to help the city, and we’ve seen a constant increase in tourism, though it’s hard to measure. But it’s extremely rare to have one in the Midwest.”
Madisonians are hoping that rarity can bring their city big returns very soon.

• Reservations for Historic Madison Inc.’s Sept. 15 reception are $15 per person and must be made by Wednesday, Sept. 6. Seating is limited. To reserve call HMI at (812) 265-2967. Learn more about Madison’s preservation heritage and the new Landmark District status at: www.historicmadisoninc.com.

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