agriculture, industry, and business
Settlers from the east, most of whom were farmers, quickly increased the population of
the young county. In fact, the economy of Madison County, like that of the majority of the
state, has been primarily agrarian since the settlement period. Corn was the most
important crop raised by early Madison County farmers. The soil proved fertile for raising
other crops as well, including rye, oats, hemp--first grown in 1775--and flax.
Tobacco became a valuable cash crop very early in the county's history, and by 1787 the
Madison Court used tobacco as a medium of exchange. Farmers stored their cut tobacco in
large privately owned wooden warehouses before inspection and weighing by court-appointed
inspectors. In fact, three tobacco warehouses operated in Madison County by 1798. Tobacco
production and warehouse activity continued to increase, and tobacco remained one of the
most important crops for Madison County farmers throughout the nineteenth century. With
the introduction of burley tobacco in the late nineteenth century, production of the leaf
quickly dominated Madison county agriculture. Since then, income from burley has
constituted a major portion of the county's revenue.
Beef cattle, hogs, and mules combined to make Madison County the largest livestock
producer in the state by the 1840s. The county also remained Kentucky's leading wool and
sheep producer well into the nineteenth century. Although early residents never
established horse breeding farms on the scale of those in the central Bluegrass, the
raising, racing, and sale of horses was a pursuit of many farmers, with some Madison
countians becoming horse enthusiasts. The county was second in the state in cattle
production in 1870, outranked only by Bourbon County. Beef cattle continue to be important
in this county where more that two-thirds of the land is devoted to agriculture.
Industries also played a vital role in the early economic development of Madison
County. Distilleries were operating on the south side of the Kentucky River by 1783. The
production of distilled liquor from corn became a profitable enterprise, competing with
the raising of tobacco and livestock as the primary economic activity throughout the
nineteenth century in Madison County.
Numerous industries such as hemp rope factories, furniture-making
shops, a cotton- spinning mill, wool-carding factories, and a nail factory flourished in
the early nineteenth century. Madison County had fifty-four establishments for
manufacturers by 1860, the largest of these producing staple provisions, followed by the
production of distilled liquors. The industrial establishments remained essentially
unchanged until 1885 when a new creamery opened. These types of industrial interests
continued to be important until after World War II. At that time a number of light
manufacturing plants such as Gibson Greeting Cards and Westinghouse began producing in
Businesses were established and expanded as agrarian wealth increased and as demand for
services and merchandise grew. Colonel John Miller's Tavern, a log house located on the
corner of First and Main Streets in Richmond, served as the first hotel in Madison County.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, taverns, called ordinaries, served as social
centers for the county's predominantly rural population. They were usually located on
major routes between towns and settlements. Agricultural production also led to a
diversity of retail and processing businesses by the 1840s: farm implement stores,
blacksmith shops, and tanneries, as well as furniture stores, tailors, booteries,
millineries, and dry goods stores.
Although a volunteer fire department had been established by 1817, Richmond's
businesses suffered from many fire disasters throughout the nineteenth century.
Nevertheless, according to an 1876 D.G. Beers and Company Map, a variety of businesses
operated in the town. Eight attorneys, two physicians, one dentist, one jeweler, and one
insurance salesman offered their services in Richmond. In addition, there were four banks,
three livery stables, one furniture store, three clothing stores, two hotels, and one
Some of Madison County's biggest internal changes from 1850 to 1900 were evident in the
increasing number of its business institutions, especially newspapers and banks, organized
by prominent citizens such as James B. McCreary, Alexander Tribble, William M. Irvine, and
J. Stone Walker. The Berea Citizen has published continuously from 1899 to the
present. Also, the Irvine and Walker Bank, begun in 1874 and reorganized in 1897,
continues today after a series of merges as Bank One of Madison County.