Wreck of the Madison

the shape of a ship is visible under the water in a spring run

Walking along the boardwalk at Troy Spring State Park or snorkeling in the spring's waters, you may notice an odd shape in the water, too uniform to be the limestone rock that crops up in other places below the surface. This is all that remains of the steam ship Madison, a relic from the Civil War that tells a story of a country in conflict, and a man too proud to let his prize possession fall into enemy hands.

Captain James Tucker, courtesy of Florida Memory

Owned and operated by Captain James M. Tucker, the Madison was built in 1854. It was used primarily as a sort of floating general store and mail carrier, delivering supplies to towns and communities along the Suwannee River corridor. Legend has it that the shallow hull of the ship allowed it to navigate up the currents of the Suwannee further than most other ships, a vital skill in a time when the water was a primary mode of transportation. A period of relative peace and prosperity occurred, as the Madison paddled her way up and down the fabled river for 7 years, doing her job diligently. This happy period came to an end, however, at the onset of the Civil War. Like many other crafts, Madison was given a new job- a commission as a “warship” for the newly-formed Confederate Navy. Lacking guns or any type of weaponry, she was used to deliver supplies again, this time moving vital rations and other stock to the town of Columbus, where it was then shipped out to waiting troops by railroad.

Railroad Bridge at Suwannee River State Park

Two years into the conflict, the war was not going so well for the South, and Union troops were advancing through Southern Georgia and into Florida. Desperate to keep his prize possession out of the hands of the Union, who could have used the ship to their advantage, Tucker ordered the ship to be scuttled, or sunk on purpose, to lie at the bottom of the river forever more. Some historians believe that the ship was meant to be raised after the end of the war to be used again, but by then much of her machinery and fittings had been stolen, making her useless except as a reminder of the past.

Today the footprint of the ship can still be seen in the spring run by those snorkeling or scuba diving, and sometimes even from those walking on the boardwalk when the water is very clear. The eerie outline of this fabled ship tells a story to those who take the time to think about it - a story of prosperity and hope, of duty and honor. The next time you visit Troy Spring State Park, be sure to look for the wreck of the Madison, and imagine the sight she would have made in her prime, traveling these waters in a time long ago.