The history of Madison dates back to the 1700’s when the Saura Indians lived along the Dan and Mayo Rivers since the river provided fertile soil for crops and fish for food; however, by 1753 the Shawnee Indians destroyed the Saura village and the remaining Sauras moved to South Carolina and became known as the Cheraw Indians. Madison also hosted the Catawba and Cherokee Indians who used the land for hunting while other tribes moved often to be in close proximity to wood, water and game.
History states that the Dan River was named for Danaho, an early Saura chieftain and the Mayo River was named for one of William Byrd’s surveyors, who, in 1728, dubbed this region “The Wonderful Land of Eden” due to its local beauty. Settlers of mainly Scotch-Irish descent embarked upon the land about 1730, following Mr. Byrd’s survey to tame the wilderness until about the year 1760.
Lord Granville, the British Lord Proprietor for this area was one of the last Lord Proprietors to relinquish his land to the Crown. John Jude, and early settlers purchased the land that is now Madison from the Crown in 1752 and sold the land to Edmund Brewer in 1760. In 1786, Edmund Brewer sold the land to Joseph Scales, who died ten years later leaving the property to his sons Joseph and Robert Scales. Significantly, on September 19, 1810, Peter Scales purchased 324 acres from the Scales Brothers, the acreage for which Madison was established at a cost of $2500.00
With river commerce flourishing, the Roanoke Navigation Company was searching for town locations near rivers so markets would be near the main source of transportation. The Navigation Company proposed three towns of which, only Madison survived.
In 1815 a group men, known as Joshua Smith, Richard Wall, Nichols Dalton, John Guy and Joel Cardwell obtained legislature to establish a Town named Madison near the conflux of the Mayo and Dan Rivers. These men, who were late appointed as the first Town Commissioners, encouraged Randal Duke Scales to secure 324 acres of land from his father Peter Scales on May 10, 1818. Mr. Scales platted 96 half-acre lots with designated streets and proposed a land auction for the purpose of establishing the Town of Madison. On June 3, 1818, the first day of auction, five lots were sold at prices ranging from $67.00 to $100.00 per lot to Powhattan May, John Guy, William & Zacharia Fewell, Thomas Smith, Louis Peeples, John Scales, John Menzies and James E. Galloway.
The newly established Town of Madison was four blocks long and four blocks wide running east to west and north to south with streets that were 66 feet wide and included 50 feet for thoroughfare and 8 feet for walks on either side and no additional streets were added until 1890. All streets began streets began at the high water line except for Water Street and when it flooded, there was no access to the river except by ferry.
Randal Duke Scales’ named the first streets in Madison after personal acquaintances and national figures he admired. Hunter Street was named for his wife’s grandfather, Col. James Hunter, Revolutionary War leader of the Regulators. Dalton Street was named for Nicholas Dalton, one the Town’s first Commissioners and possibly the Town’s first Mayor. Murphy Street gained its name from Caswell County Attorney Archibald DeBow Murphey, a man highly regarded by Mr. Scales. Decatur Street, named for Stephen Decatur, a naval hero of the War of 1812 served as the northern boundary for the Town until 1905 while Market Street divided the Town east and west. Franklin Street was named for Benjamin Franklin and Academy Street received its name from a small academy for boys at one end of the street.
Academy Street served as the focal point for social and educational activities during early years and was unpaved but well-kept with flintrocks that prevented deep mud and miring of wagon wheels. As Madison began to take shape, schools, homes, churches and business laid the foundation of the Town, specifically along Academy Street. Beulah Academy was a highly esteemed school, led by Dr. Shook and consisted of two upstairs and two downstairs rooms, each with a fireplace. Beside, Beulah Academy was a “free school” that operated only during the winter months in the first residence built on Academy Street. Opposite Beulah Academy was the Hopper House, built in 1820 and behind the Hopper House, toward the river were several cabins for African Americans, known as “Washpot Row” since large iron pots lined the yards where women did laundry for the families they worked for. The Methodist Church was built in 1845 and most of the early townspeople who belonged to the church were active in the development of Madison. Beside the church, the James Cardwell family owned a large frame dwelling that was designed to prevent a fire since the first home built by the Cardwells burned to the ground on a Sunday afternoon. Across the street around 1825, Randal Duke Scales built two homes, one large for the family and one small for the slaves, as a wedding gift to his daughter Elizabeth when she married Joseph Twitchell. Rural Retreat, now the Boxwoods, was the home Randal Duke Scales built in 1798 on a bluff facing the Dan River bottomlands. Around 1860, John duPuy Watkins and wife Phoebe lived in Rural Retreat and Mrs. Watkins brought in over 1000 boxwoods from Virginia the border the house.
Self-sufficiency was the only way to survive life in early Madison and most homes used what little acreage they had to raise fruits, vegetables, poultry, hogs and horses. Fruits were dried and stored for winter use and vegetables were stored in crocks until glass canning was developed in the late 1890’s and made it possible to store anything. Nature provided an abundance of creases, wild strawberries, blackberries and onions, while the river provided fish and wooded areas were games for hunters of birds, turkeys, rabbits and squirrel.
The cost of living was low and the Town consisted mainly of the wealthy and the extremely poor with a small middle class merchant population. Labor was cheap for those who could afford it and rent was $6.00 a month to board in a home. The fancy homes along Academy Street were characterized by gracious living and afternoon to early evenings often consisted of picnics, horse racing, batteau rides, fox hunts and camp meeting revivals. These outings were not always pleasant as numerous saloons in Town provided outlets for those looking for a diversion from the day to day of making a living and often lead to mistreatment or abuse once one returned home. Dual characteristics of personality and the physical picture of Madison emerged with Southern charm and attractive homes attempting to hide the insensitive treatment of individuals and the dusty streets, splinted plank sidewalk, piles of refuge on back lots and livestock roaming free. The negative characteristics have since vanished and today, Madison takes pride in its citizens, homes, and buildings.
Businesses began to open and thrive as families continued to settle in Madison. A book prepared for the 150th Anniversary states that research by Pleasant H. Scales, Nancy Watkins and others provide a record of the Town’s first tradesmen, as follows:
Lumberyard: Joel Cardwell
Tanyard: Randal Duke Scales
Tinsmith: Milton Stamps to 1840’s then James Churchill
Blacksmith: Robert Lead then Nat Wall in the 1890’s
Shoemaker: John New, also the first Baptist Pastor
Cabinetmaker: R. G. Gladestone then the Morrison brother and W. T. Chambers Tailor: Lewis and Smith and later Milton Stamps and Woodburn
Dressmaker: Martha Stamps
Wagonmakers: Vandergood and Martindale
Hardware/Mule Sales: T. R. and C. B. Pratt
Jeweler: J. M. Tesh
Photographer: Archibald Watkins, who also ran a hotel
Stonesman: Peyton Newman
Brickmason: William Jones
Brickmaker: James Foust, also a Holiness Pastor
Building Contractor: William Hegwood, Joseph Whitis
Beef Market: Hornbucker and then Ben Wall
Grocer: T. D. Meador
Peddler: Isaac Fels
Druggist: Sheppard, Martin, McGeehee, Carter, Staples, Galloway
Dentist: Dr. Samuel A. Dalton
Newspapers: Geroge Thompson, Enterprise and later Phil Peatross, Madison Leader
Norfolk & Western Agent: Thomas J. Teague
Postmaster: William Porter
Businesses began to open in Madison and included Trader P. Swaney Black’s General Store that was next door to Alex Searcy’s display for wagons, carriages and buggies, McGehee-Carter-Andrews Store opened about 1840, a drug store was opened in 1856 by Frank and Abner McGehee and Hoskins and Woodburn opened a store at the corner of Market and Murphy Street. In 1856, a drugstore was opened by Staples and Gallaway next door to James Churchill’s tin shop and G. Fel’s opened a clothing store in 1859. There were several general store keepers in early years including John duPry Watkins, William Scales, Sam Smith, D. W. Busick, James Apple, Robert Nelson and Jabez Gravelly. Around 1900, several African Americans began opening small independent businesses on the western end of Murphy Street including Armestead Williams’ restaurant, Jethro Franklin’s pressing club, Nat Wall’s blacksmith shop and Thomas Scales shoe shop.
