Madison is located in north-central Alabama between the Tennessee River and the Tennessee border, mostly in Madison County. In recent years, it has expanded into Limestone County. Madison has a mayor/council form of government. In 2011, the city was named one of the Top 100 Places to Live on Money magazine’s list of “America’s best small towns.”
Historic Madison The first recorded settler in present-day Madison was Revolutionary War veteran John Cartwright, who received a federal land grant and settled in the area in 1818. Not until the Memphis and Charleston Railroad constructed a rail line through the town in 1856 did much additional development take place, however. In 1858, a town was laid out with lots for sale along the rail line and a train depot was constructed. The town initially was known as Madison Station and soon had a saw and grist mill and a blacksmith shop. The rail line caught the attention of Union leaders during the Civil War, prompting a minor skirmish on May 17, 1864, between federal and Confederate troops in an action later referred to as the “Affair at Madison Station.” The following December 23, federal and Confederate forces clashed again at the “Affair at Indian Creek Ford,” another small engagement a few miles east of Madison Station that resulted in another minor U.S. Army victory.
The town was incorporated as Madison in 1869. Although its economy had suffered like many other Alabama towns, Madison would recover some of its prosperity as the local cotton economy improved after the end of the Civil War. During the mid-twentieth century, Madison began to benefit from its proximity to Huntsville and the aerospace industry at Marshall Space Flight Center and to nearby Redstone Arsenal, and the town expanded significantly.
According to 2020 Census estimates, Madison recorded a population of 50,717. Of that number, 76.0 percent identified themselves as white, 13.9 percent as African American, 5.7 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 3.3 percent as two or more races, 2.1 percent as Asian, and 0.4 percent as American Indian. The city’s median household income was $94,214, and per capita income was $46,335.
According to 2020 Census estimates, the workforce in Madison was divided among the following industrial categories:
- Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (25.9 percent)
- Educational services, and health care and social assistance (17.4 percent)
- Public administration (11.7 percent)
- Manufacturing (11.2 percent)
- Retail trade (9.3 percent)
- Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (6.4 percent)
- Transportation and warehousing and utilities (5.5 percent)
- Construction (3.2 percent)
- Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (2.9 percent)
- Other services, except public administration (2.8 percent)
- Information (1.8 percent)
- Wholesale trade (1.5 percent)
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.4 percent)
Public education is administered by Madison City Schools. The system oversees seven K-6 elementary schools, two 7-9 middle schools, and one 9-12 high. In addition, there are four religious-based schools and three nonsectarian private schools. Institutions of higher education in the area include J. F. Drake State Technical College, Alabama A&M University, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Madison lies just north of Interstate 595, which connects to Huntsville in the east and to Interstate 65, about five miles west of Madison. Also, Alternate U.S. 72 follows I-595, and U.S. Route 72 connecting Memphis and Chattanooga, Tennessee, provides access to Madison as well. The Norfolk Southern Railroad Corporation operates a rail line through Madison while the Huntsville International Airport is the closest aviation facility, located south of Interstate 595, about five miles from Madison.
Events and Places of Interest
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge The 35,000-acre Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is located on the southeastern border of Madison. The refuge, which provides shelter and habitat to thousands of migrating birds and waterfowl as well as many species of fish, offers numerous opportunities for bird watching and photography, fishing, and hunting. It also has an interpretive center and hiking trails. Sunset Landing Golf Course, located southwest of Madison, is an 18-hole public facility.
Within Madison, two major municipal parks feature facilities that include indoor and outdoor swimming pools, athletic fields, a gymnasium, soccer fields, a walking track, and batting cages. The city also has numerous neighborhood parks as well as several greenways, which feature hiking and biking trails.
Madison Station Civil War Marker Unveiling Listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage is Lee Mansion (ca. 1818); the Madison Station Historic District, which highlights a variety of architectural styles from several eras, and the James H. Bibb house (ca. 1850) are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In October 2010, the city erected a historical marker to honor the Pension Row neighborhood which, though now much smaller, had been home to many African Americans since Madison was incorporated. In addition to an Easter Egg hunt, Fourth of July celebration, and Christmas Parade, Madison has hosted a street festival in early October since 1980 that features entertainment and arts and crafts.
Heritage of Madison County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1998.