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322 West St. - Shipley's Tavern

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Shipley's Tavern holds the state's second oldest liquor license and has been in operation since 1867!

Historic Shipley's Tavern is the oldest continually running tavern in Madison, but this iconic Madison landmark was not always known by the same name. Opening in 1867, the tavern was first named the Cincinnati Brewing Company. It operated as such for nearly eighty years until the Shipley family purchased it and ran it for over 20 years. Although the restaurant and tavern has retained its name, it has had well over 20 owners since the Shipley family sold the business.

What's in a Name? Apparently, quite a bit! Several subsequent owners tried to rename Shipley's but the names never stuck. According to one former owner, the establishment is so well known, it's nearly impossible to change the name because regardless, the locals continued to call it Shipley's. Now, that's some strong connection to place and history in local memory!

Buy Local was Popular Even in the early 20th Century! An add from c. 1915 boasted Shipley's sold "Famous XXX Ale" made by the local Greiner Brewery among other things. Buy local buy often was something Madisonians took seriously

The building that houses Shipley's has an interesting history too! Originally, it was a much larger building, but today this is all that remains as the northern portion was torn down to make room for the Foster Building which houses the Hong Kong Kitchen at 102 E. Main St. (pictured below on the southeast corner of Main and West Streets).

1892 Sanborn Map

The building itself is a 3-story commercial building in the Italianate style built in 1865. It is constructed of brick masonry and has a parged stone foundation, shed roof, and a projecting decorative cornice with brackets and dentils (the decorative elements at the top). Also, notice the beautiful pressed metal crowns with brackets and dentils above the windows (sometimes referred to as eyebrows). Speaking of windows, these are historic double-hung windows in the 2/2 style, which simply means 2 panes of glass in the top sash hung over 2 panes of glass in the lower sash. Each window has a stone sill below.

The lower level main entry has been modernized. Notice the glass block surround on the door to the left and above the main entrance, the large pane glass window, painted transom window above the main entry, and one modern entrance door. Also, notice the modern canvas awning. It was not uncommon in the early 19th century for businesses to have an awning but typically they were retractable and unrolled for shade or protection from the weather.

Did you know? The brick walls of the Shipley's building are laid in a pattern called common bond. A common bond, also referred to as the American bond, has a course of headers inserted every five or six courses (see the image below).

Check this next image out for various brick patterns. Do you have a sharp eye for detail? Try doing a scavenger hunt and find these around town!

Shipley's Mural

On the south side of Shipley’s Tavern is a beautiful mural dedicated to the local river economy and town's history. The centerpiece is of a steam boat, the Revonah (Hanover - a nearby town - spelled backwards) rolling down the Ohio River. Surrounding it are 17 smaller circles filled with historical events and important places. Fomer Shipley’s owner Cris Sauer, along with 18 sponsors, commissioned Hanover College professor Tiffany Black to paint the mural in 2009.

This is a picture of the real Renovah.


Thank you to the Madison Main Street Program Design Committee for their contribution to the research of this building's history.

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