In terms of writing, they say one of the best things you can do is cut out the fat. Regards writing my book, I took that wise counsel and did not include the preface.
At the same time, such a thing is useful. It allows the author to answer the questions – Why and how did you write this book?
So today we offer you said preface. Bon appetit!
It was the fall of 1995 when I fell in love with Old Town Alexandria. My wife and I had returned stateside from a tour of duty overseas. After settling into our home a few miles south of Alexandria, we began to explore the Washington area. Many places, we soon found, tickled our fancy. My heart, however, beat the fastest for Old Town, the city’s oldest historic district and most distinctive neighborhood. Its many 18th – and 19th – century historic homes and buildings create a unique back-in-time experience for the visitor and resident alike. Along with almost a dozen small but unique museums to explore, this place quickly became my favorite stomping ground.
Fast forward fifteen years. Reflecting on some of my previous walks, I began to recall the historical markers I had seen and wondered – how many are there? What part of Alexandria’s history do they cover?
Curiosity fed the fire. From the waterfront in the east to the Metro rails in the west, from Jones Point Park northward to Montgomery Street, I walked every street and park in between. Not all at one go, of course. The area is roughly 18 by 18 blocks. Slowly but surely, however, I examined every home and structure, took photos, compiled a list of the markers and their locations, and on occasion, posted a note at my blog, Jaybird’s Jottings.
When I finished the task, I felt a sense of mission completed. At the same time, however, I had a nagging sense the job of presenting the markers could be done better. Better, as in the form of a book.
After getting inspiration from Pamela Cressey, the City’s Archaeologist, I decided to take the plunge. Wearing out our keyboard, I transcribed the words of all texts of the markers – all 30,000 of them.
With that part done, I then reached a critical point. I knew the key to the book lay in how to present the markers. Alphabetically? No. Thematically? No.
I pulled out a map I had put together with a dot for each marker. Looking at them, I realized the presentation of the book could be by the successive growth patterns of Alexandria. Thus, Chapter One became the original layout of the city in 1749. Chapter Two covers its growth over the next several decades. Chapter Three looks at the waterfront and so on.
After that high of creating the layout, and another one that came after writing the chapter introductions, I faced one final hurdle. I had to make sure each and every word I had transcribed matched the marker.
Around this time, I got a call from Ruth Reeder, who works at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum. Located on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory, this museum has created and fostered a municipal archaeology program second to none.
“Hey, Jay, I thought I would check in with you and see if you need any help on your book.”
As a matter of fact, Ruth…
In the end, a dozen or so FOAA (Friends of Alexandria Archaeology) volunteers took on the task of pounding the pavement of Old Town and Parker-Gray Districts to verify the wording of all the markers. Ruth coordinated their efforts and helped me with other aspects of finishing the book. Craig Keith, also a volunteer with FOAA, offered his professional design and layout services (Craig Keith Design). Dr. Cressey, quintessentially the perfect person to do so, wrote the foreword. The book you hold in your hand is a better product thanks to these individuals. Any errors contained herein are mine.