Tobacco was a high demand commodity and employer in the 1800’s due to Madisons’ location on the Dan and Mayor Rivers that provided fertile soil for cultivation. Randal Duke Scales owned the first plug tobacco factory or “stemmery” in Madison with his son-in-law Joseph Twitchell on the back lot of Twitchell’s property on Academy Street. With its success, others including Nicholas Dalton, William Scales, Pleasant Scales and James Webster built tobacco factories and manufactured plug tobacco between 1840 and 1850 and until mid-1870, Nathaniel Pitcher Scales and General Thomas owned a large two-story frame building on Decatur Street to work tobacco. Plug tobacco dwindled and the leaf tobacco trade developed after the Civil War and packhouses were built to care for the leaves until they could be packed and shipped. One large packhouse later became Gem Dandy, two were located on Hunter Street and one just a block west of Hunter Street. Samuel and Zachariah Wall built the first tobacco sales warehouse at the corner of Hunter and Franklin Street.
In 1914 the Penn Brothers Suspender Company was organized by Harry, George and Howard Penn and operated until 1920 when Green Penn bought out the business to pursue his patented invention of an adjustable lady’s garter. Penn termed his successful garter the “gem dandy” and Gem Dandy Garter Company was incorporated in 1921 with Green Penn as president and Paul Rierson as superintendent. The business added children and men’s garters, suspenders, belts, ties lingerie and foundation garments and was renamed in 1941 to Gem Dandy, Inc. Gem Dandy has had numerous expansions over the years and is still a thriving business in 2017.
In 1947, D. L. McMichael, W. J. Armfield and C. T. Sutherland organized Madison Throwing Company with operations in the “Old Armory” before building more than ten plants and employing over 3000 employees. Madison Throwing Company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Burlington Industries by 1970.
The first school in Madison was in a log building on Academy Street that also served as the non-denominational community church. An advertisement in the Raleigh Register advised that the Trustee of Madison Academy were happy to inform that Mr. James Franklin Martin, graduate of the University of North Carolina would take charge of the academy as a teacher and board can be had in good families for $30 per session beginning the 4th day of July. The school operated until the early 1840’s and in 1844, Randal Duke Scales donated the acre of land that the log school stood on for a Male Academy. Approximately 30 students, including girls finished the required courses of the Academy in the spring of 1853. In the late 1850’s Dr. Lewis Hall Shook renamed the academy the Beulah Male Academy; however, it has been dubbed the Shook Academy due to the unforgettable imprint left upon his students. In 1863, Dr. Shook disbanded the Academy so the men could fight the Confederate Army but reopened the school after the war to girls and ran the academy until 1872. Professor Rufus Smith ran the Academy from 1872 to 1880 but taught the elsewhere the last five years as the Academy was bought for a tobacco factory. The Academy reopened in the same building in 1882, where Professor Hazel Norwood taught until 1885 followed by Pleasant H. Scales, Professor duVal Porter, J. L. Holmes, Reverend Andrew L. Betts and his wife and Janet Chalmers. The last school at the Academy was taught by Professor Julius Martin Weatherly, who developed a top ranking baseball team before he moved his school into the new town supported school on Decatur Street.
In order to understand how Madison arrived at where it is today, we must first understand how it became known as the Town of Madison and the individuals that followed a vision over 200 years ago. We hope you join us in celebrating 200 years of Madison History in 2018.
History from 150th Year "A Heritage to Honor" and Bits & Pieces of Madison History