Current view of the Madison Railroad incline, south of the cut.
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Madison, Indiana

Ben Schroeder Saddletree Factory

The Ben Schroeder residence

The Ben Schroeder residence
Courtesy of Larry Hunt

Saddletrees, the carved, wood frames which are the foundation of riding saddles, were a major product of Madison’s economy in the later part of the 19th century. Considered the saddletree capital of the Midwest, Madison had 12 saddletree companies that made more than 150,000 trees annually during the industry’s peak in the late 1870s. Prussian immigrant John Benedict “Ben” Schroeder opened the Schroeder Saddletree Factory in 1878. Schroeder converted the modest brick building originally used as the factory in 1882 and moved saddletree operations into two wood-frame buildings constructed directly north and west of his home. The T-plan, brick residence sports a porch along the rear wing, decorative fascia around the front and side gable ends, and additions made after the separate woodshop and assembly rooms were built.

When Ben Schroeder died in 1909, the company passed to his widow and children. Four of the six Schroeder siblings, Leo, Joseph, Charles, and Gertrude, decided to stay in Madison and continue their father’s business. During the company’s 94 years, the Schroeder factory produced between 300,000 and 500,000 saddletrees, almost two million wood clothespins, and countless stirrups, hames (the framework for horse collars), and work gloves.

Workshops behind the Schroeder residence

Workshops behind the Schroeder residence
Courtesy of Larry Hunt

After Joseph Schroeder, Ben’s last surviving son, passed away in 1972, the factory and house passed to Historic Madison, Inc. (HMI). The factory remained unchanged since the 1940s, with all of the machinery left in place, saddletree patterns hanging from the walls and ceiling, packages of printed clothespin boxes upstairs, and a layer of sawdust and wood scraps strewn over the woodshop’s floor. The level of preservation caught industrial historians’ attention. It took HMI several years to catalogue the factory’s artifacts and decipher how the one-of-a-kind machines (modified by the Schroeders to specifically make clothespins and saddletrees) worked. The Ben Schroeder Factory is the only place in the United States that interprets the saddletree-making process.

The Ben Schroeder Saddletree Factory contributes to the historic significance of the Madison Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark.


Plan your visit

The Ben Schroeder Saddletree Factory, a property owned by the Historic Madison, Inc., is located at 106 Milton St. Click here for the Madison Historic District National Historic Landmark file: text. The property is open to the public for regularly scheduled tours from mid-April-October. Admission is charged. For more information, the Historic Madison, Inc. website or call HMI at 812-265-2967.

The Ben Schroeder Saddletree Factory has been documented in the National Park Service’s Historic American Engineering Record.

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