Madison, Ind.; The town that slept for a century - and the man who woke it up
In 1848, the Rev. Thomas Craven founded the integrated Eleutherian College, a college for men and women, black and white. The college only lasted until the 1880s, presumably because it had no endowment, most of the alumni having been killed in the Civil War.Skip to next paragraph
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But back on a hill behind of the town of Madison, Ind., there is an old yellow stone building. On its front lawn sits a more recent but shabbier house. The stone building, the only leftover of Craven's enlightened effort, looks elegantly out of place in this overgrown back lot. The windows are vacant and the bell in the tower has not rung for 100 years, but it is not forgotten.
John Windle remembers it. Windle is president emeritus of Historic Madison Inc. HMI owns Eleutherian College, among other old Madison buildings. Windle himself lives in Shrewsbury House, one of Madison's first mansions, down by the Ohio River, and he doesn't seem to have forgotten anything that went on in the old houses of Madison since they started putting them up in 1806.
John Windle and Madison seem made for each other. Madison is a town time forgot, and Windle, an architecture expert and former librarian, is a history buff's history buff. It is hard to say whether Windle made Madison what it is today or Madison made Windle who he is today. It is easier to say they are both unique and that to meet up with one is to be introduced to the delights of the other.
He is white-haired and hawk-nosed, and is wearing, for the visit to Eleutherian College, a little black boatman's cap and blue blazer. On this outing, he is our captain. Windle had John Galvin, present president of HMI, stop the car on our way over. ''Look up,'' he instructed us, ''just above a place where a creek cuts through the hill. That was the men's dormitory. Can't think why they were so far away.'' We can't find it, but Windle won't be corrected. If there is a creek, it's there. Sure enough, after gazing into thick trees that grow on the hillside, the straight outlines of a stone pediment over a window could just be seen peeking out of the confusion of twigs and shrubs. Windle nodded as we excitedly announced this and we drove on.
Windle had always wanted to be an architect but didn't have the mathematical ability. ''Today it doesn't matter at all,'' he chuckles, ''you're probably better off.'' Instead, he became director of the reading room at the Newberry -Library, a humanities archives in Chicago. He was second in command, in charge of 50,000 volumes and artifacts. He ''had the fun,'' as he puts it, of organizing some of the first concerts of Renaissance music since the Renaissance using some of the old manuscripts in the collection and some of the best musicians in Chicago. In the 1940s, he was one of the few who acknowledged that there was any music before Bach.
Likewise, he bought the Shrewsbury House in 1948 and opened it as a house museum in Madison in 1950, before anyone had given much thought to restoration. The town was known by architecture scholars, but its only other house museum was the James F. D. Lanier mansion, given to the state by Lanier's granddaughter in 1925. Windle organized Historic Madison Inc. in 1960 to buy the Sullivan House, a Federal style mansion, which was in peril of being redone. HMI now owns a former pork-packing plant, an old herb warehouse, and several houses; it has a nationwide membership of 700 people, and cash assets of $600,000.