Monday, July 24, 2006

Walking tours of Madison -- on foot or from your armchair

Why pay $5 for a guided tour of Downtown Madison? You grew up here, you lived here for a long time (and maybe still do). You're an expert on Madison. Or not...

Even native Madisonians can learn a lot about their city if they participate in one of the four guided walking tours of Downtown Madison offered by Madison Trust for Historic Preservation. Each of the tours focuses on one relatively small area: King Street, State Street, Mansion Hill East [of Wisconsin Avenue] and Mansion Hill West [of Wisconsin Avenue]. The focus is on architecture, but you'll learn a lot about the women and men who lived in and designed the buildings on the tour, as well as about life in the capital city in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Mansion Hill West walking tour is new this year. I went on one of the first ones offered in April. I learned a lot about the history of the area, but there was were no "Central connections" mentioned anywhere along the two-hour tour -- even though many Madison Central High School students lived in the area at one time. Perhaps it's because the houses they lived in are not considered to be architecturally significant -- but then we all know about another building that was deemed to be so architecturally insignificant it was torn down so MATC administrators could have a few more parking spaces.

Here's a photograph of a house at 131 Langdon Street that's not on the tour, but was once home to six Madison [Central] High School students (one of whom was editor of the first Tychoberahn) during the early part of the 20th century:




Even if the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation walking tours aren't a treasure trove of Central associations, they're still worth $5 -- and besides, at the end of the tour, there's a "free" refreshment for all participants. Depending on the day and the tour, you could finish your walk with a drink at the Edgewater or the Plaza, or a junior ice cream cone at the Chocolate Shoppe. The 2006 walking tour schedule on runs through September, so you'll have to join one soon, or wait until next spring.

If your busy schedule makes it difficult to join one of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation walking tours, there are some interesting alternatives -- and they even make armchair tours possible for those of you who only visit Madison for reunions.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the City of Madison funded the development and publication of a series of walking tour booklets such as the one for the Greenbush-Vilas Neighborhood shown on the left. These booklets are do-it-yourself tours, and I really prefer walking around with a knowledgeable guide to walking around with my nose buried in a guidebook. However, these booklets are full of photos, informative text, and maps of the neighborhoods they explore, which also include the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood and the University Heights Neighborhood. They're worth reading even if you don't plan to take a walk. Click HERE for a complete list of the areas covered.

A limited number of these booklets are available free of charge at the Downtown branch of the Madison Public Library on West Mifflin Street. Ask for a copy of one or more of them at the reference desk -- but don't be too disappointed if the supplies of the one you want are exhausted, because there is another option available.

All of these booklets are available on line, most as PDF files that are easy to download (although some are more than 3,000 KB, so allow a bit of time and computer memory for these each download).

The days are already getting shorter, so now's the time to think about taking a walk around Madison. It won't be long before construction season is over and we have to start thinking about the S-Word. And if you pay $5 for a walking tour of State Street in August or September, at least you'll qualify for a treat at the end of the tour. In October, Mayor Dave wants to charge you $5 just to be on State Street. The man who should still be mayor is praying for rain.

1 comment:

D Strand said...

Maybe I should have voted for "the man". I read his biography and the heading of his blog. They say that if you can't think of anything good to say about someone, don't say anything at all. I wish that Soglin would practice that. Oh, well, he did get us The Monona Terrace (although I don't really know how much credit he deserves) which is a good thing. I think all of our great ratings would have come anyhow!