Madison Green Historic District Tour
This tour is the first in a series of explorations of the historic places and people of Madison, Connecticut. On this journey of discovery, you will explore 33 vital resources in the Madison Green Historic District.
This distinctive and diverse district lies mostly along the Boston Post Road in the area that flanks the southern edge of the town green, which is actually privately owned by the First Congregational Church. It also includes iconic historic structures that lie to the north, east, and west of the green, on Meetinghouse Lane and Britton Lane. Within this area, you will also find a small array of public monuments and at least two notable trees.
Why is this district significant?
Traditionally recognized as the center of the town, the green is surrounded by structures from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. These private residences, churches, and civic structures reflect much of the history of Madison’s built environment. As is true in many New England towns, the structures date from the colonial period to the modern era.
When does the story begin?
This particular story begins in 1685, after the area’s long history of Native American habitation and cultivation and after the early incursions of white newcomers. It describes the development of a coastal farming and maritime community that began long before the town of Madison was established in 1826, and it continues through the twenty-first century. The story of this district shows how and why this area became—and is still—the heart of the community, and it also offers clues to local, regional and national history during the course of nearly 400 years.
Who are the characters in this story?
The names and stories you will hear on this tour are the names and stories of citizens who were actively engaged in community life—socially, politically, economically, and artistically. Each of these builders, owners, residents, and visitors to these structures contributed to the cultural identity of our town.
The stories of their accomplishments offer windows into Madison’s commerce and industry. Through inspiring tales of practical industry and creative invention, we learn about our shared human heritage of ingenuity and excellence. We are urged towards our own community engagement, which ensures Madison’s future.
Through the stories of their challenges, sorrows, and inconsistencies, we are reminded that human nature also is flawed—and we can reflect on society’s changing—and unchanging—attitudes, perspectives, and laws.
Why do we have this district? Why do we tell these stories?
Stories about these places nurture an appreciation for local cultural history.
They encourage public engagement in traditional local pastimes, occupations, and pleasures.
Together they contribute to a rich history of local distinctiveness and community pride.
These stories spark lively conversations about our community’s past and present places and people.
Most importantly, stories about the past help us to discuss both traditional and unconventional ideas. They help us develop progressive ideas about cultural identity.
This digital storytelling project helps to highlight that Madison is a lively and lovely place to live, learn, work, and play.
We hope you enjoy this journey through time.
We hope you reflect on the important role of historic preservation.
We hope you take an active role in community life.
About the Green
In the twenty-first century, Madison’s green is a local hub for social events and cultural gatherings—from sunbathing, Frisbee-tossing, and picnicking to antiques fairs, farmers’ markets, and concerts. In this way, it is much like other New England greens. Its earlier history also echoes the stories of other iconic greens in Connecticut.
Originally set aside, very early in the settlement’s history, as a common area for the grazing of livestock, it was at first a rather unkempt expanse of sandy hillocks on the south side and swampy swales to the north. Crisscrossed by a messy web of uneven cartways, it stretched from Judd’s Hill at the west to what is now Academy Street at the east. Records show that by 1661 some efforts were already underway to protect and improve this parcel. By 1705 and 1743, when the first and second meetinghouses were built at its southeast corner, a haphazard arrangement of Sabbath-day houses and barns were scattered about the common. These allowed for a bit of shelter and comfort for worshippers and their horses, but they too were somewhat of a jumble.
In 1842, shortly after the construction of the present-day meetinghouse in 1838, the townspeople voted to clear the land, amid some controversy. Despite strong arguments for and against the beautification, all of the buildings were cleared by 1845, and the ground was prepared for something more genteel. By 1855, the marshy places had been drained and filled; walks were laid; elm, spruce, and fir trees were planted; fences were added—and later were taken away.
During the course of nearly 400 years, militias drilled here; geese grazed here; troops trained and mustered here; the church bells pealed for services and for special occasions, such as the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. More than a century after the Marquis’ reception at the home of Colonel Wilcox, the green’s majestic elms were wiped out in the hurricane of 1938, and the land was once again cleared and manicured. Today the four-acre-plus parcel remains at the heart of community life, both peaceful and lively in every season.