Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg - Part 1

I have been going to Colonial Williamsburg since the mid-1960's. My wife and I have been going for thirty years and not too long at the start of that the trip became annual - every summer and then we added a December trip as well. We have gone for as long as two full weeks. We more often average ten days. It is possible to love a place as you would love a person. Needless to say, I have this type of love for Colonial Williamsburg.

I can't really put the why of that into words. It is a feeling and every time that we go that feeling is renewed and deepens. If you have been reading these articles from the beginning you know that we stopped traveling for three years - and the Roadtrek has made traveling possible for us. What it has done is brought me (I really should say us) back to Colonial Williamsburg. It is more than a love of history. There are a lot of places to experience history around the country. There really is nothing else quite like this and on this scale. For a living history reenactor, this is like a playground. For everyone else, it is an incredible immersion into the past that is brought to life everyday in the streets and in the restored and reconstructed buildings.

Allow me a moment to tell you a little history about Colonial Williamsburg to set the stage for what this is all about and what you will see when you visit there. It is important to understand that this is not an amusement park and it is not a restored village with a big fence around the property and an admission booth at the gate. This is a city. People live here. People have lived here since the 1600's. Williamsburg was the capital city of the colony and state of Virginia until the capital was moved to Richmond in 1780 during the American Revolution to protect the capital from British invasion from the sea. When the capital was moved, the city of Williamsburg became a sleepy, little college town - the College of William and Mary is here and has been since its start in 1693. Over the years, the streets that were regularly walked on by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and so many other founders of our country became paved over and the houses and buildings that lined those streets were built over or fell down with new buildings taking their place. In the 1930's, the reverend of the local church had an idea to wake up the sleeping city and uncover its past. He was a go-getter and knew just who to interest in his idea. He got in contact with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and painted an irresistible picture of history come to life. He literally got Rockefeller to buy the town. Almost every house, every business, and every bit of property was bought up one by one. They started researching the city as it was in the 1770's and began to dig to find the past under what time had covered over. Original foundations were unearthed of buildings that no longer stood. Buildings that had survived the century and a half were put back to their original appearance. At first the idea was to attract the rich - Rockefeller's friends, and cater to them bringing those who could afford to time travel during the Great Depression. Few outside know this - and it is not something that is talked much about. When the average guy started traveling, the focus began to change and what you see know began to develop. Today, you will see 88 original buildings and hundreds of houses, shops, and outbuildings spread over the 301 acre historic area.

The streets are still public streets and you are welcome to walk down them at any time - with the exception of one part of one street when special programs are taking place on the street. You have full access to every part of the historic area and every exhibition building and museum with the purchase of an admission ticket at the visitor's center. No cars or motor vehicles of any kind are permitted on the streets in the historic area from early morning until 10 PM at night. Parking for the day is at the Visitors' Center and that is located outside of the historic area. There are shuttle buses that are included with your admission ticket that will take you to several points of the historic area (they run on streets that surround the historic area that are open to traffic). It is possible to walk into the historic area from the parking lot on paths that were designed for this purpose. It is about a ten minute walk with slight inclines. There are short term parking lots around the city but these fill early and parking is limited to two hours.

When we arrived at the Visitors' Center parking lot with our Roadtrek we easily fit into car spaces that faced a curb with a grass divider to the next row. When we tried to park in the spaces that were out in the middle that were spaced car facing car, we found that we needed to take up two spaces front to back so that we did not stick out into the parking lot road too far. Without the Continental Spare Tire on the back bumper we would have fit with no problem. The spare just put us out a little two far. There is a parking lot that is dedicated to RVs and it is off a short distance to the side. We saw several Class C's in the regular lot parking as we had, taking two spaces. Even on crowded days this did not seem to upset anyone.

There are many people who feel that they do not want to purchase a ticket and they just walk through the historic area looking from the walks and the street at the outside of the buildings. While this is a pleasant thing to do, if you have come from any distance to see Colonial Williamsburg and you are paying hotel rates or campground fees to be there, why not buy a ticket? It is like getting an ice cream bar and licking the paper that it is wrapped in. Admission tickets are priced less than amusement park admission. If you are not all that interested in history or if this type of place is boring to you - why come here in the first place? Over the years I have seen parents bring their children to Colonial Williamsburg as if it is expected of them as part of good parenting. Some of the kids are really into what they are seeing and participating in - often more so than the parents are. And I have seen these same kids dragged away from something that they are watching or looking at by the parents who have a need to just keep moving as they really would rather be someplace else. I have also seen families completely bored by the whole thing and can't wait to get to the roller coasters of Busch Gardens. There is no obligation to visit Colonial Williamsburg - but with some of the people I have encountered over the years there, you would never know that it is not. Then there are the families who spend time to learn about what they are coming to see and are open to experiencing history that is spoon-fed with a lot of sugar. These are the people who really enjoy their visit and there are many of them (an entire Facebook fan page of them) that like me, fell in love with the place and come back regularly. If you want to make your trip worth the effort of going - buy a ticket.

Admission tickets are sold several ways. There is multi-day ticket which admits you for three consecutive days with an option to add two more days. There is a "bounce" ticket which admits you to both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens for seven consecutive days. There is a single day ticket. There is a Historic Triangle ticket that admits you to Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown attractions, and Jamestown attractions for seven consecutive days. There is a flex ticket that gives you all of it including Busch Gardens, Jamestown, and Yorktown for seven consecutive days. The flex ticket is currently the most expensive of the ticket packages - and it includes a lot considering the individual prices of the attractions included. We don't buy any of those. We purchase an annual pass which costs less than a one day admission ticket to Busch Gardens. It is good for one year (date to date) and we have been able to use it some years for three trips - the first summer, in December, and if we go early enough the next year, the next summer. The annual pass is dated for the end of the week that you purchase it in the next year. We are good until mid-August 2012.

You know now what it is all about. Next week you will read about what we saw and what we did in Colonial Williamsburg - and what you will be able to see as well.

1 comment:

  1. I love Colonial Williamsburg too and will be going there for my 4th time this Christmas! :)It is indeed a treasure!