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301 Mulberry St. - Central Tavern

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Photo Credit: Brent Spry

One of the oldest commercial buildings in continual use in Madison, the Central Hotel & Tavern has an intriguing history. In fact, the entire block is one of the oldest intact commercial areas in Madison.

This row of structures first appeared in the original town plat for Madison drawn in 1810 (see image to the right). 301 first appears in property records on April 17, 1823 when it was deeded to I. T. Canby from Johnathan and Elizabeth Lyon and Joseph and Margaret Canby.

Rich Architectural History

Each building within Madison's National Historic Landmark District is architecturally unique with its own character and styling and 301 Mulberry is no different. In fact, the entire row of buildings starting at 301 Mulberry were so impressive, a group of preservation professionals documented them in the 1971 Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).

Notice the beautiful cornices (decorative molding trim at the roofline), first-floor pilasters (decorative columns), and window hoods (decorative trim pieces above the upper floor windows). The decorative brackets along the cornice are one of the hallmark features of the Italianate ornamentation that was added to the building some time approximately between 1850-1880. (This was when Italianate architecture was at the height of popularity in the United States.)

Did you know? Like many buildings around Madison, 301 Mulberry has multiple architectural styles. Originally, this structure was built in the federal design. Federal style

buildings are marked by low-pitch roofs and overall symmetry of openings. Many federal designs also include dentiled cornices (see example photo at right), semi-circular or elliptical fanlight window above a six-panel front door, slender end chimneys, and elaborate door trim. But, much like we do on the inside of our homes, people like to redecorate to update or "modernize" the look of the exterior of their buildings. All around Madison, one can see examples of such updates as those found on 301 Mulberry. How many examples can you find?


Longest Running Hotel & Tavern in Madison

First opened as a hotel and tavern in 1834, Central Hotel and Tavern is the longest continually running hotel and tavern* in Madison. Today, the tavern is located on the first floor and the hotel occupies the upper floors, but according to the current owners, this was not always the case. Historically, the first floor was a lobby and parlor area. The tavern was located on the second floor in a tucked away corner so as to provide refreshment and entertainment for their male patrons in a discreet location that did not offend the ladies.

* Shipley's is the oldest stand-alone tavern in town - you can read all about that one too because it's another site on the Preservation Quest

Did you know? Historically, taverns were considered a male retreat. Many women generally did not frequent such places, but those who did had a much different experience than men. Those taverns that did allow women typically had a separate ladies' entrance that kept them separated from the actual bar area. This entrance allowed a woman to either order carryout refreshments from the end of the bar or use the backroom where food, refreshments, and sometimes even entertainment were offered. The separate ladies entrance also allowed for discretion for those who did not wish to advertise their whereabouts to other more conservative citizens. However, despite these challenges, historians have noted many working-class women enjoyed their lunches in the backrooms of taverns.

Preservation Efforts -

It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to keep a 200 year-old building in shape. The property has changed hands 31 times, most owners not keeping the property for any significant amount of time. In fact, the longest this property was owned by the same person was a period of 50 years from 1916-1966. Regardless of the length of time of ownership, these owners have played a significant role in the preservation of the structure simply by doing routine maintenance and making repairs.

Often times, historic buildings like this one have hidden secrets and this one is no exception! For example, the original roof was shaped much differently from the current roof. We know this because it still exists today. The current roof was simply built overtop of the original roof. When exploring the attic area, one literally walks on the old roof's slate tiles. Despite the many changes, other hints of the building's history can be seen throughout the place if you keep a keen eye out (look for the pressed tin panels along the south wall of the first floor).

At the time of this post, the current owners are trying to work on the building to preserve it for another century (or longer). In fact, they recently completed a tuck-pointing project along the south wall. But, wait, what is tuck-pointing? Simply put, tuck-pointing is the process of repairing the mortar that sits in between the bricks. Over time, the mortar wears down due to environmental conditions. It is made to wear down before the brick, but excessive wear can allow moisture to penetrate into the masonry. This moisture can cause damages such as spalling (breakage of the brick), so as part of the regular maintenance on a masonry structure, it is important to ensure the mortar remains intact and strong. Read more about tuck-pointing here.

Incredible Find!

Decades before modern cranes, hydraulic lifts, and scaffolding, masons and other construction workers had to have a way to get their bricks when constructing multi-story buildings like those found along this section of Mulberry. Lift wheels, such as these, were sometimes left behind after construction. Today, over 90% of them have disappeared. This one has remained intact and has been preserved. Thanks to the current roof (that was built on top of the original roof in order to raise the pitch), this wheel is in excellent shape! Although not accessible to the public, or even easily accessible period even to employees or contractors, this is certainly a treasured feature!

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