Fort Madison, a community situated on the Great River Road, is home to Old Fort Madison, a replica of the original fort that stood on the banks of the Mississippi from 1808 to 1813. Its short life ended during the War of 1812, when the US 1st Infantry burnt the fort and escaped down river, fleeing the Native American tribes that had held them under siege for weeks.
The town is also home to Historic Iowa State Penitentiary. Renowned as the oldest continually used penitentiary in the US, Historic ISP was in operation as the state’s Maximum Security Prison from January of 1839 to August of 2015. The old penitentiary stands as a fortress with 30-foot limestone walls and razor wire. Visitors to the community can view the institution and learn about its history while on the Historic Park-to-Park Tour in Fort Madison’s historic District.
The town boasts ties to the Santa Fe Railway, which is now part of BNSF rail line, which operates the longest, double-decker swing-span bridge in the world. Opening more than 2,000 times annually, visitors are able to view barges and riverboats as they pass through the bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
From the history of Sheaffer Pens, that were invented and manufactured here, to the Santa Fe Railway Museum, Fort Madison offers travelers a rare glimpse into the Victorian Times of the United States. With Festivities like the Tri-State Rodeo and our 100-Year-Old “Cry of Dolores” Mexican Fiesta; we are a multicultural community that celebrates the history of the heartland. Come and experience Fort Madison, the place where Iowa began.