[chapter 1][p. 17] [p. 18]
I. THE INDIVIDUALITY OF MADISON
Madison is one of the most striking examples that could be selected in the United States of a city which should have a distinct individuality, marked characteristics separating it from and in many respects elevating it above other cities. Its topography, its lake scenery, its early selection as the Capital and as the seat of the State University, its population, its history, - such influential factors as these should surely have found expression in a city plan, a city development and a city life with a form and flavor unlike that of any other place.
Topographically, Madison naturally abounds in interest and picturesque situations. The ground rises and falls from one part of the city to another, and here and there mounts into hills of such eminence as to afford notable sites for important public buildings or residential sections of distinction. The main physical features, however, that win and hold the attention are not these hills and the rolling ground between them, but the large and truly beautiful lakes, directly on and between which, occupying a narrow neck of land, Madison is situated. Northwest of the city is the lovely Lake Mendota, six miles long and nearly four miles wide, with an irregular shore line of twenty miles; southeast is the somewhat smaller but equally attractive Lake Monona, with a shore line of about ten miles. The other two lakes - Waubesa and Kegonsa - are comprised in the so-called "Four Lake Region" of which Madison is the dominating feature. Lake Wingra, a much smaller body of water, completes the chain. No other city of the world, so far as I know, has naturally such a unique situation on a series of lakes, [p. 20][p. 21] with an opportunity for so much and such direct relationship to beautiful water frontages. The physical situation certainly is distinctly individual.
Madison's early selection as a Capital City should also contribute to its individuality. In 1836Wisconsin was erected into a Territory by act of Congress and the same year, after a severe contest, Madison was selected as the Capital. Among its most formidable rivals were Green Bay, Mineral Point, and Milwaukee, the latter then a tiny village of but three years' growth. Madison's claims were strongly supported by Judge James Duane Doty, an influential politician and the owner of the proposed site. It was pointed out that Madison - which at this time existed as a city only on paper - was centrally situated between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, that it would be a reasonable compromise between the conflicting interests of Green Bay and the mining section of Wisconsin; that its selection would tend to develop the still wild interior and above all that the proposed location was exceptionally healthful and beautiful. Madison's claims were finally recognized and endorsed and it thus became the permanent capital of a great commonwealth.
Here, if ever, was an opportunity for wise and skillful city planning. A site of rare distinction, absolutely without obstacles in the nature of existing streets or buildings, clearly defined purposes to be served and an assured future growth and development. What was actually done by the pioneer surveyor? In a central situation, on a fine hill, seventy-five feet above Lake Monona, but not fronting on either lake, the Capitol Park of about thirteen acres was located with broad avenues eight rods wide running from its center and narrower ones radiating from its corners. For the rest of Madison, all was the usual commonplace gridiron plan without even discriminating [p. 22]
ORIGINAL PLAN OF MADISON.
Compare with present plan of Madison in this report. Note the location of the Capitol, the differentiation in street widths, the use of diagonal streets, and the complete failure to reserve the lake frontages for public purposes.
L'ENFANT'S ORIGINAL PLAN FOR WASHINGTON, D.C.
Probably the most far-sighted and skilful city plan ever prepared. Although the topography of Washington is essentially different from Madison the main features of the Washington plan are instructive.
PICNIC POINT, LAKE MENDOTA, MADISON.
Another reason for an individual development of Madison is the fact that it is a "college town," the seat of the State University. The State Constitution, following the precedent of the Territorial legislature, provided for a
"State University, at or near the seat of state government."
In 1848 it was duly incorporated and while it was mismanaged and poorly maintained for many years, it has now become the leading state university, with a student body of nearly five thousand young men and women, and a large annual appropriation from the State which usually exceeds a million dollars. For the purposes of this inquiry, it is pertinent to ask how far and in what ways has this great University placed its impress upon the city of Madison? Is the city's life, its plan, its appearance different because of the location of the University at this point? In answer it may be said that its life is different because the University of Wisconsin is noted for its extra-mural influence; not only in Madison but throughout the entire State, directly and indirectly, its power is felt to form and transform, to inspire and guide the common life. Whether this influence is more marked in Madison than in Milwaukee or any other Wisconsin city - except so far as it is the indirect result of the residence in Madison of the University's teachers - is open to question.
When we turn to the plan and form and character of the city as a city, to its appearance, its countenance, do we not find the contribution of the University confined practically to the University's buildings and grounds? Do we note any individual stamp upon Madison as a result of the University's influence - better located and better built streets, finer city buildings, art museums, botanical, zoological and other gardens? Do we observe a more enlightened method than is common of home-building? Do [p. 28][p. 29] we see the influence of higher education in the recreations of the people - in the theatres, in parks and playgrounds? Do we find noble statuary marking for all time the entrancing history of this fine old State and its steadily unfolding civilization? If not, must we not say that a grand opportunity has been lost to influence in deep and permanent ways the population not only of Madison, but of Wisconsin as a whole? Madison does not belong exclusively to the people who have the good fortune to live there. She is the fair daughter of the entire State, the shrine to which young men and women of the State come at the most impressionable period to secure adequate equipment for noble and successful life and work. And because this is also the Capital City, the representative men from all parts of the State meet here regularly to pass those laws upon which the welfare of Wisconsin rests.
Finally, people may also contribute in many ways to the individuality of a city. The character of the population of Madison from the very earliest settlement was somewhat unusual and might reasonably have been expected to express itself in unusual ways in city making. Many hardy pioneers from New England and New York settled here as in other parts of Wisconsin. Then, coincident with the State's admission to the Union was the German Revolution of 1848, which gave rise to a strong tide of migration hither. The Germans were followed by Scandinavians (chiefly Norwegians), Irish, English, Canadians, Bohemians, Poles, Dutch, Belgians and Swiss. Such immigrants from the Old World often bring traditions and fruits of experience in civic matters that are of value to the New World, and it was natural to expect in Madison some fresh expression of what was best in continental cities.[p. 30] [p. 31]
Here, then, in a marked type of topography and natural scenery, in the conscious establishment of a city for governmental and higher educational ends, in a varied, strong and virile population, and in a picturesque history, there were ample forces for the expression of civic life in a city of striking individuality, one might almost say personality. So far that expression has manifested itself only in subordinate and minor ways. In larger matters it has failed. As a Capital City, Madison should possess dignity and even some restrained splendor; as a University City it should manifest a love of learning, culture, art, and nature; as a residence city it should be homelike, convenient, healthful and possess ample facilities for wholesome recreation. Fortunately, much of the opportunity in all three directions still stands open and it is one of the main purposes of this report to show how the natural and adequate provision for the improvement of Madison will lead to a direct development of its individuality as a city.[p. 32]
The copyright to this electronic edition of Madison: A Model City, including all digital images, is held by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.
These may be copied freely by individuals for personal use, research, and teaching (including distribution to classes) as long as this statement of availability is included in the text. They may be linked to freely in Internet editions of all kinds, including for-profit works.
Scholars interested in changing or adding to these texts by, for example, creating a new edition of the text (electronically or in print) with substantive editorial changes, are asked to seek the permission of the University of Wisconsin General Library System. They are requested to do so whether the new publication will be made available at a cost or free of charge.