History Lessons

Madison Trolley signs to be
remade into historical markers

15 rehabbed signs to go up
in the city before tourism season

By Don Ward

(February 2013) – An effort is under way to refurbish and replace 15 Madison Trolley signs throughout the downtown and enhance them by including brief lessons and photographs of the city’s history. Many of the steel framed signs have been taken down over the years and others fell into disrepair. Three signs were found lying in the city garage.

Trolley sign

Photo by Don Ward

This trolley sign
stands in front of
the Comfort Station
on Madison’s Main
Street. It is larger
than the other signs
to be erected so it
can be seen by
motorists, but
it has the same
framework design.

Camille Fife, the city’s Preservation Officer, has led the effort as part of the History Committee of the Milton-Madison Bridge Mitigation Team. Fife has been working with other committee members to redesign the signs and eventually have them mounted at key locations prior to the start of tourism season in May.
Fife led a trolley ride tour of the sign locations Jan. 17 that attracted a group of about 20 people, many of whom represented the various groups involved. Ron Grimes, archivist with the Jefferson County Historical Society Research Library, provided the historical photos and helped write the copy for the signs, along with Rhonda Deeg of Historic Madison Inc. and Jan Vetrhus of the Cornerstone Society.
The money to rehabilitate and erect the 15 signs will come from generous donations provided by King’s Daughters’ Health and Trilogy Health Services, plus another $10,000 from the Milton-Madison Bridge Mitigation Fund.
The initiative, which began six months ago, also included the Madison Riverfront Development Committee, but its president, Jim Pruett, said his group had not been contacted to participate. He asked that the signs not be erected until his committee members had reviewed the plans for each sign and approved of them. Fife said the Riverfront Development Committee had been invited to the meetings and that she would ensure that the committee members were also invited to attend future meetings regarding the signs.
During the trolley tour, Fife emphasized that the narrative to be written on the signs and the location of the signs had not yet been finalized. Input was being sought during the tour, and Fife passed around drafts of the historical narratives to be written on each sign.
The original trolley signs were created years ago to mark actual stops along the trolley route. But the Madison Trolley had not been driving that route or making those stops for many years. In fact, in recent years, the trolley only operated on weekends and for special events during the summer and fall seasons, according to trolley driver Judy Duncan.

Sign location maps

The signs are owned by the Madison Trolley owners – Dave Adams, Jim Grant and Kathie Petkovic – and maintained by the city of Madison. Fife said the committee wanted to rehabilitate the existing metal signs as a way of saving money. But they want to embed the narratives and photos in a fiberglass panel. The panels will be more longlasting, she said.
“With the new design and placement, we are not thinking of these as just trolley signs anymore but rather as amenities for tourists to read and experience streetside history,” Fife explained. The trolley would not even be stopping at most of these locations; rather the signs would simply be historical markers for pedestrians to read tidbits of history on each one.
“It was not easy to stay under 50 words on each sign. We usually started with 80 or 90 words and had to keep cutting it down,” Deeg said.
Each sign will have historical narratives printed on both sides, with separate topics on each side. The signs recount the following topics: Indiana’s First Railroad; Madison’s Boat Builders; Madison’s Iron Foundries; Railroad on the Riverfront; Crystal Beach Pool; the 1937 Flood; Steamboats; Madison Regatta; Gas, Coal and Tobacco; Eagle Cotton Mill; Milton-Madison Bridge; Madison’s Breweries; Madison Founder John Paul; Madison Early History; Mulberry Street Businesses; Madison in the Movies; Jefferson County Courthouse; Madison’s Commercial District; Madison’s Fire Companies; and Old City Hall and Post Office; Broadway Fountain; Broadway School; Public Library; Madison Chautauqua; Lydia Middleton Elementary School; Trolley Barn; Building Roads; Servicing the Automobile.
One trolley sign that is quite a bit larger than the others is already posted in front of the Comfort Station on Main Street, and the trolley actually does stop there. This sign is larger because it was primarily designed for motorists instead of pedestrians to see. The other signs will have the same framwork design but are smaller.

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