Madison Men

Hats off to Matthew Weiner for a brilliant but surprising ending to the award-winning series Mad Men, named for the advertising creatives of 1960’s Madison Avenue.mad men

There was a more important Madison for me; I grew up with the steelworkers of Madison Street.

This was the same time period, but a very different lifestyle and attitude. The collars were not white, they were blue. This was not New York, it was Pennsylvania.

Eighty years ago this month, WW II was coming to an end. Soldiers like my father were returning home to family, love and economic prosperity.


Vintage Post Card 1800’s

It was a one industry town. Steel. Open hearth furnaces were operating at full tilt; specialty plate steel was in demand during war time; ships, airplanes, building infrastructure.

The housing industry was thriving in the 1950’s; the union was well established, those well-paying skilled labor jobs were secure. Moms mostly stayed at home. Families flourished.

In a community of row homes, subsidized by the steel company as low-income housing for its workers and located walking distance from the mill, Madison Street was different.

West End

Steelworkers Housing 1910

There were single homes and half-doubles, cottages and ranch-style, all featuring bigger lawns, more ample space, and just a bit more removed from the megalith mill buildings.

This was a community of immigrants, mostly eastern European and Italian. Names were difficult to pronounce. Many different languages were spoken in the home. Ethnic awareness and pride abounded. The food was amazing.

And families stayed. Generations of them.

The steel industry has waned, jobs have moved overseas, the city is looking for a rebirth. It sits along the Brandywine River and the commuter route to Philadelphia and points north and east.

Condo communities are springing up along the rolling hillsides, but the city center has fallen to decay, superseded by malls, bypassed by highways; like so many of those manufacturing meccas of the past century.

Still, as I drive past the old neighborhood, the names on many of the mailboxes remain the same.

It always makes me smile.


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21 Responses to Madison Men

  1. Beautiful post, written with so much heart. Love this.

  2. A lovely tribute to a time and place.

  3. I too love driving through the area where I grew up. It bring up so many memories. Thanks for sharing.

    • My pleasure, Diana. Our family home was sold a few years after my Dad passed. I still drive by when I’m in the area. Lots of widows now, caring for their grandkids. ❤

  4. While driving today I listened to NPR’s analysis of the last show which was immensely favorable. As is my reaction to this post. So much of what you describe is lost forever and more’s the pity. I was just driving through some older small towns in Virginia which used to be thriving and now are withering on the kudzu vine. Small town America is on the endangered species list in parts of our country.

    • “withering on the kudzu vine”…such a perfect and poetic description, Barbara. ☺ Thanks for that one. There is a concerted effort now to restore this once- thriving community by re-purposing some of the mill buildings. They’ve tried this in Bethlehem, Pa, by converting to a casino/shopping complex. Not sure it has helped revive the downtown, though, sadly. Van

  5. lbeth1950 says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank, you!

    • I’m so glad this one touched you, Linda, and you’re so very welcome. Some day, you’ll tell me why, but I could venture a guess. ❤ Van

      • lbeth1950 says:

        I just love neighborhood and people stories. When I go through the neighbors win NJ and Pa I always want to know the people stories. I want to go in, have coffee, hold the baby, walk in the back yard, admire their flowers, exchange recipes, and hear about a day with thei grandma. I guess I want to be their friend.

      • I’d say you have kind of an old soul, Linda. Taking pleasure in the simple stories of folks’ lives… fabulous. That’s a huge part of what makes your writing so compelling . Keep it up ! ☺

      • lbeth1950 says:

        I love the warmth. Thanks.

  6. markbialczak says:

    Wonderful post, Van. So much change, slowly as you describe here, and in lightning speed every day. I’m going to stick to my motto, which, sadly, makes me so outdated and feeling alone: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

  7. Angie Mc says:

    God’s country. That’s what my family, still in NEPA, call it. Beautiful post, Van. NEPA coal, rail, church picnics, glorious summers, …home ❤

  8. megdekorne says:

    Hi beautiful Vanessa …I’m a huge fan of ” Mad Men ” …. and of yours ! Wonderfully written ….hugs and love , megxxx

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