Madison was incorporated in 1809 and named in honor of U.S. president James Madison, who negotiated a treaty with nearby Creek Indians. Many of the town's original settlers had received land grants in the region as compensation for their service during the American Revolution (1775-83). The early settlers planned their town with a geometric regularity that reflected their English background. The town prospered during the first half of the nineteenth century as a result of the cotton boom, and large plantations soon covered the surrounding landscape. By 1820 Morgan County counted 13,520 residents, almost half of whom were slaves.
Education also played an important role in Madison before the Civil War (1861-65). Several private
Joshua Hill may be the town's most prominent resident. A U.S. congressman when the Civil War began, he resigned his position, despite opposing secession, and retreated to private life in Madison. In 1864 he reportedly convinced Union general William T. Sherman not to burn the town during his March to the Sea.
Although the town escaped Sherman's flames, a fire raged through the downtown area on April 9, 1869, destroying forty-two stores and several other buildings and houses. Afterwards Madison did not regain the wealth and prominence it had possessed before the Civil War. The advent of public education in the 1870s forced the closure of many Madison private schools, and local cotton production never again equaled that of prewar years.
Madison grew some at the end of the nineteenth century, but the boll weevil crisis of the 1910s and 1920s, followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s, negatively affected Madison's population and economy. The introduction of dairy farming helped to ease the economic downturn, but Madison would not undergo a resurgence of growth until the 1970s, when Interstate 20 was constructed just a few miles south of the town.
Well-known residents of Madison in the twentieth century included writer Philip Lee Williams and self-taught artist George Madison, known as the "Dot Man." Madison's sons Benny Andrews, an accomplished artist, and Raymond Andrews, an award-winning novelist, were both born and raised near Madison.
Since the construction of the interstate, Madison has become home to several large businesses, including the restaurateur Avado, the audio equipment manufacturer Denon, the paper- and building-product manufacturer Georgia-Pacific, and the lawn seed and fertilizer producer Pennington. In 1974 the Madison Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places,
William Chapman, The Madison Historic Preservation Manual: A Handbook for Owners and Residents (Madison, Ga.: Madison Historic Preservation Commission, 1990).
Louise McHenry Hicky, Rambles through Morgan County: Her History, Century Old Houses and Churches, and Tales to Remember (Washington, Ga.: Wilkes Publishing, 1971).
Brian Melton, "'The Town That Sherman Wouldn't Burn': Sherman's March and Madison, Georgia, in History, Memory, and Legend," Georgia Historical Quarterly 86 (summer 2002): 201-30.
Adelaide W. Ponder, Madison
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