When the first white pioneers entered the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw Indian lands that are now around the city of Madison, it became known initially as “Houstoun” (1785). By 1805 squatters on the Indian land had become so numerous that it was given the name “Sims Settlement”. The land was ceded by the Indians by 1816, and it was surveyed and then sold by the U.S. government beginning on February 2, 1818. The historic area of the town was reserved to the state as “school lands” until 1854, when it was sold to James Clemens of Huntsville, a relative of Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain”). He wanted to establish a depot village around the new Memphis & Charleston Railroad being built through the area. In 1856 the county government called the community tax district “McElhaney’s”, after the name of a landowner north of the central town area. In 1857, James Clemens put up signs to name the developing town “Clemens’ Depot”, but the railroad refused to use that name and called it “Madison Station” by 1858. By 1869 the town was incorporated under the shortened name of “Madison” to reflect its growing importance as a merchandising center, rather than just being a railroad “whistle stop”. Madison grew by attracting residents from nearby Triana, as rail transportation replaced shipping of cotton by steamboats on the river. Several of the early settlers were from Virginia, with at least four pioneer families having ancestral connection to George Washington’s lineage. Other Madison families were related to the noted explorer Merriwether Lewis. Three governors of Alabama had connections to the town, as well -- Clement Comer Clay married Susannah, daughter of John Withers (a nearby landowner); Reuben Chapman married Felicia Pickett, daughter of Steptoe & Sarah Pickett; and Thomas Bibb (son of the 2nd governor of the state) married Anna, another daughter of the Picketts. Sarah’s grave is in the city cemetery. After the Civil War, many Union soldiers who had previously occupied the town moved their families here and became some of the foremost citizens of the area. Finally, after years as an agricultural center for growing cotton, Madison has today become a hi-tech area populated extensively by aerospace engineering professionals.
The sesquicentennial book 'Memories of Madison, A Connected Community, 1857 - 2007', authored by MHS Historian John P. Rankin, chronicles Madison’s 150-year history. This coffee table-style book of the history of the early pioneers of Madison is full of photos and fascinating facts about Madison. Copies are for $39.95. For more information or to order your copy, contact The Madison Station Historic and Preservation Society at 1-256-461-8938. Complete information on how to volunteer or participate in Madison's sesquicentennial events is available at www.madisonis150.com/. Please also visit the Madison Historical Society’s website at www.knology.net/~madisonhistoricalsociety/.