Less than 20 miles separate America's first permanent English settlement (1607) in Jamestown, from the last battle of the Revolutionary War (1781) in Yorktown. Located strategically in between these two historical areas is the second capital of Virigina: Colonial Williamsburg.
Together these three areas are referred to as "America's Historic Triangle" and are truly an unbelieveable area to visit. These sites allow visitors to gain an appreciation of the start of the country in Virginia, to the role of Williamsburg during the Revolutionary War, and finally, the surrender by General Charles, Lord Cornwallis to George Washington's Allied Army and a French Army in Yorktown--nailing down our country's independence.
Let me take you down the path to this historical triangle to give an overview of these areas, to put yourself in the shoes of the early settlers, the Revolutionary War in Colonial Williamsburg, and the battlefield at Yorktown, to gain an insight to our nation's ultimate independence.
Our week-long visit would take us to a fine resting spot in Williamsburg where we would settle in the tourist role, taking in all of the historical adventures we could experience during our stay. Side trips to other locations in the general vicinty would also keep us busy. Williamsburg is centrally located to both Jamestown and Yorktown, and the 23-mile Colony Parkway links these three communities and provides a scenic ride along this wooded byway.
Found in Jamestown is both the Jamestown Settlement, which is operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia and Yorktown Foundation as well as Historic Jamestowne, which is operated by the National Park Service (NPS). Both are located within 1 mile of each other and fees are associated at both locations.
Jamestown Settlement offers a great museum with gallery exhibits providing an overview of Jamestown and the vicinty; a movie, restaurant, and a store are also located inside the main building. Outside, you will find a recosntructed Powhatan Indian Village and James Fort, a riverfront discovery area with hands-on exhibits, and replicates of the three colonial ships (Susan Constant, Godspeed, and the Discovery) that brought the first 100 English settlers to the shores of this country along the James River.
The exhibits and interpreters all are excellent and provide an eye-opening experience of how these early travelers came to this country: their extreme will to survive the elements, their lack of food, constant disease and death, and their trials and errors of living off the land with the help of American Indians. Children will enjoy the indian village, the fort, climbing through the decks of the three ships, the story tellers, or even helping carve a dugout canoe near the river.
A short ride down the road takes visitors to Historic Jamestowne. Found here is a visitor center, book store, various exhibits,and trails that lead to the Old Town and New Towne Sections of Jamestown. Visitors can also drive along a 3 or 5 mile Island Drive that takes them to interpretive exhibits and scenic pulloffs along the island.
A short walk over a boardwalk leads visitors to the actual settlement where a tall Tercentenary Monument is seen commeranting the 3,ooth Anniversary of Jamestown. Trails take visitors past a 17th century church tower, Memorial Church, and the location of the 1607 fort where archeological excavations are on-going.
When we were there, an original brick foundation for one of the officer's buildings was uncovered. Also, while one of the archaeologists was excavating, he found the remains of a shoe heel that he gladly showed us. We were witnessing the excavation of the first English colony and recovery of associated artifacts right in front of our eyes!
To help with the preservation and appreciation of the artifacts that are uncovered at the original fort, an Archaearium was built near the fort to store and view these priceless finds from the first permanent settlers from the other side of the pond.
Other trails lead to New Towne along the James River. Visitors can see brick replicates that mark the area of the expanded Jamestown settlement that continued to thrive as a river port until 1699.
After exploring the nation's founding, it was time to move to Virginia's second capitol during the heart of the American Revolution: Williamsburg. Serving as the second capital from 1699 to 1680, the Revolution and discussions on America's independence literally took place in the streets of this beautifully restored capital.
Today, found in Williamsburg are over 80 original buildings that have been restored to their once glory years of the 18th century; many of the buildings are open to the public. The historical area comprises over 300 acres, with the Palace Green and the Duke of Gloucester Streets serving as the main streets. A large Visitors Center is found here along with friendly staff to help you plan your revolutionary adventure(s). Exhibits, movies, stores, and various tours are also offered. In the historic area, museums are also found here, numerous period taverns, blacksmith shops, and other stores.
