History of Madison
The arrival of William Lee and Charles Walker in the Dakota Territory in 1870 led
to the establishment of the town of Madison on the southwest side of Lake Madison.
Both the lake and the town were named after Madison, Wisconsin which was near the
earlier home of Lee and Walker. In 1873, Madison was designated as the county seat
for Lake County, which was actually two years before the town was platted. However,
controversy over the county seat continued for another decade.
At the same time that Lee and Walker settled by Lake Madison, Herman Luce and his
family settled on the east shore of Lake Herman. This led to the development of
the town of Herman on the northeast shore of the lake, which was platted in 1878.
Also in 1878, C.B. Kennedy came to Dakota Territory and homesteaded in a well drained
valley between the two lakes.
In 1880, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad was extended west from Flandreau,
first to Wentworth and then to C.B. Kennedy's homestead which was five miles north
of the town of Madison. Because of the railroad, Kennedy issued an invitation to
the Madison residents to move to his homestead. The move was made and thus started
"new" Madison where it is located today. The only building left in "old" Madison
was the one with the safe which contained all the county records. The year after
the move, the first train arrived in new Madison on January 18, 1881.
Kennedy had also invited the town of Herman to move to the new Madison town site.
At first they refused and demanded that a new county seat be selected by the county
commissioners. They wanted to be the county seat as did the town of Wentworth just
eight miles east of Madison. Considerable rivalry and bickering ensued between Madison
and Herman about the county seat designation until in the dark of one night, the
county safe was mysteriously moved to the center of Madison. Later, the territorial
legislature named Madison as the county seat.
After considerable political maneuvering, name-calling and shady real estate deals,
the people in Herman in late 1880 were persuaded to begin moving their businesses
and homes to new Madison. By 1883 only about three buildings were left at the Herman
town site, and Madison was on its way to becoming the modern town it is today.
Madison has always had a reputation of being a city of schools and churches. In
1881, C.B. Kennedy, who was by now the local representative to the territorial legislature,
was successful in securing for Madison the Dakota Normal School, the first teacher
education school in the territory. It was the beginning of what is now Dakota State
University, one of the finest computer and information systems schools in the entire
Midwest. The school has served the state continuously for 114 years. Other educational
facilities in Madison began and grew with the town. Through the years, the school
system has grown to include three public schools and one parochial elementary school,
a middle school, a senior high school, and an AIMHIGH alternative school. Additionally,
special classes are offered by the Career Learning Center and other organizations.
The first religious services recorded for the area were in old Madison in 1873.
These were conducted by a Baptist minister from Dell Rapids in the home of Bill
Lee. The first organized church was the Presbyterian Church at old Madison in 1878.
In 1877, a Norwegian Lutheran minister was believed to have conducted a service
in the home of Torkel Hanson. This eventually led to the establishment of the Lake
Madison Lutheran Church. As with education, religion and churches have grown with
the community. Today, there are churches representing a wide variety of denominations
in and around the city of Madison.
From the very beginning, Madison has been a progressive community having strong
values in culture and the arts. In 1891, the Madison people built the Lake Madison
Chautauqua on the northwest shore of Lake Madison, an institution which brought
culture, education, inspiration, and entertainment to an appreciative audience.
At first, the Chautauqua visitors came by horse and buggy and by a narrow guage
steam railway that ran from Madison out to the Chautauqua grounds. Later, the Milwaukee
line that ran from Sioux Falls to Madison built a spur into the Chautauqua. Literally
thousands of visitors from a four-state area came to be entertained by the Chautauqua
performers of national and international renown. Included on the Chautauqua billings
were speakers, teachers, preachers, explorers, scientists, politicians, statesmen,
singers, violinists, pianists, choruses, bands, orchestras, storytellers, jugglers,
magicians, and many more. The Chautauqua lasted until 1933, although its effectiveness
dwindled conspicuously in the last several years of its existence.
This tradition of culture continues through an active Madison Arts Council, local
libraries, schools and museums. The community remembers and preserves its heritage
in two outstanding museums. The Smith-Zimmermann Museum was built in 1960 on the
campus of Dakota State University to reflect the ethnic background of the early
settlers. Prairie Village was built on the shores of Lake Herman in 1966. In the
mid-1970's, a steam railroad was added to the Village.
Madison's physical environment has always had a strong appeal for outdoor enthusiasts.
Fishing and hunting are popular sports in the area. There is also golfing, snowmobiling,
cross-country skiing, and many other recreational opportunities. Nearby Lake Herman
State Park offers opportunities for camping, picnics, biking, walking and jogging.
Ski trips to the Black Hills are popular for many local residents.
The Madison Development Corporation was begun in 1970 by a number of Madison citizens
with the support of the community and local government. Since then they have attracted
over two dozen new industries to Madison, well over half of which are still here.