Abandoned Madison (part 1)

Madison is a city that has a wealth of history in the form of our beautiful old buildings. Houses, schools, churches, and even a couple of old factories have all stood the test of time and managed to avoid falling victim to the wrecking ball of progress and modernity,among other destructive forces.

All through our beautiful downtown area you’ll find these structures that serve as part of the reason we have received the National Historic District  designation.

Unfortunately there are a few ‘sow’s ears’ in amongst our many ‘silk purses’ and that leads to my topic: the run down,falling in,burnt,crumbling and abandoned buildings.

The Elks Lodge is the building that serves as the inspiration for this article. As you probably know the former Elk’s Lodge building  was nearly completely consumed by fire back in 2006 and has gone through a series of challenges to it’s existence since then as well.

There’s been a consistent effort over two Mayoral administrations now to have the structure torn down,the stated reasons (mainly concerning public safety) are certainly valid but I have to point out that it is hardly the only structure in downtown Madison that seems (to this humble writer) to be a likely safety hazard.

Here are some the rundown,abandoned,damaged,or just downright dilapidated structures in Madison’s downtown.

#1. The Elk’s Lodge

The former home of the Madison chapter of the Elks.

This building is in the Beaux-Arts Neoclassical style of architecture, a style that became popular especially in more advanced urban centers in the United States, originated in the French art schools known as “l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts” in the late nineteenth century. There are only two two buildings in this style here in Madison’s National Historic Landmark District: the Elks Lodge building and 101 E. Main St. (popularly known as Rogers’ Corner) which is presently home to “Shooter’s”). (per a guest column written by historic preservationist Link Ludington for RoundAbout Madison)

#2. Broadway and Third Street

I don’t know anything about this house’s history,but it is has been empty for quite a while. There has,in the last 6 months or so,been some activity,caution tape has been strung and some backhoe work has been performed (to what end I don’t know) in the back yard.

There’s a work permit in one of the windows but the date of issuance and the building inspector’s signature are absent or long since faded away.

A faded building permit hangs in the window of the house on the corner of Broadway and Third Street.

#3.  Poplar Lane,south of Main Street.

Empty and Abandoned

Obviously one of Madison’s buildings,this house sits uninhabited and unrestored and has been in such a state for many years now. Is this house immune to calls for its destruction due to its location on one of Madison less heavily travelled side streets?

#4. East Fifth and Mulberry Streets.

Empty and boarded up.

To the east of King’s Daughter’s Hospital’s campus sits a trio of homes that are off to themselves. They are completely boarded up. Based on the number of mailboxes affixed to their facades it would seem that at one time they served as apartments for multiple tenants at one point in their history. Now they’re only eyesores.

#5. East Street

In Madison’s northeastern section of downtown you’ll find this stone house.  Some years ago this home was at the center of controversy. (I can’t seem to track down any official record of the story so please understand that this is my personal recollection  of this story and should be considered as such.)

This home was purchased by a local real estate mogul who intended to tear it down and then use the property to build multiple small family dwellings to be used as rental property. As quite often happens is Madison this idea was poorly received by those of a more preservation oriented mindset. The project was challenged and ultimately halted, until more information could be gleaned about the structure.

Upon investigation it was found that the stonework is a facade covering a period seeming log home structure and it was determined that the house was of historic importance enough that it should not be torn down leaving the owner with a property he could not redevelop as he had intended. As also happens here,those that wanted the home saved seem unable to do anything but see to it that it continues slowly falling apart doing no good to anyone,much less the preservationists that fight to save them.

#6.  Mulberry Street( directly across from Ruler Foods)

Wrapped and seemingly forgotten

Long before the courthouse fire,and the blaze that destroyed the Elk’s Lodge this house  burned. The house has no historic significance that I’m aware of  and now more than 5 years since the fire it remains virtually untouched. In the time since it burned the only noticeable attempt at restoring/preserving is the Tyvek paper now covering the facade.

In a community that values preservation and history so much,how is that we can have so many of these run-down properties,and why does it seem that the city is almost exclusively concerned (obsessed?) with the Elks Lodge when there are other properties that have been in terrible shape for longer?

I’ll leave that question for others to answer.