Great tours at the Governor's Palace, in the Capitol building and others are had. Make sure to stop by the Briton Parish Church, and the Magazine too. In Colonial Williamburg, you'll experience Fifes and Drums marching down the street, and great interactive activities dealing with the Revolution, America's Independence and other themes. These street performances take place in the Revolutionary City, which is near the Capitol. Participants are encouraged to join in the adventure and participate with the characters such as Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, or others.
While we were here, we joined in on the reading of the Declaration of Independence; later, Patrick Henry was galloping down the street on a white horse.
The interpreters are all excellent and encourage visitors to ask questions or play along in the role from the period.
My favorite activity was to walk along with the Fifes and Drums whenever they march; many times I would leave a building if I heard them playing. Visitors also line the Palace Green and follow the musicians as they march from the Governor's Mansion to the Capitol building. I think my family thought I was crazy, as I admired and followed them in formation, experiencing the war and victory songs, while trying to get the perfect photograph.
One can easily spend an entire week taking in all the tours, chating with Patrick or Thomas or a tour guide, taking a carriage ride, enjoying a meal in one of the taverns, and going through as many period buildings as you can. Various admission passes are available for visitors depending on your length of stay; these passes are required to visit the historical area and to take in other activities. Also a shuttle bus operates from the Visitor Center and makes stops at various locations in the historic area.
Finally, a short drive along the Colonial Parkway to Yorktown is a great way to spend a day. Yorktown is a little hamlet situated on a hillside along the York River. Found here is the Yorktown Victory Center (fee), which is also operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Victory Center has numerous exhibits about the surge at Yorktown, the journey to nationhood, and a 1780's Virginian farm.
The NPS operates a Visitor Center (fee) on the battlefield nearby. Various exhibits and a movie are available at the Visitor Center. In addition, a Battlefield Driving Tour as well as an Allied Encampment Driving Tour are also available to take at your own pace.
Trails lead from the Visitor Center past numerous cannons and earthen defense lines. Tours and demonstrations of firing a cannon are also offered by NPS staff and make a great hands-on activity for the family.
Along the Battlefield Driving Tour, one of our highlights was a must stop at Surrender Field. This large field was where the British troops had marched to and laid down their weapons after the French blockaded the York River, and they were surrounded by Washington's men and the French Army. Nine days of continuous shelling finally convinced General Cornwallis to surrender to George Washington---ensuring the nations independence. A walkway, leads visitors past numerous cannons and exhibits.
A word of caution while taking one of the driving tours: the drives take visitors on both isolated roads and roads that are main thouroughfares. It is easy to drive through a busy roadway if you aren't paying close attention.
While in Yorktown, also stop by or stroll over to the Yorktown Victory Monument, which is on a hill overlooking the York River, stroll through historical Yorktown and stop by a few of the original structures from the war, such as the Nelson Building where one can see some arterially shells that damaged the building during the shelling of the city. Also, a cannon ball is seen protruding from the bricks on the side of the building; it was reinstalled as a reminder of the war.
Along the York River, visitors can take in the riverwalk for a pleasant sightseeing stroll along the river's edge; sailboat tours are also available.
So, what were our favorite sites to see at America's Historic Triangle? Well, it depends. My sons enjoyed Jamestown the most as they gained an appreciation for the first English settlers landing at this spot along with their struggles; I loved Williamsburg with the period characters bringing the Revolution to us first-hand, and the military music by the Fifes and Drums; and finally, my wife liked all of the sites and activities---especially not having to cook the entire week.
Anyway, with all that the area has to offer, especially the tremendous history lessons taught first-hand, you can't go wrong with whatever you decide to visit. In addition, other nearby attractions are available including the campus of William and Mary (second oldest college in the U.S. and in walking distance from Colonial Williamsburg), Virginia Beach, various plantations in the area, and for Civil War buffs, Richmond and vicinity offer numerous Civil War sites to explore.
Take time to travel to Virginia and visit America's Historic Triangle. Not only will you gain an appreciation on our country's birth and Revolutionary War, but you'll be able to take part first-hand in this once in a lifetime Revolutionary playground!
Story published Wednesday, January 20, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 1 )