Governor James Lawson Kemper, born in 1823 near James City (Leon), Virginia, in Madison County, was a member of a family that had settled in the region in the early 1700s. Raised in Madison County, Kemper received a classical education at Locust Dale Academy before pursuing a career as a lawyer. As one of Central Virginia’s most prominent attorneys and politicians, he moved to this house, now known as the Kemper Residence, with his family in 1865. James Lawson Kemper served his country in many ways. He represented Madison County in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1853 to 1863, serving as Speaker for the final term. Kemper fought in the Mexican War, held the rank of major general in the Confederate Army, and was badly wounded in Pickett’s Charge at the battle of Gettysburg. Kemper capped a distinguished career by serving as the first southern-born post-Reconstruction governor of Virginia from 1874 to 1878.
In honor of Governor Kemper and his native county, this imposing Greek Revival dwelling has been restored and furnished with period furniture and exhibits. This was accomplished as a joint effort by the Madison County Historical Society and other community organizations, prominent among them the Sons of Confederate Veterans, The Madison Garden Club and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and by families and individuals.
In 2017, after a year of construction and restoration, the Historical Society’s museum moved to the basement of the Kemper Residence. The museum houses the Strode Collection of Native American artifacts, a unique assembly of arrowheads, pottery shards, etc., collected solely from Madison County, a permanent exhibit of the ‘Only Train to Run Thru Madison County’ as well as a tribute to the citizens who lived in our mountains before the Shenandoah Park. There are also a number of changing exhibits.
Some of the Gift Shop offerings include books and pamphlets on Madison, its history, houses and families, our special blend of Kemper Tea and greeting cards by local artists..
The Museum closes before Christmas and reopens the first of March.
The Kemper Residence is also available to the public for special occasions, receptions and meetings. If you are interested in renting the Kemper Residence for a special event, details can be found in the Kemper Use Agreement or by calling Mary Haught at 540-547-3503.
OVERVIEW: The Society leases the Arcade, a small brick two-story building located in the heart of downtown Madison at 124 North Main Street. The upper level is used for storing artifacts which record the history of and life in Madison County. Here these artifacts are received, documented and prepared tor display or storage . There is a workroom for preparing exhibits and constructing archival containers for the stored artifacts.
The ground floor, which housed the Society museum for many years, is now used by several organizations, including the Society Board, as a meeting place.
BUILDING HISTORY: In the last decade of the 18th century, a frame storehouse was located on the site of the Arcade. In 1820, a license was granted for a tavern on that lot, and the present brick building may date from that time or somewhat later. By the mid-19th century, to accommodate its expansion as an inn, a frame extension was added to the south side of the building, with a porch and balcony facing Main Street. The brick arcade, a rarity in early commercial structures, served as the entrance to the rear of the inn. Rooms, dining, and dancing were available, and by the 1880s, the inn was known as Madison House. In the first decade of the 20th century, Madison House ceased to function as an inn, and in 1919, a fire which began in the post office south of it destroyed the frame part of the building and gutted the Arcade but was prevented from spreading to the frame buildings to the north by its brick walls. The brick building was restored, and a commercial cinder block addition constructed. During this period, the original entrance door on the south side of the building was closed, doors (at one time there were two facing Main Street) were created on the west side, and the ground floor windows were altered. Later the county acquired the property and had the cinder block building demolished to provide space for public parking. Through the intercession of Madisonians concerned with the preservation of the town’s history, the small brick building that had saved much of the early town from destruction by fire was spared and restored by the Madison County Historical Society.
Behind the Arcade is a garden designed and maintained by the Madison Garden Club.