By Debi Lander
Three Tidewater cities, Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, collectively make up Virginia’s Historic Triangle. They recall the earliest days of life in the American colonies. Today, the family-friendly destinations bring hands-on opportunities to see, smell, taste, hear and touch the struggles and triumphs of pre-Revolutionary times.
In 1607, Captain John Smith led an attempt to establish a permanent colony in Jamestown. Two attractions highlight the stories surrounding him, Powhatan, Pocahontas and the other settlers. The settlement briefly prospered, but the Virginia colony struggled and eventually failed. At Jamestown Settlement, visitors tour the reconstructed James Fort and buildings along with replicas of the three ships that brought the colonists to the New World. Kids can climb into a bunk, learn to tie knots and try steering a boat.
Historic Jamestowne, a National Park site, showcases the archeological remains of the original site, not discovered until 1994. Previously, historians believed the fort lay underwater and offshore. Visitors watch the 20-year ongoing dig and may see an archaeologist uncover an artifact. The onsite museum, called the Archaearium, astounded me with displays and exhibits showing some of the most spectacular finds discovered since the Jamestown Rediscovery Project began. Don’t miss it.
Colonial Williamsburg, America’s oldest and largest living history experience, remains near and dear to my heart. At times, I have felt like I lived and walked along Duke of Gloucester Street when Williamsburg was Virginia’s 18th-century capital. The street runs from the late 17th-century Wren building of the College of William and Mary to the reconstructed Capitol. “The Revolutionary City” now rests within a 301-acre historic area, most of which is closed to traffic. Folks stroll along cobblestone paths or take carriage rides, stopping to see craftsmen at work and merchants in their shops. They hear stories about the Patriots from knowledgeable guides. I am always excited to return and dine in a colonial restaurant, shop for handcrafted items, and just soak in the atmosphere of one of my favorite places in the world.
Even if you’ve toured the region in the past, the new Yorktown Museum of the Revolution, opened in April 2017, makes an outstanding addition and offers reason enough to return. The state-of-the-art facility tour begins with an introductory film, “Liberty Fever,” in a 170-seat museum theater. Then, visitors stroll through the 22,000-square-foot permanent exhibition galleries including much more than just artifacts in display cases. Children (and most adults) love the immersive environments, dioramas, interactive exhibits and short films. My favorite was the 4-D experiential theater showing the Siege of Yorktown. Watch it and feel like you’re on the battlefield surrounded by wind, smoke and the thunder and smell of cannon fire.
The Yorktown Museum also offers an outdoors living-history Continental Army encampment; an area that encourages guests to enter tents, understand a soldier’s life, and to hear the firing of muskets. A Revolutionary-era working farm, also with costumed interpreters, places visitors in buildings that demonstrate the lifestyle and hardships of a typical colonial-era farm family.
The opportunity to understand our past, the struggles to break away from British rule and the meaning of freedom makes for lively discussion. History, usually a whisperer, speaks loudly and compellingly in Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander
Museum at Yorktown visitors explore The New Nation gallery.