When I visit cities—even countries—I am often following an itinerary created by locals who know what’s not to be missed. A good case-in-point is when I visited Madison, Indiana; a historic Ohio River city.
On my itinerary is Schroeder Saddletree Factory Museum. I’m not at all sure if this is only a historic factory or one still producing in some capacity and, admittedly, I don’t know what a saddletree is.
What I find is America’s only restored 19th-century saddletree factory and an excellent guide, Mike Foley, who brings the factory back to life during his tour.
First of all, a saddletree is the wooden frame of a saddle. Foley explains that in the late 1800s there were 13 saddletree factories in Madison. “They were owned predominately by German immigrants.”
While other saddletree factories went out of business for lack of orders, Schroeder’s kept going by also producing other products including lawn furniture, canvas gloves and clothes pins. The factory continued producing until the last family member passed away in 1972.
Today the factory stands suspended-in-time. Machines still work and Foley demonstrates the clothes pin manufacturing machine as his guests watch on in amazement at the ingenuity that went into the machinery creation.
“They crafted thousands of saddletrees for saddle makers throughout the United States and Latin America,” Foley says as he concludes his tour. “We’re fortunate to have this museum in Madison.”
The museum is open late-April through October, Friday to Monday from 1 to 4:30 p.m.; nominal admission charged; 106 Milton Street, Madison.