About Walter Long

Walter is a native Hoosier and has been to have lived in the Madison area for the last 12 years. He’s an avid reader. He’s married with two kids, one cat, one dog, and far too many rabbits. whlong@madisonindiana.us


  1. Patricia says:

    I lived in Madison for only 9 months in 1989–1990. I have never forgotten Madison and think about the town often. I LOVED Madison and long to live there. We lived in a deterioting building w four apts. The building was attached to another building also cut up into apts. I cannot remember the address or even the street. I search the Internet for a picture of the building but to no luck. When I came across this site, I thought maybe I would fine the building, but didn’t. Wish I could find out if the building still stands and condition…

  2. Ronald says:

    does any one know anything about the Scott Block building on W Main Street ?

  3. We are (too slowly) recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression that included a housing market crash. It follows that restoration would slow.

    However, overall I think Madison is astoundingly lucky.

    Cities and neighborhoods that experience massive population loss have widespread property abandonment. In its heyday, downtown Madison had a population around 10,000. The last time I did the math (well before the 2010 census) the population was around 3,800.

    Downtown suffered greatly in this process. As a reporter, I can’t tell you how many people called downtown a slum when we first moved here.

    Yet slowly but surely in the years that we lived here, nearly the entire downtown became a very livable and enjoyable place. The level of preservation climbed the entire time — albeit in fits and starts. To my mind, preservation has been the bootstraps the city has been pulling itself up with.

    Mind you, I totally agree the community/city/state should find creative ways to make preservation more feasible.

  4. Walter Long says:

    Could there be greater incentives offered to those that choose to restore distressed properties like these? What would they be? Tax breaks on the property if they will be residing in the property or establishing a business in it?

    Are all of Madison’s older buildings worthy of being saved or should we focus on those that have significant historic value?

    • Tony Kummer says:

      Maybe a special category of loan / grants for qualified investors willing to take on these endangered properties. Make the package strong enough that several different groups would be willing to bid their proposals.

  5. Pat Cunningham says:

    #1 just had metal roofing delivered and the roof deck prepped in the last two weeks. It has an active building permit, hard to claim abandoned just slow.

    #2 just had roofing done on the outbuilding in the last two months to help stabilize. Work is starting again.

    #3 had stabilization done in the last year and is on the market. If a property is not bought is it really abandoned?

    #4 were hospital buildings that were bought years ago for future expansion. Hospital just auctioned them off last summer and the new owner is figuring out what to do with the property.

    #5 had been abandoned for years, this last year there has been activity under a new owner. The log house you describe was farther up the street and was allowed to be moved and restored thanks to the preservationists. It sits on West Forth(?) now and the “property mogul” got to do what he wanted but couldn’t pull off the project.

    #6 should be the only building on this list. It was sold after the fire and estimates given for rehab. Has sat ever since, don’t know if it has changed hands more than once since the fire.

    • Walter Long says:

      Thank you for the response and the further information.

      I stand by my usage of the word abandoned,but I was not referring to abandonment in the legal sense.

      Definition one is correct in this instance and is the manner in which I use the word.

      1. unoccupied, empty, deserted, vacant, derelict, uninhabited “abandoned buildings that become a breeding ground for crime”

      2. deserted, dropped, rejected, neglected, stranded, ditched, discarded, relinquished, left, forsaken, cast off, jilted, cast aside, cast out, cast away
      “a newsreel of abandoned children suffering from cold and hunger”

      3. uninhibited, wild, uncontrolled, unbridled, unrestrained, unconstrained
      “people who enjoy wild, abandoned lovemaking”

      I favor restoration,I just can’t say that these highlighted properties have seen very much of it,but I certainly hope that they can and will be saved and given new life.

      • kenneth Surrett says:

        My family moved a lot when I grew up. We lived in the houses on Mulberry that were recently auctioned off by KDH. The first two houses from the alley were woned at one time by the schroeder family. There was a big red house on the vacant lot years ago that burned down. An aldridge lady owned that house.

    • On #6, it’s my understanding there is no wall at all (none) behind the Tyvek paper. Kind of a sobering thought.

      Any ideas on when Part #2 will be published? There’s plenty of material unfortunately. 🙂

  6. Many cities have attempted to address the problem of abandoned buildings by instituting anti-blight ordinances. Broadly speaking, the purpose of these ordinances is to identify blighted properties and to encourage owners to remedy the situation by means of the issuance of official notices and, in some cases, by levying fines. Ultimately, anti-blight ordinances provide for the possession and/or demolition of blighted buildings or structures by city governments. While anti-blight ordinances provide a means by which local authorities can attempt to remedy outstanding cases of abandonment and blight, they are no doubt also intended to deter abandonment in the first place, by making the latter costly and/or embarrassing for the owner.

