Madison's History

The following is provided by Bob Robison and the Madison Historical Society:

Madison County - Along with 32 other counties, Madison county was established by the Kansas Territorial legislature in 1855. Most of these counties did not have population sufficient enough to justify organization, so several counties were grouped together for civil and military purposes with the intention that each would be organized as their populations grew. Wise and Breckinridge (later renamed Morris and Lyon) were attached to Madison county. Madison Center (later simply Madison) was to be the county seat.

The northern boundary of Madison County was about 1/2 mile north of the Cottonwood River at Soden's Grove at the south edge of Emporia (Logan Avenue). The southern boundary was about 4 miles south of modern-day Madison. Originally a square of 24 miles, it would not last long. In 1861, it was abolished with the area it embraced, being divided between Lyon and Greenwood counties. This may have been done to enhance Emporia's efforts in her competition with Americus to be the county seat of Lyon County.

Early Efforts to Establish a Community - 

  • Verdigris City - recent information indicates it may have been located some 6 miles downstream, to the southeast.
  • Hesperia - a Spanish term meaning "land to the west," this village seems to have been up the Verdigris to the northwest, possibly in the area of Blakley Cemetary.
  • Madison #1 - widely spread out in an area some 1 1/2 miles northwest of today's town.
  • Madison #2 - in a "horseshoe" bend in the river about 1/2 mile northwest of the Madison Depot


Agriculture - Farming and ranching have been the mainstays for the Madison area since the earliest days. Drawn by the fertile valley of the Verdigris River, the first settlers came with the purpose of putting their hand to the plow and bringing forth an abundant of crops. Just as early, the potential of the vast grassland of the Flint Hills was recognized by those who would find their niche in the beef raising industry. For years, and even now, thousands of heads of cattle graze upon the surrounding hills.

Corn, soybeans, wheat, and milo would be the primary crops raised in northern Greenwood County. However, in the early years, attempts were made with some degree of success, to grow cotton and peanuts. In addition, immeasurable amounts of prairie hay and alfalfa have been produced over the years, and at one time, a considerable amount of fruit (peaches and apples primarily) was grown in local orchards.

The methods have changed over the years, and the size of the farming and ranching operations has increased in size many times over compared to those earliest endeavors, but Madison remains, in every aspect, an agricultural hub.


The Railroad - A subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe Railroad, the Kansas City, Emporia, and Southern Railway Company, developed plans to build a railroad from Emporia through Madison and on to Howard, Kansas. Thus it was known as the Howard Branch.

Before the rails reached old Madison on the river, the Depot was built in its current spot in modern-day Madison. Since the railroad had bypassed them, and believing their location was really ill-suited for a town due to the tight confine of the river bend and the low-lying area that was forever damp, the town leaders decided to move the town. The depot seemed like a likely place. The land was available. The move was made and that's how Madison came to be located where it is.

The railroad was the lifeline of the community. Almost everything necessary for life in Madison, which could not be raised or manufactured locally, was shipped by rail. Likewise, those commodities which brought income to area inhabitants - livestock, hay and grain, and later, oil - were sent to markets across the country, via the train. Passenger service was also available.
Madison would actually be served by three railroads: The Howard Branch as noted; the Interstate Road (Missouri Pacific - 1886); and the River Road (another subsidiary of the Sante Fe known as the Chicago, Kansas & Western) which went through Virgil on its way to Chanute. One by one, these would drop by the wayside, with the last train running through Madison in 1975.

The depot was placed on the National Register of Historic places in 1991. It has been fully restored and now serves as a museum.

Oil - After much expectation and no small amount of speculation, "King Oil" made its appearance on the Madison scene and would forever change the landscape, both literally and figuratively. The Gladys Belle, some four miles north of town, would be the first oil well that could be claimed by Madison, but there would be many to follow its discovery in 1921. In the years immediately following, money flowed almost freely as the oil as it brought an influx of people into the area. The people, along with the oil industry itself, caused businesses to flourish, with new ones being developed almost overnight.

The oil boom has long since passed but its vestiges can yet be seen in the wells still producing, the independent pumpers, in the local well service companies, and in the two oil field supply houses that still grace our Main Street.