An October 2004 trip
to Williamsburg by getawayguy
Quote: We were having a great time learning all about America's history and decided to stay for another week. There was too much to see and do in just one week. As a matter of fact, 2 weeks wasn't long enough, either. Oh, well, there's always next year.
We had already seen Colonial Williamsburg and found it so fascinating that we spent three days there. We went to the Virginia Living Museum and loved it.
With our intellectual appetites whetted, we were anxious to see some of the restored plantations along the James River that had played such an important role in the successful birth of our nation. There are more than a dozen to see. We chose three, including the Shirley Plantation, the Berkeley Plantation, and Westover. We also visited President Madison’s home, Montpelier, and Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.
The Jamestown Settlement recreation was everything we hoped it would be. The Yorktown Victory Center was way more than we expected. A day trip took us to Virginia Beach, with a stop on the way back at Fort Story to see the Cape Henry Lighthouse.
We will have to return to see more next time. There is too much to see and do in just a couple of weeks.
For sightseeing, one of the most useful things we found was a free map we picked up at the resort. It showed where everything was located in and around Williamsburg and had expanded inserts of Colonial Williamsburg's historic area as well as Yorktown. It was printed by First Graphics and can probably be gotten from their website at
Most resorts and hotels in the area have displays with brochures of all the local attractions, some offering discounts.
Before you go, contact:
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
P. O. Box 1776
Williamsburg, VA 23187-1776
or go on their website:
Having a car at your disposal is essential, as there is so much to see and do here in Virginia's Historic Triangle. Local busses will get you to The Jamestown Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg, and the Yorktown Victory Center if you don't mind waiting.
To visit any of the restored plantations along the James River, any of the president’s homes in the area, Busch Gardens, Water Country USA, or the Virginia Living Museum, you'll need a car.
Once you arrive at any of the sights listed above, be prepared to do a lot of walking. It will be worth it.
Attraction | "The Old Cape Henry Lighthouse"
We decided to drive to Virginia Beach to check out the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse. It has a great history.
In April 1607, after 4.5 months crossing the storm swept Atlantic Ocean, 144 weary Englishmen finally made landfall. They anchored their three ships in the protected waters of the bay and sent a small landing party ashore to plant a wooden cross in the sand and name the area Cape Henry, after the French King. About 3 weeks later, having moved on, they established the first permanent English Colony in North America at Jamestown, but this was the site where they first touched shore in the New World.
It’s the same site where, 174 years later, a decisive sea battle known as the Battle of the Capes was fought between the British fleet commanded by Admiral Graves and the French fleet commanded by Admiral Comte de Grasse. The French naval victory kept the British General Cornwallis from receiving the reinforcements he desperately needed to fight General Washington’s Continental Army at Yorktown. It forced Cornwallis to surrender and led to the eventual end of the American Revolutionary War.
Today, this quarter acre of beachfront is commemorated with a granite memorial cross and a statue of Admiral Comte de Grasse.
One of the initial acts of the First Session of the first Congress of the United States of America in 1789 was to create the lighthouse service. President Washington sent a copy of the new act to Governor Beverly Randolph of Virginia, who, along with other Virginia authorities, was eager to start the project. A year later, the contract to build the lighthouse was awarded to John McComb, Jr., of the state of New York, a bricklayer. The construction of the Cape Henry Lighthouse was completed in October 1792. The first keeper of the lighthouse, Laban Goffigan, lighted the fish oil lamps for the first time in late October 1792.
Originally it was built as an octangular truncated pyramid of eight sides rising 90 feet to the light and was located on the highest sand hill at the Cape, 600 or 700 yards from the beach. It held up quite well until an inspection in 1872 found large cracks in the original masonry of six of the eight faces. By 1878, money was appropriated for the building of a new replacement lighthouse, which was completed and lit for the first time on December 15, 1881.
The original Cape Henry Lighthouse is still used today as a day mark and as a basis for coast survey triangulation. It was given to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities on August 1, 1930. They replaced the original wooden interior steps with steel steps and installed ventilators to increase air flow between the original stone exterior and the 1867 brick liner. The original light keeper’s home is now a gift shop. For $2, visitors can climb the original tower. The new tower is closed to the public.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 4, 2005
Cape Henry Lighthouse
583 Atlantic Ave. Fort Story
Virginia Beach 23459
The historic triangle formed by Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown is located on a 15-mile-wide Virginia peninsula. It was there, in 1607, that the first permanent English settlement was established in the New World. After enduring many hardships, the early colonists thrived in the colonial capitol of Williamsburg, Virginia. When the Seven Years War was ended by the 1763 Treaty of Paris, Britain tried several measures to raise money from the colonies to help pay the war debt. The colonists revolted and the rest, as they say, is history.
It was that history that we wanted to learn more about when we planned our vacation. Originally, we thought the Yorktown Victory Center was just a monument marking the location of the battlefield where victory was finally achieved. We didn’t plan to spend much time there. To our great and pleasant surprise, The Yorktown Victory Center actually provided us with a clear understanding of the events that transpired from the beginning of colonial unrest to the formation of a new nation. Using a "timeline" approach, four open-sided exhibit pavilions interpret significant events, publications, individuals, and places of the period using text and graphics.
