A Look at Architecture
cast iron features
to be subject of Cornerstone speaker
helped prepare the city's historic guidelines
(February 2012) Madison, Ind., is known for its
ornate architecture and historical significance. Each year certain measures
are taken to help maintain its old world charm in a modern world.
One man who has helped preserve Madisons historic
exterior is Phil Thomason. Thomason, principal of the preservation planning
firm Thomason and Associates, has previously prepared Madisons
historic guidelines. While here, he took notice of the unique 19th century
cast iron architecture in the downtown buildings.
When the Cornerstone Society was preparing to hold its annual meeting,
Thomason, 58, was mentioned as a speaker. It was decided that he would
come back to speak not only about the cast iron but its history and
importance in the town. Cornerstone Society is a historic preservation
group based in Madison.
The presentation for the annual meeting will be at 10 a.m. Saturday,
Feb. 4, at the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library, 420 W. Main
St. Thomason has previously spoken in Madison while preparing the historic
guidelines. However, this will be his first time speaking specifically
about the cast iron architecture.
Thomasons interest and knowledge of preservation was influenced
by the historic neighborhoods he grew up in. He eventually earned an
masters degree in Historic Preservation from the University of
Thomason shifted into consulting work and was a preservation planner
for Building Conser-vation Technology Inc. In 1982 he became the founder
of his current business, Thomason and Associates in Nashville, Tenn.
Thomasons specialization goes beyond just building facades though.
His company has also covered cultural resource surveys, environmental
assessments and even military architecture.
A few years ago when he was asked to come to Madison to do the towns
designer review guidelines, something caught his attention: the cast
Madison has a really great collection of cast iron store fronts,
he said. Its found really in just about any downtown area
but the quality and quantity of Madisons is particularly high.
The mentioned guidelines were geared for the board of architectural
review to use them in the future. While preparing these guidelines,
Thomason and his team worked to keep the character of the buildings.
Therefore, any major future changes would use the design guidelines
Former Cornerstone Society president Rich Murray was involved with the
project and remembers Thomasons offhanded comment about wanting
to come back and study the cast iron.
So when the project was finished in 2009, Murray remembered Thomason
and his eye for cast iron.
Madison is unique. And unfortunately many people here in town
dont recognize just how unique it is, said Murray. I
feel we need people like Phil to come here and tell us.
Thomason plans to speak about why cast iron was so popular during the
1800s and how it enabled business people to do additional marketing.
He also intends to discuss how in the early 20th century the cast iron
began to fade out with a rise in steel and commercial buildings.
Thomason explains that many communities have these cast iron store fronts
that coincide with the buildings dating primarily between the 1840s
and 1880s. When the cast iron was manufactured during the 1800s, it
provided a very good compression strength and could convey the weight
of the building while also opening up the front to allow more freedom
for designs such as decorations and larger windows.
Thomason wants his audience to know the significance this has held in
architectural history. Not only did it create a new way of supporting
buildings, but it gave way to different molds, such as stars or floral
designs to make the outside more appealing. These designs can be seen
everywhere from Main Street in Madison to Soho in New York.
For Thomason, the main issue is being able to preserve and maintain
the cast iron. Many buildings have enclosed the original designs with
later materials, and Thomason encourages revealing these primary pieces
of construction. However, he credits downtown Madison for a number of
buildings that have a round columns made of cast iron and overall original
But why should anyone care about cast iron other than being used for
cookware? For Murray, it is saving something that has survived in some
areas but lost in others. Even downtown, many people may not realize
they are looking at cast iron storefronts. Sometimes, it can look like
wood, while other times its due to simply not realizing what is
there. This is why Thomason is coming to speak about this topic and
how it makes Madison unique.
Jan Vetrhus, Cornerstone Society president, said that Thomasons
dedication for historical preservation is just another reason to have
him come and speak.
Weve walked up and down Main Street, and weve taken
it for granted, she said. Its always nice to have people
who are really experts in their field and remind us how special the
Madison district really is.
And its the steps such as this that make the effort to help locals
recognize what is in the community. Problems of losing bits and pieces
of history are sometimes inevitable, but its preserving what is
here that keeps that history rich and the cast iron shiny.
Back to February 2012