Pages of History: Madison documented in soon-to-be-released tome
Story by Colby Dunn
Photos courtesy of Golden Coast Publishing
For 200 years, the stately homes and buildings of Madison have graced the memories of her residents, charmed the hearts of visitors and been lauded by writers and rhapsodists lucky enough to stop by. Now the architectural pillars of the community will be immortalized on the pages of a new book commemorating Madison's bicentennial entitled "Madison: A classic Southern town."
The book, written by Atlanta author Bill Mitchell and photographed mainly by Van Martin, whose company Golden Coast Publishing is also producing the book, is the brain child and inaugural offering of the newly-formed Historic Madison-Morgan Foundation.
David Land, chairman of the foundation and its creator, said that idea began to germinate in his mind years ago, when he was inspired by the landscapes and architecture that the city and county have to offer.
But it really got off the ground as the Greenspace Commission was working to find the right thing to commemorate Madison's 200th year. After a couple of focus groups and much discussion, the idea of a book formed - one that explored the area's architecture and landscapes, not only with text but visually, as well.
"We had no money, we had nothing," said Land. "All we had was an idea."
So they took the idea to Van Martin, a veteran of the business whose publishing company has produced over 15 titles on Southern architecture, and Bill Mitchell, who has worked with Martin on several titles and is a historian and author of books on other cities like New Orleans and Atlanta.
"They came up and we said 'Well, OK, let's do it,' " said Land. "But we still had no money, had no organization, so we said 'Well, can we use one of our existing foundations,' and most of those that we were talking about - well it really doesn't fit exactly. They all have their own projects and they’re really not into this.
"So we said maybe what we do is we create a new entity, our own organization."
And thus, the Historic Madison-Morgan Foundation was born.
"It was really starting from scratch," said Van Martin, who, along with James Lockhart, has photographed the volume.
So after the idea was born, Land and his co-founders went on the hunt for money in the fall of 2008.
The book started with a $150,000 price tag, which has now been knocked down to $130,000.
"We started this in the fall. We have raised about $80,000," Land says proudly. "Our goal was 75."
Meanwhile, Martin started photographing houses, hoping there was enough fodder to fill the book.
"I've been in Madison and been aware of Madison practically my entire career as a photographer," he said. "I was interested but I have to admit I was a little skeptical - I'd never really thoroughly immersed myself in the history or in the variety of architectural styles in the town."
But Martin said that, once he got started, Madison came through, and in grand fashion.
"I was flabbergasted by the number of houses that are of quality that we could use in a book like this," he said, and though he photographed many more, the book will feature 43 of Madison's homes, split into eras from the earliest to some of the most modern of the town's residential jewels.
While the traditional antebellum homes and other traditional free-standing homes will, of course, feature, the book will offer exclusive views of apartments and townhomes, as well.
"I think what's really interesting and exciting about this one is you have these almost urban types of homes or the downtown homes. So you're not just seeing an old home, you're seeing an old building," said Land. "It's adaptive reuse."
The book, in keeping with the bicentennial theme, will be 200 pages, and the regular editions will sell for $50 - presales are already underway at many Madison shops, including Dog Ear Books and the Madison Morgan Chamber of Commerce.
However, 200 limited edition bicentennial books are also available for the price of, what else, $200.
The project isn't funded by donations only - the Madison Bicentennial Committee has chipped in $15,000, $5,000 as a grant and $10,000 as a loan, and Morgan County has pitched in $5,000, of which $750 is a grant. The foundation also hopes to drum up $45,000 in sales of the book.
The foundation itself won't die with the book's printing, either.
Land says that the possibilities for its future could encompass a range of projects, like future publications on other county treasures or property purchase for conservation and restoration.
"Basically, the mission of the foundation is to promote the preservation of the city and county's architectural and landscape landmarks," said Land. "We'll be a resource for other nonprofits that are histrorically an architectural and landscape resource."
Land says he hopes that, at the end of the project, the foundation will have up to $130,000 in its accounts to move on to the next project and may be able to do a second printing beyond the first 5,200 some time in the future.
A similar book on New Orleans written by Mitchell is still in print, 16 years later.
Asked what he hopes this book will offer, Martin says that it will give readers an insight into the Madison that he met and fell in love with while photographing it.
"I think people who don't know anything about Madison but just happen to pick [the book] up at a local bookstore or Barnes and Noble or see it online, they will be amazed at the quality of architecture and the sense of place," he said. "It has a sophistication that's unusual in a rural area like that."
Land and his foundation members feel that Madison's architecture has long deserved visual and historic documentation, and Martin - Madison's newest fan - agrees.
"If I didn't love living on the coast so much, I would be tempted to move to Madison," he said.
"It has a charm about it that's as distinct as any place I've ever been. It really is a special place."