If you've traveled through St. Lawrence County, you may have passed through the small Town of Madrid. It's a community that dates back more than two centuries, named after the famed Spanish city, but with a pronunciation and identity all its own. In this edition of your hometown, Barry Wygel tells us how this town has worked hard to keep to its roots.
MADRID, N.Y. -- Madrid, located along the Grasse River, embodies your typical small town America feel. It's been that way ever since the town was founded.
"Most of life centered around the river and right in the town and then the farms outside," said Madrid Town Historian Sara Day-Schulz.
The Town of Madrid has been home to a number of small businesses from its beginning in 1802 and the readily available shoreline made it a perfect place for water-powered factories.
Day-Schulz said, "We had clock makers, we had jewelry stores, we had grocery stores, the mills, a wool mill, a pants factory, saw mill."
But the town had a problem. It was split by the Grasse River with only a small wooden bridge connecting the two halves. A public notice went out in 1882 to consider building a stone bridge. It was during this time that a young girl named Ruth Goodnow lived in Madrid. She left detailed diaries behind that give us the best picture of what life was like at the time.
"On the east side was the sidewalk for pedestrians. Originally rough finished and hard on the shoe leather, but now worn smooth with the passage of many feet," Goodnow wrote in her diary.
The bridge cemented Madrid as a crossroads of the county, with many people passing through. This led to many hotels and restaurants being built, some of which still stand today.
One of the attractions that put Madrid on the map was the Madrid springs. Located along the railroad tracks, the Madrid springs were thought to have healing powers. This inspired a train stop here and even a bottling plant.
"They came from all over, especially right after the Civil War, coming through and traveling, came to experience these medicinal magic of the springs. People would have come by stagecoach or by train," Day-Schulz said.
Today, Madrid remains a crossroads of the county and stays true to its agricultural roots.
"It's a very peaceful area and I think a lot of people are drawn to that now," said Kerrie Cooper with the Madrid Historical Society.
"A lot of families have stayed here. We have a lot of homes that have been around since the mid-1800s that are still standing today. Some of them still have the same families in them," Day-Schulz said.
And the town remains a popular destination, thanks in part of its annual Bluegrass festival and its museums.
Cooper said, "They come from all over. We have people who travel from out of state, we have a lot of people who come over from Canada to see the Bluegrass festival.”
"We have the St. Lawrence County Power and Equipment museum,” Day-Schulz said. “They demonstrate a lot of antique farm equipment, they have a lot of agricultural education going on.”
Still, one mystery does remain to this day: The town's unusual name. Originally named in the mid-1800s after Madrid, Spain, the pronunciation didn't stick.
Day-Schulz said, "There are about nine Madrids in the United States and some of them are ‘Mad-drid’ and some of them are ‘Madrid’ and so I guess it’s just the way we happen to be.”
With a strong sense of its past, Madrid hasn't changed as much as some of its neighbors during its 200 year history, an appealing notion to many.
"Being a small community, being centered around the river in town with our farms on the outside. It's a great place to live. If people are looking for a quiet place or a place with room to grow with families," Day-Schulz said.
Cooper said, "Madrid today is the epitome of a small town atmosphere."
And that small town agricultural feel is something that Madrid residents never want to go away.