For the past six years, Robert Madison has been offering “Walking with Washington” tours of Old Town. The tours are scheduled for every Sunday in February — timed to coincide with Presidents’ Day weekend and the George Washington Birthday Parade. It’s a labor of love for Madison, who offers the two-hour walking tour free of charge.
“Alexandria had an important influence on George Washington,” Madison said. “And George Washington had an important influence on Alexandria.”
Much of the tour is based on his 2003 book, “Walking with Washington.” The book and the tour explore the first 50 years of Alexandria — a world of taverns, townhouses and warehouses. A native of Holland, Mich., Madison has lived in Alexandria since 1975. The tour covers 20 sites in 15 blocks, so those interested should bring their walking shoes.
“I don’t think I would have otherwise noticed a lot of these buildings,” said Christa Conner between stops. “I really appreciate all the history he’s including during the tour.”
Madison answers many questions: How did Duchess Street become Oronoco Street? Was Washington in love with Sally Fairfax? Where is the oldest house in Old Town? What was the cause of the falling out between Washington and George Mason? Where was Washington’s coffin built?
“He’s very knowledgeable on the facts,” said Ray Hawn after the tour. “It was very enjoyable.”
Madison straddles the line between legend and history, offering both mythology and documentable facts and letting the listeners decide what to believe. He explains the early history of the seaport city with a familiarity that engenders a personal relationship with events of long ago.
One anecdote that Madison tells involves a fire at McKnight’s Tavern. Washington happened to be in the area and heard about the fire. Even though he was the town’s most famous and accomplished citizen, he rushed to the scene to help put out the fire.
“That’s just the kind of guy that George was,” Madison said.
Those who take Madison’s tour will also learn how Washington used liquor to win a seat in the House of Burgesses, why he needed two coffins and where he celebrated the ratification of the Constitution in 1787. The tour starts in Market Square and ends in the Alexandria Archeology Museum, located on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory.