Thursday, August 15, 2013

Day 95 - Going on a Historic Architecture Tour

I have never been on a historic architecture tour. Although the basic forms and designs in architecture have always interested me, I never intended to attend a historic architecture tour until after I was retired and had enough time to burn on such activities. While I knew the architecture on a historic architecture tour would intrigue me, the idea of listening to a tour guide drone on about buildings for an hour or more seemed something better suited for a slower and less busy life. That stated, I knew I couldn't write off an architecture tour unless I actually had the experience of attending one. Although stereotypes about such events led me to believe the events would be boring and uneventful, my ability to gauge my interest in a historic architecture tour could only come from experiencing one myself. As a result, I made time to attend a local historic architecture tour this evening after Rachael made me aware of its occurrence several weeks ago. At minimum, I figured the experience would give me more insight regarding the history of the city I call home. Plus, the nominal ticket coast included a free beer at the local Great Dane Brewery, which gave me more than enough incentive to give the tour a try. In turn, I geared up to attend the tour tonight and made my way downtown with Rachael after the workday was through.

With the tour scheduled to start 30 minutes after the end of my typical work schedule, I raced home this evening to pick up Rachael and my camera equipment. Knowing we had to meet the tour group at King Street near the Madison Capitol Square in little less than 15 minutes after I arrived home, I hurried around the house before rushing out the door. Luckily, Rachael and I found parking relatively easy when we arrived to the Capitol Loop, which left us with a few minutes before the tour was to start. Together we quickened our pace toward the meeting area specified in the tour materials Rachael had acquired earlier, until we came upon the street crossing listed in the tour pamphlet. As we approached the meeting area for the tour, we noticed a small group of older men and women huddled around a concrete table in front of a nearby government building. Assuming the group was likely our historic architecture tour group, Rachael and I approach the table and introduced ourselves. In response, a pair of women welcomed us to the tour, helped us acquire our tour tickets, and explained the tour would begin momentarily.

Happy we had made it on time, Rachael and I took a seat on a nearby wall and prepared for the tour to begin. We chatted for a few minutes until one of the women that greeted us moments earlier asked the group to gather around her near the street. Following her instructions, we joined the rest of the group in a semi-circle around the woman as she began to explain the path we would take during our tour. Continuing, the woman then turned our attention to a government building behind us. She explained the courtyard before the building was the site of the earliest settlement in Madison, which housed dozens of people that worked the land and lakes surrounding the modern city. She was quick to point out a series of pillars in the courtyard and explain the red granite blocks now stand where the corners of those earliest buildings rested. Caught off guard by her remarks, I turned to face the pillars and let the historic fact sink in. While I knew full well I was on a historic architecture tour, I didn’t expect such historic significance so early in the event. Much to my surprise, we were only minutes into our tour, and I was already intrigued by the information being presented to us. For an event I had preconceived as a boring experience, the historic architecture tour gripped me early and it didn’t appear that would change soon thereafter.

Kickin' it old school! A picture of the first settlement in Madison

After a few more minutes of discussing the historic site behind us and comparing its location to a series of old photographs, our tour guide led us down the street and onto Main Street. There she introduced us to the Argus building and explained it was the oldest standing structure in the city of Madison. She provided some facts on the structure and the buildings resting next to it before leading us further down the street to the Tenney building. The woman walked us through the history of the structure and the buildings that surrounded it, providing more facts and stories that did more than enough to maintain my interest as we walked. As the woman continued speaking, it quickly became apparent I had underestimated the historic architecture tour experience and, in some regard, the history of Madison. There was so much interesting history around us it was hard to keep up, and I actually found myself enjoying the experience more than I thought I would. It was amazing to hear about the people and events that shaped the city around us, which made the time on the tour feel short as we rounded the last corner of our tour route.

The Argus building

The tour group

Old King Street

As we walked back near the start of our tour, our guide pointed out a few more buildings of significance along King Street before concluding the event across from the Great Dane Brewery. The guide thanked us for our time and proceeded to invite the group across the street for the complimentary drink that came with our tickets. Although most of the group chose to forego the offer, Rachael and I were happy to send some time sipping on a cold beer as evening set in. After a long workday and an interesting “I have never...” event, it was a perfect way to cap off another day.

As we drank we talked about the tour and the overall experience, which led me to conclude the historic architecture tour was a nice way to spend an hour and a half of an otherwise uneventful Thursday evening. I was able to learn some interesting facts about the city I call home, experience some of the historic foundations of the state’s capital city, and enjoy a drink courtesy of the Madison historical society. Although I didn’t expect the first two of those things to provide much appeal, I walked away enjoying every aspect of the experience. Sure, the historic architecture tour wasn’t the most exciting event so far in my “I have never...” journey, but I can honestly say it was a good use of my time. Of all things, I’m finding I actually get a kick out of learning about and experiencing the places that have made our history, and realizations like that make me glad I’m taking on this “I have never...” journey.

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