Winter strolls can be a combination of things -- charming, hazardous, educational -- but given the fact that it's often easier to navigate around drifted piles of snow on foot rather than four tires, maybe you find yourself walking more than you would expect.

Winter strolls can be a combination of things -- charming, hazardous, educational -- but given the fact that it's often easier to navigate around drifted piles of snow on foot rather than four tires, maybe you find yourself walking more than you would expect.

If and when you are out and about, consider taking the German Village Society's architectural scavenger hunt. It is geared toward elementary students, so it is pretty easy and it is always fun to learn something new about your neighborhood, right?

First, given the weather, look for the snowbirds. The most basic function of these devices -- also known as snowguards -- is to keep snow from falling from a slate roof onto friendly neighbors knocking on your front door. They also keep snow on the roof, which acts as an insulating layer to keep more heat in the house.

There are some wonderful examples of extant snowbirds, most notably on City Park Avenue near Stimmel Street. Wander around and see how many you can find and where they are. Not only are they an interesting feature on a slate roof, but they have a purpose to serve and they serve it well.

Next, look for the carriage stones -- if they aren't buried under heaps of drifted or shoveled snow, that is. These blocks of carved rock allowed women to easily step into and out of carriages. Some have a family name etched into the front, as in the carriage stone at 788 S. Fifth St. that reads "Kientz." Others have the name of the producer, such as the step at 555 City Park Ave. that reads "Fish Stone Company."

I imagine that when produced, these carriage stepping-stones cost a substantial sum; they also indicate that the property owners owned a carriage or traveled frequently in one. Either way, the stones are a touch of history preserved for posterity by those who keep them right where they belong at their curbs. These stones, like so many other historic features of the neighborhood, only hold significance in their proper context. A carriage stone in the backyard just would not hold the same integrity.

Fish-scale siding is another item we have children search for on their scavenger hunts. This decorative flourish, which is most often reserved for the Queen Anne homes in the neighborhood, adds a fanciful touch to a structure that is likely already fanciful in comparison to others on the street.

Named so because it resembles scales on a fish, the wooden siding was shaped as it was because it was pleasing to the eye. Layer upon layer of ornament was common for Queen Anne homes, and this was one simple way to add flare on the upper stories of a home.

Tie rods are another feature to take note of on an architectural scavenger hunt. Seemingly for decoration but actually quite important to the structural integrity of a building, tie rods are the star-shaped bolts fastening each end of iron rod to a building.

You've seen them a hundred places in the village. A cottage may have iron stars (or circles or squares) mounted into the brick wall between the first and second floor. They work like bolts on either end of a rod that runs between the ceiling and floor of two-story homes (or in our case, one-and-a-half stories). The rods keep the structure from bowing on either end.

These features are very common in areas prone to earthquake, and after an enormous earthquake in Charleston, S.C., in 1886, the rods quite literally pushed buildings back toward their centers after they were shaken on their foundations. Tie rods exist everywhere and, given their prevalence in German Village, are particularly useful in masonry construction.

So there you have it. Take a walk, enjoy what is left of the snow and treat yourself to a learning experience in your own front yard. Each fall and spring, the society hosts dozens of school groups that participate in scavenger hunts and learn about immigration, the German-American experience, architecture and historic preservation in little old German Village.

These scavenger hunts are one of the many things the society does to live up to the mantra we've followed for years: It is by sharing our roots that they become stronger.

If you are interested in leading scavenger hunts, please contact the German Village Society at german@germanvillage.com. It is a rewarding and fun way to show off your neighborhood to an eager audience. I promise we will make it easy for you with lots of coaching and support.


Jody Graichen is director of Historic Preservation Programs for the German Village Society.