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July, 2005
, Ohio

    On Interstate 90 east of Cleveland, you’ll pass signs for the city of Madison. Madison, Ohio is a town of about 2,500 residents. It's like countless small communities we encounter along the interstate: there's a sign announcing its presence and then we zip by. For most of us on the road, it's just a name.

    But each community has its stories. Take Madison, for example. In its early years, this was a manufacturing center, one of the largest in Ohio. By 1830, Madison and its environs hosted a woolen mill, an iron plough factory, a chair factory, four tanneries and six distilleries. Distilleries were so widespread in that time because they offered a way of getting grain to market. Transportation facilities were limited so it was difficult to, say, ship a ton of corn or wheat to buyers in the east. But if you distilled the corn or wheat into alcohol, then you could move the product, and it wasn't going to spoil. In those early days on the frontier when cash was scarce, whiskey was even used as money–you could buy that new kitchen table with a few jugs of moonshine.

    Madison's most important industry, though, was stove manufacturing. Rich iron ore deposits were discovered in the region which led to companies that manufactured pig iron from the ore. The iron then was made into stoves–Buckeye Stoves was one local brand–and were shipped as far as Detroit and Canada. These iron stoves changed the lives of people on the frontier, giving pioneer woman a safer and more efficient method of heating and cooking than open fireplaces.

    By the late 1800's, Madison had become a furniture manufacturing center. Actually, Madison's furniture business started with a funeral home that built its own wooden caskets. When the funeral business got slow, they expanded into wooden furniture, using the same tools and skills and employees that had been used in manufacturing wooden caskets.

    In more recent times, another well-known enterprise was established here. The Mother Earth News, journal of the back-to-the-earth movement, was founded near Madison and published from a small garage outside town.

    None of those businesses remain here today. Iron stoves saw their time and then were replaced by new and better equipment for cooking and heating, furniture manufacturing moved to other regions, and even the Mother Earth News transferred its offices.

    But Madison goes on, providing a home for the people who live here. And who knows what new enterprises will someday spring from its fertile soils?

For more about Madison and its surrounding communities, see the tape or CD for I-90 East: Cleveland to Erie

MOTOR Audio Tours are available to download for your iPod or mp3 player
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