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James who? High school’s name credits founding father

Hundreds of Madison students will enter James Clemens High School for fall semester in 2012. Exactly who is this man to which the new school pays homage?

Clemens was born in Pennsylvania in 1778. After living in Kentucky, he relocated to Huntsville in 1812.

At 76 years old, Clemens, a land speculator, initiated a transaction that eventually founded the town. On January 5, 1854, Clemens purchased a land parcel at the center of today’s town. The sizeable purchase of real estate was one-quarter of a square mile.

Little did Clemens know that he had set in motion what would become one of the fastest-growing, progressive-minded cities in the Southeast.

Clemens’ motivation was developing the land parcel into a town that was halfway between Huntsville and Decatur. Another advantage was the Memphis and Charleston Railroad that ran east-west through the plot.

Capitalizing on railroad commerce here, he built a train depot. Clemens was convinced the town would share his namesake, “Clemens Depot.” However, the railroad brass had a different idea, and “Madison Station” was recorded on their maps.

Clemens first sold land to George Washington ‘G.W.’ Martin, a successful businessman from Triana, then a prosperous river port on the Tennessee River. Martin brought his mercantile business to Madison Station on the tracks’ south side.

For many years, this address was home to Whitworth Realty Company. In recent years, owners of Madison Station Antiques completely restored the historic site.

“Clemens was also something of a social reformer, as was his son Jeremiah,” John Rankin said. He wrote “The Memories of Madison: A Connected Community 1857-2007.”

“Both men freed their slaves in the 1850s, well before the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation,” Rankin said. “Additionally, the last lot that James himself sold, only three months before his death, was to a free black man, Edmund Martin from Morgan County.”

In August 1857, citizens of Madison Station successfully petitioned the Madison County Commissioners to open a voting precinct at the depot. The bustling town of Madison Station was incorporated and its name shortened to “Madison” in 1869.

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