I See Georgia: Madison
You know that town? The one you are aware of, but never spend any time in? The one you pass through on the way to some distant destination? Of course you do! We all have a town like that. For the Bear Team, that town is Madison. What hidden treasures lay in this place? We were determined to find out.
Madison is known for its historic homes. It is overflowing with historic homes. You can’t take a step in any direction without bumping into an historic home. Above all else, it is recognized as a town filled with civil war era houses, reportedly spared General Sherman’s torches due to the sheer beauty of the structures within. Whether or not Sherman decided to let Madison stand because it was “too beautiful to burn” is a matter for historians to decide. Either way, no one questions the aesthetics of the place.
For quite a few years, we lived in Madison County. This led to quite a bit of confusion when the topic of our place of residence arose in conversation. Our fellow Georgians can probably guess where this is going. For those of you who aren’t familiar with our geography, let us explain.
The city of Madison is not located in Madison County. We know it doesn’t make since, but that’s just the way it is. Madison is located in Morgan County, which, while in the same general part of the state, is several counties away from Madison County. This led to more than a few versions of this conversation:
Some guy: “So where do you live.”
Us: “Madison County.”
Some girl: “The place with all the big houses!”
Us: “No, the place with all the cows.”
Despite the constant misunderstandings, we knew about Madison, having passed through the town quite a few times, though always on the way to other places. For many years, there was no bypass. So if you wanted to go anywhere South of Madison, you were required to drive through much of the historic district.
As kids, we didn’t give a damn about historic homes, districts, or anything else. We just wanted to get to wherever the hell our parents were taking us already! But years later, as adults, we’ve developed an appreciation for history. We’d even spent a little time in Madison, though not enough to really see much of anything. But now the time had come to finally check out this antebellum treasure.
Unlike the previous destinations on our tour, Madison is close, lying just 26 miles south of Athens. Therefore, we were able to sleep in before heading out. We left Athens just after noon on a mid-May Saturday, entering Madison well before 1:00pm.
We cruised down Main Street, passing restaurants and businesses as we headed for the middle of town. We reached downtown and pulled into the parking lot of Big Kev’s BBQ. We always look for potential eateries online before visiting a town, and all of the reviews for this BBQ joint were very positive, so we’d decided to give it a try.
Big Kev’s is located in an old train car, with meat smoking just outside. We climbed the steps and entered through a side door. Inside, the walls were adorned with UGA and Atlanta Falcons memorabilia and vintage concert posters from legendary acts like Jimi Hendrix. Our kind of place!
We were seated and ordered pulled pork sandwiches, stew, and collards. We waited for our order as blues drifted from overhead speakers. When the food arrived, we dug in. To say that we enjoyed it would be an incredible understatement. The BBQ was awesome, with a perfect tangy/sweet sauce. The stew was just like the best of what we’d grown up eating, and the collards were beyond words.
After gorging on so much delicious food, we were in desperate need of a walk. We were also in desperate need of a restroom, so we walked into the visitors’ center hoping for help with both. The young woman behind the counter was very helpful, and pointed us in the direction of the historic district.
Refreshed and ready to check out the town, we walked along Main Street before cutting across to Old Post Road. In various publications, Madison has been named both the #1 small town in America and one of the world’s 16 most picturesque villages. It only took a few minutes of exploring to see why.
Everywhere we looked was a house straight out of Gone With the Wind. Huge mansions with perfectly maintained lawns surrounded by white picket fences lined both sides of the street. We strolled along, pausing every few seconds to gaze at yet another impossibly beautiful home.
Eventually we came upon an undeveloped, grassy area dotted with trees. An historical marker dubbed the expanse “The Town Commons.” According to the marker, in the early 1800’s the Georgia Legislature set aside parcels of land for Madison’s establishment. The Inferior Court (bet those justices take a lot of crap from Superior and Supreme Court justices at judge parties!) then subdivided the land to create a “Publick Square.” We did not misspell this. The sign actually reads that way. Maybe that’s why the court was inferior!
We circled the block and headed back the way we’d come. Walking down Central Avenue, we came upon the Madison City Cemetery. The cemetery is divided into sections, one of which was labeled “Old Cemetery.” We walked through this portion, stopping to read inscriptions on tombstones that dated back nearly two centuries.
After a hundred yards of so, the land began to slope downward. We continued along the path, as the well-kept plots gave way to ones that were less maintained. Some of the older graves in the cemetery are located in this area, which is a bit sad, given the manicured state of the rest of the cemetery.
At the bottom of the hill, we entered a small park adjacent to the cemetery. We walked along a shaded path which crossed a creek and led back uphill. By the time we made it to the end and re-entered the downtown area, we were tired. In need of a little pick-me-up, we headed for Perk Avenue Coffee.
This coffee shop, located on Main Street, was one of the coolest places we visited in Madison. In addition to coffee, Perk Avenue offers food, ice cream, and live entertainment. We ordered coffees and sat at a table to enjoy our caffeine fix. The coffee was delicious, and more than served its intended purpose.
We sipped our drinks while we pondered our next move. By now, it was late afternoon, and still so much left to see. We left Perk Avenue and walked around downtown. We took in the Morgan County Courthouse, which includes bricks containing the names of every county citizen who died in battle while the U.S. was at war.
We then spent some time strolling around the area, stopping to check out the Madison Produce Company on Washington Street. This hidden gem offers not only fresh fruits and vegetables, but soups and sandwiches, including something called the “Burning Sherman.” Since it wasn’t dinner time, we bought a Mexican coke, featuring pure cane sugar, and enjoyed it at an outdoor table.
After leaving the Produce Company, we visited the Town Park; a green space in the middle of the downtown area. We walked around the park, taking time to visit the James Madison Inn, which is across the street. The entire area is memorable, and emblematic of the idyllic southern town.
As sunset approached, we found ourselves ready for dinner. After scouting several locations, we ended up at the Madison Chophouse Grill. We put our name down, expecting a long wait. But within 15 minutes, we found ourselves seated, reviewing the menu. There was a Braves game on television, and we checked out the score while waiting.
The interior of the Chophouse is reminiscent of your standard bar and grill, but the menu options are quite a bit more varied. We ordered chopped steak and meatloaf with various sides. When the food came, we dug in. Both of our entrees were delicious, and we made short work of our plates. The atmosphere inside was laid back, and we enjoyed everything about our visit to this Madison landmark.
After dinner, the time had come to head home. We drove across town, passing more places we’d more than likely visit on subsequent trips. Soon we were on Macon Highway, cruising toward Athens. Soon we would be home, but in the meantime, we reflected on all we’d experienced.
Madison is a great place; one of the best small towns we’ve ever visited. Given the proximity to our hometown, it will definitely maintain a place on our go-to list. Until then, we’ll hold a place in our hearts for it. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy a visit to a place to beautiful to burn; or a place too nice to forget.
That does it for now. For more information about Madison, visit the official tourism page here:
As usual, thanks for reading. We always appreciate it. We’ll be back soon with the next installment in our tour of Georgia. Until later…
Next time: We’ll be tourists in our own town! It’s a day out in the home of the Bear Team, Athens!
By Keith and Dena Maxwell