The Visitor Center
12 School Street
Madison’s Visitor Center, operated by the Madison Chamber of Commerce, is a classic revival building. Constructed in 1875, it was, for more than fifty years, the only building in Madison that housed town offices. Initially, it held probate records and other town documents. In 1915 the original structure, which had been moved back in 1896 to align with the new Memorial Hall, was altered to include a town clerk’s office. When Memorial Hall was renovated in 1939, all town records and offices were moved to that building, where they remained until 1995.
In the mid-twentieth century, this little building was used as the town’s only police station and courthouse. There, a local official tried traffic violations, disruptions of peace, and similar offences. The story goes that one of its two vaults was turned into a jail cell to hold individuals suspected of crimes. The larger of the vaults measures only 4 feet by 5 feet wide and apparently included manacles set in its walls, so it can’t have been a comfortable place in which to do time, even temporarily.
Longtime Madison residents sometimes call this building the “powder house.” This nickname, which was once widely used, originated from a story that nearby merchant Philander P. Coe stored gunpowder in the vaults at the town clerk’s office. Mary Scranton Evarts repeats this story in an essay in Madison’s Heritage, with the implication that the town’s only brick building was a safe storage area for the gunpowder widely used in hunting and blasting. However, as former town historian Warner Lord pointed out in his book, The Green People, it may be assumed that the Town Clerk might have been “averse to having gunpowder mixed with his records.” Today the vaults are no longer used to store anything or anyone of historical or monetary significance.
Now the building holds the office of the Madison Chamber of Commerce and serves as a seasonal visitor center and public rest area. Varied service organizations also use the space for meetings. The Visitor Center is open from 10 am to 4 pm from May through October.