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Madison, Indiana

Charles Shrewsbury House

The Charles Shrewsbury House

The Charles Shrewsbury House
Courtesy of Rhonda L. Deeg/Historic Madison, Inc.

Built by Madison architect Francis Costigan between 1846 and 1849, the Shrewsbury House is a Greek Revival masterpiece. Costigan designed the Shrewsbury House for Captain Charles L. Shrewsbury, a Virginia native who earned his fortune as a commission merchant, meat packer, and as part owner of the Palmetto Flour Mill. Shrewsbury also served as mayor of Madison from 1870 to 1872.

The cubic house features a wide entablature with dentils and frieze-band windows. Two main entrances, located at the front and rear of the house, lead into a central hall. A one-story porch over the garden entrance is supported by two tall, fluted columns, while the recessed First Street entrance features a lintel decorated with a center anthemion (fan-shaped palm frond). The lower-story windows flanking the entrance have iron balconettes with a palmette design, possibly symbolic of Shrewsbury’s involvement with the Palmetto Flour Mill. The interior’s vertical emphasis is conveyed through high ceilings, tall doors, the two pairs of fluted columns dividing the drawing room, and the pilasters found in corners and around the 13-foot windows.

This magnificent staircase is the first thing one notices upon entering the Charles Shrewsbury House.

This magnificent staircase is the first thing one notices upon entering the Charles Shrewsbury House.
Courtesy of Larry Hunt

The centerpiece of the Shrewsbury home is its freestanding, self-supporting, spiral staircase that is considered one of Costigan’s most dramatic architectural achievements. Located in the middle of the front hall and extending the entire height of the house, the staircase is a visual and architectural wonder. The staircase’s weight is concentrated on the bottom step and supported by the end of each subsequent pine step. While Costigan’s grand staircase serves an aesthetic purpose, it also functions as an early form of air conditioning. Its spiral shape facilitates air flow, moving warm air to the house’s top floor where it may be released through attic windows.

Inspired by the Shrewsbury House’s masterful design, retired Chicago librarian John Windle and his wife Ann purchased the house in 1948 and set about preserving its historic appearance and character. In 1960, the couple founded Historic Madison, Inc. (HMI), an organization dedicated to preserving Madison’s sizable historic district.

The home contributes to the historic significance of the Madison Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places; it was also designated an individual National Historic Landmark on April 19, 1994.


Plan your visit

The Shrewsbury House, a National Historic Landmark owned by Historic Madison, Inc., is located at 301 W. First St. Click here for the Shrewsbury House National Historic Landmark file: text and photos and here for the Madison Historic District National Historic Landmark file: text. The Shrewsbury House is open by appointment only. For more information, please visit the Historic Madison, Inc. website or contact HMI at 812-265-2967.

The Shrewsbury House has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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