Let me just cut right to the chase – I LOVE Madison, Wisconsin! The picturesque landscape, charming people, exceptional food, and the relaxed and welcoming vibe all speak volumes about this jewel of the Midwest.
Located on an isthmus—defined as a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas and separating two bodies of water—Madison is gently graced by Lake Mendota on the north side and Lake Menona on the south. And because the city is only about a 1½ hour drive from Milwaukee, 2½ hours from both Chicago and Green Bay, and 4½ hours from Minneapolis, it is a popular destination for day, long weekend, and extended leisure and business travelers.
The earliest inhabitants of the area were several Native American Tribes believed to have lived here close to 12,000 years ago. The most notable remnant of their livelihood are the earthen mounds built for a variety of ceremonial community purposes, each one providing a unique insight into the life and times of these first denizens.
It wasn’t until the early 1800s that settlers from Scandinavia, England, Ireland and Germany began to flock to the area, attracted in great part because of its excellent location near a handful of waterways, and for its beautiful scenery.
The first person to lay physical claim to the area was in 1829 by a land speculator and territorial Judge named James Duane Doty, who later persuaded the territorial legislature of the day to make the city the site for the new state capitol.
The city was officially named “Madison” in 1856, after President James Madison (although he died 20 years earlier), for his efforts to break the British stronghold in the area and the Great Lakes region during the War of 1812. In fact, many of Madison’s streets are also named in tribute to many others who, like Madison, signed the U. S. Constitution.
The city continued to grow and thrive as the seat of government and a major influence in the area, the state of Wisconsin (which achieved statehood only a few years before in 1848), and as a captain of the country’s commercial industry, education and other enterprises.
Today the city of Madison encompasses a population of just over 240,000 people; about 504,000 throughout the metropolitan area. The ethnic diversity here has continued to change over the years; white people constituting approximately 79 percent of the population, followed by African Americans and Asians at just over 7 percent, and Hispanics at just under 7 percent.
In the business sphere, it’s interesting to note that approximately 30 percent of the enterprises here are owned by women. That is a wonderfully startling statistic that may be influenced by the fact that the male-female population here is approximately 50/50.
Cultural heritage continues to be heavily German influenced, in addition to other European ancestry from back in the day including a wealth of Greek, Italian, Jewish and other cultures, each lending their own distinctive flavor to the Midwest melting pot.
In our next adventure we’ll take a look at black history in Madison and around the state.