  7. I think I heard that #2 on Broadway & Third was a convent at some point in its history. A local resident who has done a bunch of historic restoration bought it a few years ago, pulled the permits to start work and hired the historic renovators. Then Old City Hall was damaged in the Elks Fire and needed immediate attention (roof, etc.) so the resident purchased that building and sent the crew there while the convent sat waiting its turn. It was recently sold though.

  8. Walter Long says:

    Thank you for the responses!
    Ideally I would much prefer that someone take on the task of restoring these homes/buildings,but it seems that time the elements and lack of interest in doing anything to these properties is going to be their final undoing.
    My own father,who has rescued a few homes from similar conditions over the years ha stated that he wouldn’t want to even be a property owner here in Madison due to the interference of the Historic Board.

    Could we be “preserving” ourselves into extinction as a town?

    Does Historic Board share any of the blame for these properties?

    What could we do to possibly lure in those persons that would be willing to rehab these places?

    Please let us know what you think!

    • I’m a little late chiming in on this article. Well done and good points by the author to garner some awareness IMO.

      The single biggest hurdle in rehabbing old structures, dilapidated or burned out structures is not a secret. I can sum the entire problem up in one word, “money” or the lack thereof.

      There are many properties that need attention, some in dire need and others that would take little for a massive improvement in appearance. There are easily to see by putting on reality glasses and driving every street and alley in the downtown area, which i have done several times. Amongst the absolutely stunning beauty of notable historic buildings of quality architecture, there is a large amount of blight that detracts from it. (yes there is blight in every community, we just happen to be a National Historic Landmark)

      As far as the Historic Board of Review, there are some mixed feeling about their activities from my perspective. After making it a personal point to attend the review meetings this year to see first hand what transpires and a desire to witness the process, I’ve come to some conclusions that many will either agree or disagree with.

      Firstly, the HBR is a necessity for the community. Several of the problems the HBR encounters in following the Historic District Ordinance stem from personalities and demeanor. Specifically personalities and demeanor toward the property owners wanting energy efficiency, visual upgrades or simply to enhance the functionality of their property. I’ve seen much undue and uncalled for questioning and ‘suggesting'(to put it nicely) by some board members toward property owners that are trying to follow the rules and do the right thing.

      One can not only sense the friction and frustration of property owners who finally decided to part with their hard earned funds to enhance their property, you can see it visually. This should not be.

      So why is it that way? The HBR and Preservation Planner all mean well though it doesn’t always come off that way in reality. There needs to be a lot more of placing themselves in the shoes of the applicant.

      Secondly, the HBR and Preservation Planner can do a much better job of educating the public and offering specific examples and options for materials. They need to expand much more than they have tried to on the ‘mentoring and educator’ level. To tell someone that ‘barn roofing’ is not appropriate metal to replace your roof is insulting to applicants. Select different words and then SHOW them a sample, of which there are some very good available ones locally that would not cost the property owner more expense and would enhance further their project. It’s not enough simple to say ‘that is not appropriate’ any longer. They have to be willing and prepared to lead the horse all the way to the water.

      Thirdly, once a property owner has made the commitment to spend money on their property, they need to strike while the iron is hot (and the weather is favorable). It takes WAY too much time to get a Certificate of Appropriateness approved. So many just don’t bother, see below.

      Lastly, when faced with a potentially intimidating situation for a property owner it’s easier to do nothing and it’s also easier to ask forgiveness than it is permission.

      One thing I have learned in all instances. Those property owners with notable and many with contributing properties will in fact do the right thing on their own accord with or without the HBR. But in the end it all comes down to available financial resources.

  9. The Elks building is particularly disappointing. The arsonist has never been brought to justice and the burned out shell remains as a shameful reminder.

  10. Until recent months I found a twisted humor in the house on the corner of Broadway & W.3rd. There was a sign on it for a painting business. Obviously it hasn’t been painted in decades!
    Seriously, though, these buildings need to be dealt with. They are eyesores in an otherwise beautiful town.

  11. Interesting story, and pictures. Perhaps someone will see them, and rise to the occasion to claim and restore.