Window Shopping for History

Window Shopping for History
August 8, 2012 Visit Madison

If you were window shopping along Madison’s Main Street, would you be interested to learn a bit about the history of those commercial buildings?  Some Madison folks are thinking you would be. They’ve undertaken a project to research that history and make it easily visible in storefronts.

The research program started with Rhonda Deeg of Historic Madison Inc., but the idea of putting the information in front of shoppers’ eyes is credited to Sandy Schaerli, who volunteers with both Historic Madison Inc. and the Madison Main Street Program.

Her idea is to place 7-by-10-inch decals on shop windows. Each will have four or five bullet points about prior occupants.  “It makes it fun when you walk around, to envision how it really looked,”Sandy says.

She started with a circa-1850 structure she owns at 103 E. Main Street, now the home of Harriette’s Knit Knook. She can document that it’s been used as a candy store, fur shop, five-and-dime, political headquarters, beauty shop, paint store and more.

It was once the office of Dr. William A. Collins, a 1860 graduate of Hanover College who was a military doctor during the Civil War. Serendipitously, Sandy discovered that it was Dr. Collins’ widow who donated the large cannonball displayed at the bottom of the Civil War monument at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Details like that help history come alive, Sandy thinks.

It takes a tremendous amount of time to research every commercial building in Madison. Fortunately there has been a full-time intern this summer to help.

Bob Waldren of Indianapolis, who will soon start his senior year at Hanover College, is interning through Hanover’s Business Scholars Program. He’s using his expertise with Excel spreadsheets to document information contained in 21 Madison business directories from the years 1887 to 1975. He’s also using other sources at the public library and Jefferson County Historical Society archives.

While the immediate gratification for Rhonda and Sandy will be the storefront decals that may start to appear as early as this fall, the information Bob has gathered will be useful for future projects. “That history will always be here,” said Rhonda in her office at Historic Madison Inc.

For a city with as much history as Madison, that’s a very reassuring thing.


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