Walking the Talk

Ever wonder how to go about setting up a walking tour? First you look for an interesting area in which to walk. Then, you look for specific places about which to discuss. If you are going through an area which contains both residential and commercial buildings, you might look for interesting firms that are not what you would expect to find; you would then look through any books, city directories, or other source materials to see how long the firm has been in existence, or to note what business used to be in the same location. You look for houses which have distinctive architecture or notable residents. If you are lucky, you will find that some places have both!When you check the city directories, you find more information than you expect. Since the inclusion of the reverse directory, which lists the street addresses and then who lives there, you can find out more data in the front of the directory under the person’s name. It will give husband, spouse, and occupation. If a partner in a firm, it lists that firm as a cross-check. If you look thoroughly through the last name list, you may find children who are still living at home but attending a local college or other institution. Once you have that information, you can move backwards to see if that same family was living in the same house during the years preceding the inclusion of the reverse directory, or where else they were living. Often you will find the family was living in the same neighborhood, but at a different address. It is both challenging and rewarding research. Then you take the data you have and enter it onto 3×5 cards for easy access. You walk through the neighborhood and try to memorize the information, either as little or as much as might be of interest to others.

Then you are ready for the big day, the day of the public walking tour. The biggest hurdle is remembering to face your audience as you are telling the stories of each place you have included. The next most important task is to ask for questions, and to carry blank cards on which to write down data about buildings or former residents which members of your tour group know.