I had avoided going to Williamsburg thinking it was an over done tourist trap. My mom had told me how wonderful it was t step back in time at Williamsburg when she visited in the 1980’s. But her glorious stories of walking in the colonial past fell on deaf ears. After all, I lived in Colorado then and disliked the east coast with its crowded cities and hot humid climate. I was not interested in the place at all.
When I moved to Baltimore many years later I still occasionally heard of this colonial step-back-in-time town where people went to experience the past by being immersed in it. I still had little to no desire to see it even though I love history. I had images of a Disneyland theme park full of hokey attractions and candy cones on the streets dropped by distracted, disinterested children.
I was eventually talked into going by friends from Colorado who said the four of us should take a three day trip to Williamsburg and see not only the colonial town but also visit Yorktown and Jamestown. The trip sounded like we would have fun if only because we always have had a blast over whenever we get together no matter the location.
Their plane tickets were bought and the hotel reservations made for three days in mid-April. With our friends safely in town at our home we planned the fine details of the next three days and set off the following morning for the three and a half hour drive. On a blue sky day we were treated to the billowing pink blooms of cherry trees and the white, cloud-like flowering pear trees. Other trees became greener the further south we went and we all welcomed this sign of spring. It was still devoid of much green in our town.
We decided to take a longer route and bypass the living hell Interstate I-95 can be. Highway 301 into Virginia was a perfect drive though forest and fields brilliant green in their lush spring foilage. A few miles into Virginia we headed to Yorktown by getting on highway 17 and driving eighty five miles to our destination. I began to notice the roadside historical markers were increasing in their numbers as we drove the Virginia countryside rich with revolutionary war and civil war history. There were plantations, churches, battlefields, important birth places and more about every five miles. When I saw the sign for George Washington’s birthplace I mentioned we might see it on our way back.
We arrived in Yorktown and wandered around a bit getting our bearings. We had meant to go to the battlefield first but ended up in the town by mistake. Many others have made the same error in navigation. The parking was free and easy with restrooms nearby that eased any stress over taking the wrong exit. The nice guy at the book store pointed us on our way to the battlefield and off we went to see how the British met with disaster at this small outpost of early American civilization.
The battlefield film and park were very educational and had all of us remarking how much more we learned there versus in school. We took the entire driving tour see the key points of the battle come alive in our imagination. It was good we had seen the visitor center’s movie first. We marveled at George Washington and troops marching 450 miles from New York to bolster Lafayette’s troops in the decisive battle that would be the catalyst to ending the long war for independence. We drove on to our first appointment of the trip… dinner at Cafe Provencal at the Williamsburg Winery.
After a fine dinner we drove off, on a unplanned scenic trip to our Williamsburg hotel while questioning the GPS accuracy, and got a great sunset view of the Colonial Parkway’s forest and water views. It’s always curious to me-a veteran traveler, how often a hotel might get sold between the time I make my reservation and arrive at said hotel! This was one of those types of surprises. We arrived at the Historic Days Inn Williamsburg, but much to our surprise it was the Comfort Inn! After yet another U-turn we drove into the parking lot where I went in to ask if we were in the right place. We were, and then checked in for some much needed rest.
Into Williamsburg we went for a full day of colonial immersion. At the visitor center we sat through the thirty five minute film to get us primed on what this town was all about. The film, “Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot”, followed the path of a lesser known figure in colonial Williamsburg-John Fry as he changed from loyal subject to patriot rebel. It is a dramatization but still gives a good overview of the colonial times in this famous town. The town itself or at least the historic district is well preserved and maintained thanks to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and others.
We all had a great time and learned important historical facts about our country’s fight for independence. There were several short tours we took, like the Wythe house tour, and the capital building tour. George Wythe was one of Thomas Jefferson’s mentors and an important person in our revolutionary period. Jefferson said of his mentor and friend, “my faithful and beloved mentor in youth, and my most affectionate friend through life.” Wythe helped shape Jefferson’s views probably more than anyone else giving him the education needed to be instrumental in writing the Declaration of Independence.
In the capital building we saw where trials were held in the General Court. The penalties were tough and you could be put to death for stealing a horse, or high treason. Upstairs we saw the meeting area for the Burgesses and how plush the Council Chamber was in comparison. Those in the Council Chamber were appointed to the post for life and were very important men indeed. Our costumed tour guide was great and we all enjoyed her enthusiasm while belting out tales of treason and treachery to a captive audience.
Lunch was taken at the Kings Arms Tavern where our waiter filled in some missing bits of colonial facts. It seems that prices were set by the town government at the local food establishments but the tavern owner found some room for creativity by creating a couple of special alcoves in the back of the tavern that she rented out as “meeting rooms” thus allowing her to charge what she wanted for food and drink without breaking the law. It was a private corner and suited us well but the best part was the window behind us opened up a view of a mother cardinal building her nest in the bush by the window. She put on a show the whole time we were at lunch oblivious to our spying on her.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the carpenter shop watching them build an elaborate cabinet and talking of the materials and methods. We also watched the coopers making barrels that were needed for water, milk, beer and other food and beverages. The cannon guy was the last stop for the day and was fun to watch as he explained the operation of preparing and firing his cannon. It ended with a blast from the mighty gun and had a three year old boy in front of us in tears from the loud explosion. After that we walked the rest of the historic district admiring the flowering dogwood trees before heading off to dinner.
On our second full day we visited Historic Jamestown to see where it all began. The guidebook and Tripadvisor.com spoke of the confusion in the two sites, but it was still a bit confusing to us. We started at the site of the town before heading over to the state-run Jamestown Settlement. I loved the guided tour of Historic Jamestown and the visit to the museum was worthwhile too. It is incredible what they put up with in the first few years filled with fears of starving and Indian attacks. Disease, fires and weather was a constant force in the colonist’s lives.
In the end I was very grateful to have visited this intense history triangle. It takes the better part of three days to get the most out of a visit, and we could have used one more to see if better. Depending on the time of year, reservations should be made well in advance. For those that can come any time I’d recommend the spring and fall for the great weather and uncrowded venues. Whether you are from the US or abroad this is one of the most interesting historical areas in the U.S. and worth a visit.