Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Colonial Williamsburg Revisited

I have been going to Colonial Williamsburg for over 50 years and have seen many changes over those years. Meryl and I started going to CW - as called by those who work there and those who have a special relationship to Colonial Williamsburg - when we were first married and have gotten there almost every year since. We had not been able to get there last year and I have not written about it here since the first year that we had the Roadtrek. Things have changed since then and it is time for another article.

From where we live - by routings - the trip should take eight hours including stops for lunch and dinner. With construction and traffic the trip can take almost 12 hours and while we have done this straight through it is not the best idea to do. A stop in PA and move on the next day for the rest of the trip. I take what many would consider the wrong way to go. We go on 95, around Baltimore to avoid propane restricted tunnels - which some claim you can go through and some claim you cannot - so we just go around and take the bridge - if we are not stopping in PA first. Then it is 95 to the Capital Beltway and around DC back to 95 and straight down until the Richmond bypass and then onto Rt. 60 which takes you right to CW and the campground that we prefer. We have rarely gotten stuck around Baltimore and we have never had a problem around DC. The problem comes in before Fredericksburg and approaching the bypass around Richmond. Many have shared what they feel are better routes - all of which take one way around and way out of the way - and when looking at travel times for these routes come out to be the same time as dealing with the traffic - but you are moving along through the many more miles. Anyway - the unpopular 95 has worked for us before and since the Roadtrek. It also brings us to a gas station that has always had the lowest price gas of any in that area or any other that we go through - both traveling and at home. I don't know why this is with this station but it has been this way for years. We paid $1.94 here in August when gas at home was still near $2.60 and was not much better anywhere else that we traveled through. Hmm... wondering what it is right now - quick check with Gas Buddy and its $1.88 (Oh my!). (This is at the time of this writing 9/30/15.) Here it is still well over $2.00. (I get real excited when I see low gas prices!) So moving on - cheap gas that actually lasts and is not gone after 100 miles - to getting to the campground.

We stay at American Heritage campground in Williamsburg, VA. It is reasonable and is the nicest campground of any that we have ever been to. Every site is a paved, level site. The cable television selection is better than most and the wifi is very good. We don't use it but there is a swimming pool and also sports fields and a hiking trail into the woods. It is situated off the road and you do not hear the road noise.

So, on to Colonial Williamsburg. If you have never been there or don't know at all what it is, CW was built in the 1930s with Rockefeller money. Rockefeller was enticed to spend his wealth by the pastor of the local and historic Anglican church who had a vision of restoring a sleepy college city back to what it looked like in the 18th Century. Many of the buildings remained. Well, Rockefeller with the help of Rev. Goodwin's influence bought the whole town - well just about the whole town as there were a few holdouts and they were just built around. They created Williamsburg as it was with archaeologists and researchers and specialist architects and did so with 18 Century building techniques. What you see today is coming on 100 years old on its own in a not a very long time. What you see, go into and are surrounded by are restored or reconstructed homes, public buildings, and trades shops populated with people of the past - living history interpreters that bring the city of the 18th Century back to life. It is all around you and if you let yourself be drawn in, you are part of it. It is time travel - and for the serious visitor - meaning not the family or couple who come in for the afternoon on their way to the amusement park, walk the streets and don't buy a ticket to experience what goes on inside and areas outside not on the street and look and leave - it can be an experience like none other.

In CW you will encounter every day people of the past, trades and workmen - men and women, and some people who you may recall from history lessons long ago - Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington - to name a few. These are not people in costumes walking around as in Disney parks - these are historians who have taken their interpretations to the highest levels of research and will convincingly portray these people of the past so that you will come away believing that you have met the real thing.

Since my last article some things have changed. I spoke then of the Revolutionary City program which at that time was spread over three days. Since that program has gone from three days to two days to now a part of one day. These are scenes of events that took place in the city of Williamsburg in various years during and before the American Revolution. The focus this year has been 1781 - the year leading up to Washington's victory over the British at Yorktown, Virgina just several miles from Williamsburg. The year will change next year, and the next year, etc. Added in the day in the afternoon were outdoor,  staged programs about other events that took place in the city - most on a more personal basis between people who lived in the city in the 18th Century.

There has been some construction going on as research showed that a "Market House" existed on a stretch of property that has been left open. The CW team of archaeologists did a dig and found traces of the posts that supported this open air structure along with a small building that was also found in the research. It has taken three years to complete the research, build the buildings using historic tools and methods and it is about to open to the public this Fall.

This is where people would go to do their food shopping - no, not everyone grew their own. There was a market place that would open early in the morning and some would have stands inside the Market House structure and others would sell from blankets around the outside. You would go to buy vegetables, fruits, fish, and meats. One needed to get there early to get the best cuts and the best choices. When opened it will be interpreted both as an historic site and also be used as a sales site.

This is the newest - some of the photos below are the oldest. The Capitol Building - the building that housed the legislative body of the House of Burgesses where Washington, Jefferson, Henry all served as Burgesses. The Capitol is a reconstructed building built on the original foundation.

Duke of Gloucester Street - the main street of the colonial city - full of trades shops, taverns, and residences.

A tavern in the 18th Century is not only a place to go to enjoy a rum or punch but also is a place to dine and/or sleep.

You will also find the homes of some patriots who were very famous in their time but little taught in history books today - unless you live in Virginia. This is the home of Peyton Randolph - the President of the First Continental Congress and the President of the Second Continental Congress until his death while in Philadelphia at the beginning of the proceedings. He was highly respected  throughout the Colonies and would have been, it is felt, the first President of the United States had he lived.

In the trades shops and yards you get to see and interact with those everyday people who helped make things happen. This is the yard of the Wheelwright's shop.

One of the staged programs - this looks at a serious situation of a woman about to be married who realizes as we watch the short encounter with the aunt of her fiance that she will not be able to bring both her personal servant (slave) and that servant's child with her to her marriage. There are many programs presented that make very real to us the realities of life in this time.

For us this is always a great trip. We had the pleasure to be able to talk with old friends who work at CW who we have met over the years and we also met, by surprise, friends from home that were there visiting as we were who are fellow members in our reenacting unit.

If you have an interest in history this is a must visit. When you arrive buy a multi-day ticket. It is now good for any number of days from the date of purchase to the end of the calendar year. It takes a minimum of three days to see enough of Colonial Williamsburg to come away with an appreciation for it. Less and you barely scrape the surface. There are also many other historic places to visit in this area and I will write articles about our visits to those soon as well. We spent 9 nights and ten days here this year. We have stayed longer. It is open all year. From January through February there are fewer programs but all buildings remain open. There is RV parking at the Visitors Center and shuttle buses or a walking trail to the historic area . I have a secret parking place to park the Roadtrek that I am thinking now I better keep to myself...

Colonial Williamsburg

1 comment:

  1. very nice Robert. Thanks for the write up. I've never been to Williamsburg, but I might have to add it to future RT adventures.