On Interstate 90 east of Cleveland, you’ll pass signs for the city of
Madison. Madison, Ohio is a town of about 2,500 residents. It's like countless
small communities we encounter along the interstate: there's a sign announcing
its presence and then we zip by. For most of us on the road, it's just a name.
But each community has its stories. Take Madison, for example. In its early
years, this was a manufacturing center, one of the largest in Ohio. By 1830,
Madison and its environs hosted a woolen mill, an iron plough factory, a chair
factory, four tanneries and six distilleries. Distilleries were so widespread in
that time because they offered a way of getting grain to market. Transportation
facilities were limited so it was difficult to, say, ship a ton of corn or wheat
to buyers in the east. But if you distilled the corn or wheat into alcohol, then
you could move the product, and it wasn't going to spoil. In those early days on
the frontier when cash was scarce, whiskey was even used as money–you could buy
that new kitchen table with a few jugs of moonshine.
Madison's most important industry, though, was stove manufacturing. Rich
iron ore deposits were discovered in the region which led to companies that
manufactured pig iron from the ore. The iron then was made into stoves–Buckeye
Stoves was one local brand–and were shipped as far as Detroit and Canada. These
iron stoves changed the lives of people on the frontier, giving pioneer woman a
safer and more efficient method of heating and cooking than open fireplaces.
By the late 1800's, Madison had become a furniture manufacturing center.
Actually, Madison's furniture business started with a funeral home that built
its own wooden caskets. When the funeral business got slow, they expanded into
wooden furniture, using the same tools and skills and employees that had been
used in manufacturing wooden caskets.
In more recent times, another well-known enterprise was established here.
The Mother Earth News, journal of the back-to-the-earth movement, was founded
near Madison and published from a small garage outside town.
None of those businesses remain here today. Iron stoves saw their time and
then were replaced by new and better equipment for cooking and heating,
furniture manufacturing moved to other regions, and even the Mother Earth News
transferred its offices.
But Madison goes on, providing a home for the people who live here. And who
knows what new enterprises will someday spring from its fertile soils?
For more about Madison and its surrounding communities, see the tape or CD
I-90 East: Cleveland to Erie