Close to Home: Madison, Indiana offers a variety of events

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By Cindy DiFazio

Staff writer/photographer

Madison, Indiana, has much to recommend it as a one-day, weekend or vacation getaway. It’s close enough to home to be economical, but offers a treasure trove of exploration possibilities, all on less than a tank of gas.

Linda Lytle, Director of the Madison Visitors Bureau said Madison’s downtown district was designated as a National Historic Landmark just this year.

Madison earned the designation because it is home to 10 historic museums. One of those, Eleutherian College, built in 1848, was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The school was the first institution of higher learning built west of the Allegheny River whose mission was to provide education regardless of race or gender.

“Eleutherian comes from the Greek and means freedom,” Lytle said.

If you’re interested in a destination-driven trip Madison has several special events coming up.

The riverfront between Mill and Jefferson Streets will offer up barbecue, blues and balloons at Madison Ribberfest on Friday, Aug. 15 from 5-11 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 16, from 11 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. “It’s a great music event featuring national headliners,” Lytle said.

Friday evening features blues music beginning at 6 p.m. with Big Joe & the Dynaflows. Blues pianist-songstress Janiva Magness takes the stage at 8 p.m. Blues luminary John Hammond closes the evening out starting at 10 p.m.

Hammond has played with such blues greats as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon. He has released 30 albums, won one Grammy and seven W.C. Handy awards.

A Hot Air Balloon Glow begins at 8 p.m. with 12 area balloonists lighting up the riverfront for festival-goers.

Also on tap for Friday evening is the Backyard Barbeque Blast cook-off, the amateurs’ pre-cursor to Saturday’s Indiana Barbeque Cook-Off Championship. Blast participants will start cooking at around 6 p.m. along Vaughn Drive between West and Mulberry Streets.

On Saturday, hot air balloons race at 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Festival gates open to the public at 11 a.m. and judging of the state cookoff will begin. Professional barbequers from all over the country participate annually in seven categories.

The Blues Bash cranks back up at 1 p.m. culminating in a performance by Johnny Winter at 10 p.m.

Wristbands are available on the Madison Ribberfest Web site and include $10 in food/beverage coupons if purchased by Aug. 1. The website also has a complete event schedule.

The 38th Annual Madison Chautauqua, Fall Old Court Days and the Harvest Celebration will be in full swing for Three Festivals Weekend the last weekend in September.

Chautauqua is a juried fine arts and crafts show with 275 booths. Musical entertainment, a children’s activity tent and foodfest are highlights.

“Artists and more than 50,000 visitors come from all over the United States for this event,” Lytle said.

At the same time, Fall Old Court Days offers an antique and crafts outdoor market around the courthouse. “If you’re not in the market for fine arts, but enjoy crafts and flea markets, this is the event for you,” she said.

Harvest Celebration is on the west end of Madison in the gardens surrounding Lanthier Winery. It features artisans and crafters in outdoor galleries. Wine tasting and festival food are offered.

Madison Vineyards will host its 13th Annual Harvest Hoot on Sunday, Aug. 31. The vineyards are located just north of Madison. There will be grape stomping, vineyard tours on a hay wagon and live music from 1-6 p.m. Food available. Free admission. Bring a lawn chair or blanket.

The Madison area can also accommodate a preference to design your own getaway.

The 1,300-acre Clifty Falls State Park is a favorite among hikers. For an entry fee of $4 Monday-Thursday and $5 on Saturday-Sunday, visitors will enjoy abundant picnic tables and grills, playgrounds and 12 miles of hiking trails featuring seven waterfalls.

For additional fees a swimming pool with waterslide and wading pool, tennis courts, and electric and primitive camping sites also are available. The Clifty Falls Inn offers hotel rooms and a restaurant that overlooks the Ohio River.

There are three family-owned and operated wineries in and around Madison. All offer free tastings of their handcrafted wines.

If you’d like to get your hands dirty, Madison Vineyards has volunteer opportunities during grape harvest. They are looking for folks to help pick the grapes from August through September. Call 1-877-473-6500 for details.

Thomas Family Winery on East Second Street in downtown Madison has a cozy pub-like atmosphere and offers live Celtic, Bluegrass and Americana music on most Saturday evenings. Hard cider, fresh bread, salami and imported cheeses also are available.

Lanthier Winery, the oldest in Madison also is located downtown. Its Cellar Tasting Room is open Wednesday-Sunday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. It is also home to the Loft Gallery, one of Madison’s many fine art galleries.

If shopping is your bag, Main Street has more than 100 shops including specialty and antique stores. “Madison is just thriving with restaurants and shops,” Lytle said.

The Birdhouse Wild Bird and Nature Shop stocks nature books, camping gear, birdhouses, t-shirts and lots of nature-related toys and activities for kids. There also is even an indoor nature trail.

Main St. Antiques & Collectibles Mall is a charming mix of kitsch and country. The merchandise is well-organized in eye-pleasing booths. Both the staff and the very large cat just inside the door are friendly and helpful. Actually the cat is just friendly.

Joan’s started out as a quilts and quilting supplies store. She still has everything a quilter could use - from hoops and patterns to a gorgeous array of fabrics. Now the store also stocks quality candles and home decor. Be sure to check out Joan’s clearance shelves.

Sometimes it’s nice to just take in the sights and sounds of the river.

The Ohio River waterfront in Madison is full of green spaces, sidewalks, parks, gazebos and playgrounds. “This is also a very bike-friendly community,” Lytle said.

Lytle noted there is even a floating restaurant, the Lighthouse Inn.

To find out more about Madison, go to visitmadison.org, call 1-800-559-2956 or drop in at the Visitor’s Bureau at First and Vine Streets in downtown Madison. “We’re open seven days a week,” Lytle said.

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