It isn’t hard to imagine what life was like back in the great era of the steamboat when you step into the streets of Madison, Ind.
On the north bank of the Ohio River, almost 50 miles upstream from Louisville and about 90 miles downstream from Cincinnati, this river town is as quaint as you’d expect it to be. Its buildings date to 1817, and it boasts a whopping 133 historic blocks on the National Register of Historic Places.
“More than 1,500 structures are all in that district,” says Ann Mulligan, marketing director for VisitMadison.org. “It’s the largest contiguous National Historic Landmark District in the country. The architecture is killer. Really killer.”
Clifty Falls State Park
It’s hard to resist a park whose “moody” waterfalls are described as ranging from “roaring plunges” to “delicate bridal-veil mists” to “gleaming frozen titans.”
At Clifty Falls, Mother Nature is guaranteed to put on her best show year-round without an intermission. Visitors can immerse themselves in history with a visit to the creek bed — home to countless fossils that tell the tale of a long-gone marine ecosystem that once thrived with ancient corals, squids and brachiopods.
Hike the rugged trails, pop a tent and stay overnight, or simply soak in your surroundings for a memorable moment.
Details: 812-273-8885 or in.gov/dnr/parklake/2985.htm
Underground Railroad Driving Tours
During the Civil War, Madison held a prominent role in the Underground Railroad movement as thousands of freedom seekers crossed the Ohio River with assistance from anti-slavery advocates. According to the Madison Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Jefferson County was, at one point, one of the most traveled areas along the river for those seeking to escape slavery.
Booklets outlining the self-guided tours are available for purchase. “It covers most of southern Indiana … the brochure is full of stories and personalities from all of those trails,” Mulligan says.
Pick up the brochure at the visitors center at 601 W. First St.
Details: 800-559-2956 or visitmadison.org
Indiana Wine Trail
A leisurely drive throughout rolling hills and river towns that includes pit stops at six artisan wineries are sure to put the happy into any hour.
Today’s wineries are carrying on a tradition established by Swiss immigrants more than 200 years ago, which led to America’s first successful winery.
On the tour, visitors can easily visit Madison’s oldest winery, Lanthier (123 Mill St.), the Thomas Family Winery (208 E. Second St.) and Madison Vineyards Estate Winery (1456 E. 400 N), which are all downtown, while the Stream Cliff Farm and Ertel Cellars wineries as well as the Ridge Winery Tasting Room are just a short drive away.
The VIP passport and map can be downloaded at indianawinetrail.com.
Stained Glass Walking Tour
All 10 of the churches on the Stained Glass Walking Tour offer ample opportunities to be amazed at the artistry and craftsmanship in these colorful windows.
At St. Michael the Archangel, the “Emmaus” window was installed in 1910 following its creation at the Royal Art Institute of Munich, Bavaria. First Baptist Church boasts 12 windows, 10 of which are over 13 feet tall. Ranging in age from mid-19th century to only a few decades old, the symbolism, meaning and careful restoration of these works of art are nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Pick up the brochure at the visitors center at 601 W. First St. and start your journey at the Madison Presbyterian Church (202 Broadway St.).
Details: 800-559-2956 or visitmadison.org
Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes
Six private homes, two churches, the Lanier Mansion (also known as Madison’s “crown jewel”), the Schofield House and the Jefferson County Historical Society History Center will be decked out for the holidays during this year’s Candlelight Tour of Homes.
“We have anywhere from a low of 2,200 people to up to a high of 3,500. A lot of it depends on the weather,” says Marci Jones, tour coordinator. “There’s a lot of people that come every year — it’s kind of a family tradition.”
Hospitality sights serve as pit stops along the way — with facilities and refreshments. The tour can be walked or driven, depending on your preference. Coinciding with the tour is the annual Great Cookie Caper, where guests can fill a box with their choice of homemade cookies and sweet treats for $6. Proceeds from the Caper will be donated to the Jefferson County Animal Shelter.
The tours will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 28 and Dec. 5 and 3 to 9 p.m. Nov. 29 and Dec. 6.
Tickets — $12 before Nov. 15, $15 after that, and $5 for ages 5 to 15 — can be purchased online, by calling the visitor’s office, or at the visitor’s center (601 W. First St.)
Details: 812-265-2956, 800-559-2956 or nightsbeforechristmas.com
Kate Benz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-380-8515 or via Twitter @KateBenzTRIB.