Monday, January 28, 2008

Madison: 200 Years—Which 200 Years?

When Madison celebrates its bicentennial in 2009, it will be celebrating:

a. The date the first European settled in the town

b. The date the town was founded

c. The date when the first lots were sold

d. None of the above

The answer is “d.”

Madison’s bicentennial celebrates a rather odd date, which is the date the entrepreneurs, John Paul and his partners, acquired the land that would become the site of the city. That date, 1809, has nothing to do with actual settlement of the area or the creation of the city.

In fact, the question of who settled Madison—and which date could be considered its bicentennial—get tricky because there are different dates for when the first settlers reached modern Madison, which includes the hilltop, and old Madison, which didn’t.

Who first settled Madison? The answer is not simple.

The first settlers in the area comprised by modern Madison were Jesse Vawter and his family, who came to the area in the fall of 1806, settling on the headwaters of Crooked Creek, probably around the site of Fairmount Cemetery.

Then, there were settlers on the Ohio River who made their home in an area not in the original town laid out by Paul. These were the Halls, William, a Revolutionary War soldier, and his son John, who moved from the Lamb area to what would later briefly be the town of Fulton, an area just east of Ferry Street. Depending on the account, the Halls arrived in 1806, 1807 or 1808.

If the earlier dates are right, it was here the first building was constructed along the river. This was also the site of the first reported burial, in a graveyard near on the bank near the corner of Ferry Street, and where Jesse Vawter preached the first reported sermon in Jefferson County.

The first house built within the boundaries of Old Madison was built by John Wagner (or Waggoner) who landed at the foot of modern Jefferson Street on May 8 or May 10, 1808. He built a home on the site now occupied by the historic Scofield house

Paul, of course, acquired the property in the honored year, 1809, but the first sale of lots didn’t occur until February 1811, according to Jesse Vawter’s son John, who “cried out” the first sale.

At this time, Madison still wasn’t a self-governing municipality. In fact, the first known governmental unit in the county, Madison Township, was created in what was then Clark County. That was sometime before October 24, 1817 when a petition was signed urging the appointment of a justice of the peace.

Madison’s affairs were managed by the county commissioners, who established road districts for Madison on June 18, 1811. It was not until 1817 that the town had its own officers, with trustees elected on Sept. 8, 1817. Incorporation as a city didn’t happen until the 1830s.

In fact, there’s a “but” to be attached to the 1809 date. That was the year Paul, Lewis Davis and Jonathan Lyon first laid claim to the land. But they did not receive the actual patent for fractional sections 2 and 3 in Township 10N Range 3E, river front tract, until 1812 when the completed payment on the three-year plan then used for acquiring government land.

And through some error, the actual patent document wasn’t issued until 1952, part of a long process in the 1900s as the U.S. government corrected such oversights.

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