Barn to mark 125th year
in 2000; owner seeks new tenants
MADISON, Ind. The year 2000 marks the 125th year of the
Trolley Barns existence in downtown Madison, Ind.
Trolley Barn was a beehive
of activity from 1896 to 1951 when
it was used by Madison Light and
Railway Co. as an electric plant
and trolley center.
Though the long-standing landmark has seen many incarnations
in its life, its current use as a specialty shopping mall is the image
most identifiable with Madisons residents and visitors alike.
The building has housed shops since 1972.
Its this image that the Trolley Barns newest owner, Gail
Gullett, would like to keep alive. A place where people can touch the
past while enjoying the items it offers in the present and creating
a prosperous future.
In order to understand the Trolley Barns place in Madisons
history, first we must explore its past. Built in 1875, the building
replaced the defunct farmers market on Broadway, and operated solely
as a market until 1886 when the southern section of the building was
taken over by the Municipal Electric Light Co. Eventually, the electric
company occupied the entire building.
In 1896, it was bought by the Madison Light and Railway Co. with the
purpose of operating an electric plant within the city. The company
also established a system of electric trolleys to replace the mule cars
that provided the citys earliest public transportation. Tracks
extended from just below Cragmont east, then turned at St. Michaels
Avenue to Second Street, then east to Ferry Street. Later extensions
were added on Walnut Street and west to what was then Chautauqua Park.
Though the streetcar era ended in Madison in 1919, Madison Light and
Power Co. to operate. Water for steam-generating at the plant was supplied
by two deep wells one 250 feet deep and a newer well, completed
in 1915, at a depth of 137 feet and capable of producing 400 gallons
inside of the Trolley Barn housed
an elaborate system of gears
and machinery in its heydey.
The wells were often enjoyed by residents, who came for
free containers of ice cold water on many hot summer nights. But it
was during the 1937 flood, when city wells were out of order, that the
power plant wells came to the aid of the community. Local fire companies
took turns pumping water from the plant into the city mains, making
Madison more fortunate than many other towns along the Ohio River.
By 1951, Madison Light and Power became a part of Public Service Indiana.
In 1965, PSI donated the building to the Lide White Memorial Boys
Club, but the building was never used as a Boys Club facility.
Instead, the Boys Club sold it, and the proceeds were used to
help build the current club at 601 W. First St.
The Trolley Barn would undergo its next incarnation when it was purchased
by three couples: Margie Webb and ex-husband Maurice Auxier, George
and Kendra Leininger and Charlotte and Phil Sherman.
The arches were closed in, and the floor was dropped five feet,
recalls Webb. We had to take the windows out of the old arches
and do all of the inside construction.
Every shop front in the building is a wooden reproduction of a different
cast iron store front on Main Street. It was reproduced by what was
then Millers Lumber Yard and is currently the Lumber Mill Antique
While laying brick for the cobblestone floor, it was discovered that
the mortar wouldnt stick because of a film of oil that covered
it. The problem required the new owners to clean each brick by hand
before it could be used.
The long, flat sign that adorns the front of the building was constructed
from one horizontal cut of a large, virgin poplar tree; thus the board
represents the diameter of the tree. Owned by the late Mr. Cotton, he
gave the board to his granddaughter, Helen Thompson, who in turn gave
it to her daughter, Margie Webb, to use as a sign for their new business.
Mr. Cotton had wanted his great-grandchildren to see a board that size,
since theyd never have the opportunity to see a native tree of
that dimension. It was something Webb wanted to share with the community.
On Sept., 1, 1972, the Trolley Barn re-opened as a home to specialty
shops. The names of the shops were taken from 1800s businesses that
actually existed. Among its first four stores were JW Littlejohn (bath
products & accessories), West End Enterprises (mountain crafts),
K.M.L. Trade Co. (pots & provisions) and Trolley Confectionery.
Past tenants include Rock-A-Bye Lady, Whimsy and Clifty Creek Gallery.
Gullett, a native of Ashland, Ky., would like to see the historic structure
resurrected to its early days as a busy shopping center that attracted
adults and children alike. Though the building still draws residents
and visitors, Gullett is concerned about the challenge that lies ahead.
With one tenant moving to a larger store and another currently for sale,
Gullett not only hopes to attract new tenants soon, she also hopes a
new diversity of businesses will be attracted to the Trolley Barn.
I want it to have the kind of shops that appeals to the whole
family, Gullett said. I want people to come here and spend
the afternoon, have lunch and be able to enjoy their time here in this
Gullett hopes that in the future shop owners will use the courtyard
behind the Trolley Barn for children's activities while their parents
I think its good for children to appreciate the history
in their community, not just this building but all of them, Gullett
said. The more activities and more events we can have the better,
to expose them to the atmosphere and structures of not only what it
is now, but what it has been and what it hopefully will be.
For information about renting business space in the Trolley
Barn, contact Gullett at (812) 273-0566.
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