pride in preservation
Madisons Landmark District
a challenge, officials say
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 Interiors
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 Departments Acting Secretary P. Lynn Scarlett
to present the award to city leaders in a ceremony held at the Broadway
Since then, several people representing various historic and civic groups
and Mayor Al Huntingtons 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 Services 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 states most respected nonprofit historic preservation
organizations, continues to work on a long-range plan.
Were 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 (Presidents Advisory
Council on Preservations) Preserve America or the
(National Park Services) 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 Indianas history, but the history of our nation,
said Staicer. And its 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 areas tourism and economic development.
recent designation by the U.S. Department of the Interiors
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. Madisons
133-block downtown is among the largest such district among
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 organizations Annual Dinner,
according to Nyberg. The evening will feature hors doeuvres, a
cash bar and live jazz music by the Rob Houze Quartet, plus free rides
on the Madison Trolley and presentation of the organizations 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 communitys to make, emphasizing that this is not
HMIs award, this is the communitys 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 Regions 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 Indianas 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
Madison Inc. will unveil the
citys 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 Madisons
nomination process, which was guided by Camille Fifes 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 citys 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,
Ahlgren, who admits she has a personal love for Madison, said the citys
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 towns 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 isnt any set formula that is
handed down by the park service. Youre basically on your own.
Ahlgren noted that the attendance in Madison of the Interiors
Departments Scarlett was a highlight, but now that it has passed,
its 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 were having
in September will bring it to the attention of a lot of people, so I
think thats 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 dont think
anyone in Madison is surprised that the city received this award, but
its a wonderful thing.
Davis, who is returning to Indianas preservation organization
after serving as executive director of Galveston (Texas) Historical
Foundation, spoke at HMIs Annual Dinner last year about the anticipated
economic impact of Madisons 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
Davis says its 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 its every
bit as significant, he said. Both cities designations
are archaeologically and historically well-deserved.
photo by Don Ward;
bottom photo courtesy of Historic Madison Inc.
facades of buildings along Madisons 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 citys
newly designated National Historic Landmark District so unique,
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 Marshalls district
are about half as many as Madisons. Yet, the two towns are very
similar, said Sue Collins, 61, who with her late husband, John, played
primary roles in Marshalls 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
eras Underground Railroad anti-slavery movement.
The Collins help direct a group of local volunteers in their effort
to push through that towns nomination, which took 18 months to
achieve and recognizes Marshalls 19th century buildings of mostly
Federal and early American architecture.
Collins said that in her experience, promoting the citys 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 states 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 Marshalls 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 Marshalls
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
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
It has gone a long way to help the city, and weve seen a
constant increase in tourism, though its hard to measure. But
its extremely rare to have one in the Midwest.
Madisonians are hoping that rarity can bring their city big returns
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 Madisons preservation heritage and the new Landmark
District status at: www.historicmadisoninc.com.
Back to September 2006