Madison is the capital of the U.S. state of Wisconsin and the county seat of Dane County. As of July 1, 2012, Madison had an estimated population of 240,323, making it the second largest city in Wisconsin, after Milwaukee, and the 81st largest in the United States. Madison Metropolitan Statistical Area had a 2010 population of 568,593. Madison began in 1829, but the cornerstone for the Wisconsin capitol was laid in 1837, and the settlement was incorporated as a village in 1846, with a population of 626. When Wisconsin became a state in 1848, Madison remained the capital, and the following year, it became the site of the University (now University of Wisconsin–Madison). Madison incorporated as a city in 1856, with a population of 6,863, leaving the unincorporated remainder as a separate Town of Madison. The original capitol was replaced in 1863 and the second capitol burned in 1904. The current capitol was built between 1906 and 1917.
During the Civil War, the city of Madison served as a center of the Union Army in Wisconsin. The intersection of Milwaukee, East Washington, Winnebago and North Streets is known as Union Corners, because a tavern located there was the last stop for Union soldiers before heading to fight the Confederates. Camp Randall, on the west side of Madison, was built and used as a training camp, a military hospital, and a prison camp for captured Confederate soldiers. After the war ended, the Camp Randall site was absorbed into the University of Wisconsin and Camp Randall Stadium was built there in 1917. In 2004 the last vestige of active military training on the site was removed when the stadium renovation replaced a firing range used for ROTC training.
The City of Madison continued annexations from the Town of Madison almost from the date of the city’s incorporation, leaving the latter a collection of discontinuous areas subject to future annexation. In the wake of continued controversy and an effort in the state legislature to simply abolish the town, an agreement was reached in 2003 to provide for the incorporation of the remaining portions of the Town into the City of Madison and the City of Fitchburg by October 30, 2022. Madison is located in the center of Dane County in south-central Wisconsin, 77 miles (124 km) west of Milwaukee and 122 miles (196 km) northwest of Chicago. Madison surrounds the smaller Town of Madison, the City of Monona, and the villages of Maple Bluff and Shorewood Hills. Madison shares borders with its largest suburb, Sun Prairie, and three other communities, Middleton, McFarland and Fitchburg. The city’s boundaries also approach the villages of Verona, Cottage Grove, DeForest, and Waunakee.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 94.03 square miles (243.54 km2), of which, 76.79 square miles (198.89 km2) is land and 17.24 square miles (44.65 km2) is water. The city is sometimes described as The City of Four Lakes, comprising the four successive lakes of the Yahara River: Lake Mendota (“Fourth Lake”), Lake Monona (“Third Lake”), Lake Waubesa (“Second Lake”) and Lake Kegonsa (“First Lake”), although Waubesa and Kegonsa are not actually in Madison, but just south of it. A fifth smaller lake, Lake Wingra, is within the city as well; it is connected to the Yahara River chain by Wingra Creek. The Yahara flows into the Rock River, which in turn, flows into the Mississippi River. Downtown Madison is located on an isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona. The city’s trademark of “Lake, City, Lake” reflects this geography.
Local identity varies throughout Madison, with over 120 officially recognized neighborhood associations. Neighborhoods on and near the eastern part of the isthmus, some of the city’s oldest, have the strongest sense of identity and are the most politically liberal. Historically, the north, east, and south sides were blue collar, while the west side was white collar, and to a certain extent, this remains true. Students dominate on the University of Wisconsin campus and to the east into downtown, while to its south and in Shorewood Hills on its west, faculty have been a major presence since those neighborhoods were originally developed. The turning point in Madison’s development was the university’s 1954 decision to develop its experimental farm on the western edge of town; since then, the city has grown substantially along suburban lines.
Madison, along with the rest of the state, has a humid continental climate, characterized by variable weather patterns and a large seasonal temperature variance: winter temperatures can be well below freezing, with moderate to occasionally heavy snowfall and temperatures reaching 0 °F (−18 °C) on 17 nights annually; high temperatures in summer average in the lower 80s °F (27–28 °C), reaching 90 °F (32 °C) on an average 12 days per year, often accompanied by high humidity levels. Summer accounts for a greater proportion of annual rainfall, but winter still sees significant precipitation.