Referred to as "America's Hometown," the river village of Madison, Ind. prides itself in steamboat heritage and historic preservation. Walking along First, Second, or Third Streets reveals a rich colonial influence, with houses that pre-date the Civil War. This collection of buildings has visitors praising Madison as Indiana's own piece of the South, comparable to Savannah, Ga. or Charleston, S.C.
Most notable is Lanier Mansion, a Greek Revival home built in 1844. Easy to find by its lush garden and salmon and white colored façade, this architectural wonder was built for banker, railroader and Madison pioneer James Franklin Doughty Lanier. Though he only lived at his mansion for six years, the house stayed within the family until the 1990s when it became a National Historic Landmark. Daily tours are hosted inside the property for $7, or you can have a free self-guided experience of the exterior and garden. Designed to be in bloom every season of the year, the greenery is modeled from regional landscaping favorites: weeping cherry trees, azaleas, daffodils and lilies of the valley.
In the heart of the neighborhood lies Old Main, the thoroughfare to all eateries, shops, and entertainment. Peruse five blocks of boutique shops offering everything from stationery and lotions to antiques and artwork. Enjoy cooking? Galena Garlic Works, a shop based around the potent herb, provides an array of spices and savories for your palate. Need freshening up? Check out the scents and natural soaps at All Good Things. If you're hunting for a diamond-in-the-rough gift, you'll likely come across it on Main Street.
By now, you're probably getting hungry, which means it's time to indulge in a Hinkleburger. Open since 1933, Hinkle's Sandwich Shop is a hole-in-the-wall diner serving up their signature cheeseburger with single, double, or triple beef patties. Also known for their variety of fried foods, the eatery offers chicken, fish, and tenderloin sandwiches in addition to curly fries, tater tots, and onion rings. Complete the meal with an exotic milkshake, available in 45 flavors such as Almond Joy, wedding cake, Dreamcicle, or purple goo.
After lunch, gallop on over to the Schroeder Saddletree Factory to tour the only 19th Century saddle maker left in America. Aside from saddletrees, the wooden frames used to build a horse saddle, the Schroeder family also made stirrups, clothespins, porch swings, and work gloves. Closed in 1972 and converted into a museum, the factory remains intact, just as it was left, with sawdust piled under vintage woodworking machinery.
Nearby is the three-story tall Eleutherian College, a must-see for history buffs. The institute provided the earliest forms of education to women and African Americans prior to the Civil War and is recognized for being the first college in the United States to admit students regardless of race or gender.
Located an hour west of Cincinnati along a scenic river drive, Madison provides gorgeous sights, history, dining, and shopping experiences for an excellent daytime retreat.