MADISON, N.C. -- Five years ago, the people of Rockingham County watched helplessly as 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River from the Duke Energy plant in Eden.
Less than 20 miles southwest, the people of Madison were introduced to a future which now looked unsettled, with the spill rivaling the town’s well-known clocktower as its claim to fame.
"What does that mean for our town?” resident Bobbie Webster, who co-owns M&M Pawn Shop alongside her 29-year-old son, recalls asking. “Are we just gonna be a slush town where nobody wants to come anymore?"
But five years later, Madison residents say what’s to come for the town is as clear as ever.
"I think there's been a resurgence here lately of a lot of young people that have taken over businesses,” Webster said.
Daniel Joyce was born and raised in Madison but moved away because we thought “there was nothing to do.” When he came back, he found himself saying the same thing. But, this time, he realized he could change that.
"I left the job I had taken when I moved back here and put all my eggs into one basket with this coffee shop idea,” he said.
Joyce opened The Mad Bean, which is now in its second location on East Murphy Street. The Mad Bean started with drinks, but as the community support behind it became evident, Joyce expanded the experimentation.
"You're not gonna show up and not be welcomed like you would in your house,” he said.
Today, the establishment offers food and recently opened an upstairs, where they have adult beverages and a space for on-stage performances.
"There are a lot of people from Florida, or Seattle, or neighboring states, that patronize our place because it reminds them of where they came from,” he said.
Next door to The Mad Bean, there’s another idea brewing.
"It was a hobby, brewed on the back porch with a bunch of friends, and did it for a while, and we started making pretty good beer,” said David Peters, owner of Hell on Horsecreek Brewing.
With fractal burning accents abound, Peters is creating a brewhouse complete with a bar as he moves closer to an opening date.
"I'll be back there making beer, I'll have somebody up here serving beer and folks like you will be sitting here drinking my beer,” he demonstrated.
Although Madison jumped out at Peters as a place to house his creations, he says he wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for one critical artery.
"If it wasn't for 73 and the highway we wouldn't have moved up here to start with,” he detailed.
Peters is referring to future Interstate 73, currently U.S. 220, which passes through Madison. Where it used to take people about an hour to get to Madison from Greensboro, they can now make the trip in half the time.
"It's a great feeder for this town,” he said.
"If they're coming north then they tend to stop through here which is really good,” Joyce echoed.
With other businesses in their planning stages and young entrepreneurs setting up shops in town, Madison is a microcosm of the economic resurgence happening in Rockingham County.
"We love it. These are young people that's gonna take over,” Webster said. “They're gonna take the reigns and go forward."
According to Visit Rockingham County NC, “domestic visitors to and within Rockingham County spent a record $75.28 million in the county in 2018,” an increase of 5.13% from 2017.
"If you just wanna come and do anything, we got it,” Webster added. “Just come on out."