Trolley Reaches Milestone

Trolley Barn to mark 125th year
in 2000; owner seeks new tenants

By Libby Richards
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. – The year 2000 marks the 125th year of the Trolley Barn’s existence in downtown Madison, Ind.

Trolley Barn

Photo provided

The 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 Madison’s residents and visitors alike. The building has housed shops since 1972.
It’s this image that the Trolley Barn’s 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 Barn’s place in Madison’s 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 city’s 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 a minute.

Trolley Barn

Photo provided

The 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 Boy’s Club, but the building was never used as a Boy’s Club facility. Instead, the Boy’s 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 Miller’s Lumber Yard and is currently the Lumber Mill Antique Mall.
While laying brick for the cobblestone floor, it was discovered that the mortar wouldn’t 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 they’d 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 historic building.”
Gullett hopes that in the future shop owners will use the courtyard behind the Trolley Barn for children's activities while their parents shop.
“I think it’s 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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