A group of college students shivered in the cold fog on a downtown Kennewick corner Thursday.
One of them tapped the screen of her tablet computer with a gloved hand, and a recorded voice cut through the fog.
"The C. E. Williams building was built in 1909 by Charles E. Williams for H.M. Ashbaugh and Company," the voice from the computer said.
It went on to provide a brief history of the brick building that sits on the corner of Kennewick Avenue and Benton Street. The students gave a satisfied smile, dug their hands deeper into their coats and moved on to the next stop of the web-based walking tour they designed.
For the second straight year, students from an interactive media class at Washington State University Tri-Cities have built a virtual tour guide through Kennewick's historic downtown. They improved on last year's effort in several ways.
The students built a website -- www.walkwithhistory.org -- that can more easily be accessed by smartphone or tablet than the previous version.
They added 10 more buildings, bringing this year's total to 30 stops on the guided tour.
The addition of audio tracks means visitors can look at the building while they take in the history, rather than needing to stay glued to a screen, said associate professor Doug Gast.
And the website allows someone to visit downtown Kennewick from the comforts of home.
But it is best experienced in a mix of virtual and real life, by walking among the historic buildings and occasionally clicking "next location" on a smartphone screen to hear about the next stop on the tour.
The tour eventually will include plastic decals in storefronts that display the web address for each building. But it was too cold Thursday to mount the signs -- they won't stick when it's much below 50 degrees, Gast said, his breath visible in the 25-degree air.
The website features fun facts about each building and displays historic photos. That combination suited one of the two students who headed up the group.
Britney King is a Kennewick native studying digital technology and culture at WSU. She wants to use photographs to prompt people to view the world in a different light, to "show people what I see," she said.
Her favorite part about creating the walking tour was learning her hometown's history, which allowed her to see her town in a different light.
The building that houses Zinful Grill and Wine Bar, for example, in the 1920s was the site of a burglary in which the caretaker of the then-meat market was tied to a sausage grinder by the robbers.
"That's a funny story," King said.
And it's not the only anecdote to be shared during the virtual tour.
"Learning the history of Kennewick was really fun," said King, who now lives in Richland. "This is still my little place."