A colonial city that forms the World’s largest living history museum with 40 buildings, 2 taverns and 2 museums.
The State of Virginia, or more correctly the Commonwealth of Virginia has had a major role on the course of US history. It is here that Jamestown, the first permanent settlement in the original Thirteen Colonies, was established. So, in our journeys through the state it would been remiss of us not to spend a goodly amount of time exploring the historical heritage of Virginia.
One of the finest places to experience the past in a very interactive, hands on way is to visit Colonial Williamsburg, a historic area with hundreds of restored or reconstructed buildings including homes, government buildings, trade shops, and museums. There are over 80 families still residing in buildings that are not currently open to the public. If you don’t believe me it says it on the sign at the entrance.
If you only wish to stroll the streets of Colonial Williamsburg to enjoy the atmosphere and get some exercise, a ticket purchase is not required. However, to enjoy the additional attractions, live events, art museums tours, entrance to some of the buildings, and shuttle service from the Visitor Center, you’ll need to purchase a single or multi-day pass. Colonial Williamsburg is open 365 days a year. Most historic trades and sites are open from 9 am to 5 pm with evening programs running well into the night. The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are open daily from 10 am to 7 pm.
There is a lot to see so it is worth planning ahead, especially if you have limited time. There is a lot of information on the website and I would recommend looking at the week’s event calendar on the “plan” section of the website, that way you’ll be sure not to miss out on anything you really want to see.
Of course, you’ll also want to leave yourself some time just to wander around and explore. We spent our first few hours in town doing just that, and it was a great way to get a sense of how big the area was and what things might interest us later. Thirty-minute orientation tours also run regularly between 9 and 1 every day, including a special tour aimed at families at 10:30 and 11:30. The historical area is quite larges and you will end up doing a lot of walking, and in the summer, as with most of the Eastern seaboard of the United States it can be very hot and sticky. So, drink lots of water and take your time strolling around!
As I said there are lots of buildings and sites to see, with each building being a museum in it’s own right. Some of them include a guided tour, and these tended to take at least a half an hour. And since you’ll continually stumble across really engaging performances or interpreters, getting from point A to point B is likely to take you longer than you might think as well.
Unlike most of the country there are no Star Spangled banners on display in accordance with the Colonial times. But, there were plenty of Union Jacks on prominent display. Being a family of Brits this did give us a momentary burst of national pride before we returned to our normal level of British nationalistic indifference. It is worth noting that British have a different relation with the national banner, which is only really displayed in moments of national glory such as a Royal wedding and national sadness, such as getting knocked out of the football (not soccer) World Cup.
You can’t miss the museum staff at Colonial Williamsburg – all of them are in costume, and many actually assume a character as well. I’ve never visited a museum where the staff were better informed or more inclined to interact with the people visiting. Take advantage of this by asking lots of questions. In many of the shops you can handle the tools or even try your hand at a trade.
If you get tired of walking around the streets of the historic area and are looking for an escape from the hot sun then head to one of the excellent museums that are found close the main streets of Colonial Williamsburg. Entry to these museums are included in the single and multi-day passes.
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum displays 19th century folk art objects, such as toys, kitchenware, furniture, paintings and more. Featured exhibits showcase a wide variety of mediums, including paintings and portraits, African-American quilts and folk art.
Ongoing displays include folk musical instruments, German toys in America, an exhibition on decorative but useful forged iron objects and outdoor folk art, such as storefront figures and carousal animals.
DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum
You will enter DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum through the Public Hospital of 1773, which features a three-part exhibit on mental illness and the treatment methods used at that time. Once inside, you can see some of the fineries enjoyed by people of wealth and influence in the earliest days of America. The museum holds one of the largest collections of British ceramic pottery to exist outside of England. The decorative arts museum also contains the world’s largest group of furniture from this part of the world.
DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum offers a wide variety of the furniture, paintings, prints, ceramics, metals, glass, firearms and textiles used in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The galleries also provide a glimpse of the breathtaking English silver tea sets and other amenities enjoyed by those with wealth and influence.
The historic area of Colonial Williamsburg is expansive and there is so much to see, and because this is a living museum things are always changing. This means that every time you visit things will be different and fresh. It is worth checking the website to see what’s happening to plan your visit most efficiently. You can easily spend a couple of days at Colonial Willamsburg but be prepared to do some walking, which in the summer this can be hot and sticky work.