The story of the American Revolution begins along the "Road to Revolution," an open-air walkway that traces events leading to the American colonies’ split from Britain. American and British perspectives are reflected in quotes from individuals who had a role in the conflict. The "Treaty" pavilion explores the effect of the Seven Years War on the relationship between the colonies and Britain. The "Taxes" pavilion describes events of 1773 and 1774–the passage of the Tea Act, the Boston Tea Party, and the First Continental Congress, which, following the time line, lead to the "Tea" pavilion that discusses how "irresolvable the conflict had become." Just inside the building, a fourth pavilion, "Troops," describes the beginnings of armed conflict.
At the end of the walkway, the museum exhibition building offers an introductory look at the Declaration of Independence before leading into a series of themed galleries. Attention is paid to three groups--African Americans, Native Americans and women--to whom the early documents regarding freedom and equality did not apply. History is not composed of just big events. In the "Witnesses to Revolution" gallery, personal stories of ten ordinary individuals are told using their own words taken from diaries, letters, and other sources. Graphics, artifacts, and life-size cast figures are also included. Making up this group are two African-American slaves who supported opposing sides in the colonial conflict, a Mohawk chief who wants to keep his people neutral, a loyal British Virginia plantation owner, two Continental army soldiers, a woman captured and adopted by the Seneca Indians just before the outbreak of war, and three civilians who reflect on the home front.
Pivotal events from the issuing of the Declaration of Independence to the significant victory at Yorktown are captured in photomurals along the ramp that connects the first theme gallery with the "Converging on Yorktown" gallery. There are "witnesses" from the various countries represented here: American, British, French, and German. This personal look at the events that occurred in Yorktown is also presented in an 18-minute film, "A Time of Revolution." Individuals in encampments around Yorktown reflect on the struggle. The film repeats all day at 30-minute intervals.
The "Yorktown’s Sunken Fleet" exhibit tells the fascinating story of ships lost or scuttled in the York River during the siege, and features artifacts from the British supply ship Betsy, the most extensively studied of the wrecks. There is a video on the excavation of the Betsy and a detailed scale model.
Mathews Gallery has a couple of exhibits. "A Soldier’s Lot: Military Life and Medicine in the Revolutionary Era" features original examples of many of the reproduction objects used in the museum’s recreated Continental Army encampment. "The Unfinished Revolution" exhibit explores the development of the new national government following the military end of the Revolution.
Outside, we visited a recreation of a Continental Army encampment, where we were encouraged to explore the soldiers’ tents, try on military coats, join in periodic wooden-musket drills, and join a cannon crew to learn the steps to prepare a cannon for firing. Costumed historical interpreters described and depicted daily routines of a company of soldiers during the last year of the war, demonstrated 18th-century surgical and medical practices, and explained the role of the quartermaster in managing troop supplies. One of the most interesting parts of the exhibit was a kitchen dug out of the ground and used to prepare the food to feed the entire company.
Also outside is a recreated 1780s Tidewater, Virginia, farm, complete with a house, a separate kitchen, tobacco barn, fenced crop fields, herb and vegetable gardens, and some livestock. It shows how many Americans lived in the decade following the Revolution. Costumed historical interpreters at the site demonstrate the seasonal cycle of work that characterized lower- to middle-class farm life in southeastern Virginia, engaging in domestic activities, such as preparing flax and wool and making candles. Visitors can assist in weeding or watering the garden, comb cotton or "break" flax into fiber, and learn how herbs were used for cooking and medicinal purposes.
Reproductions of objects used in the 18th century, books and educational games and toys, await you at the Yorktown Victory Center Gift Shop. Products reflect the colonial era and the American Revolution. A snack and beverage vending area with patio seating offers light refreshments.
The Yorktown Victory Center learning experience turned out to be one of the best parts of our vacation. As young students, we were unable to grasp the significance of the lessons with which our history teachers tried to educate us. By necessity, much of the exhibit requires a lot of reading along the way. The interactive processes incorporated here bring history to life. Seeing history this way makes a deep impression on a person. It is too bad that all children cannot learn this way.
The Yorktown Victory Center is open daily, except Christmas and New Year's Day, from 9am to 5pm (until 6pm June 15 to August 15).
From Williamsburg, take the Colonial Parkway approximately 14 miles east toward Yorktown. Turn left at the Yorktown Victory Center sign.
Admission: $8.25 adults, $4 youth ages 6-12, and under 6 free. A combination ticket is available with the Jamestown Settlement. Call 888/JYF-IN-VA (593-4682) or 757/253-4838
While still under the rule of King James I, some English entrepreneurs formed the Virginia Company with the idea of becoming rich by sending three ships, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, to the New World. After 4.5 months crossing the Atlantic, they landed on the banks of the James River in Virginia. One hundred and four men and boys then began to establish their new home, which they named Jamestown, in honor of their king. This site became the New World’s first permanent English settlement, 13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.
Today, Jamestown Settlement is located about a mile from the original site of Historic Jamestown. We spent several hours at this recreated, interactive site and learned a great deal about the hardships endured the people who founded Jamestown and of the Virginia Indians they encountered. At Jamestown Settlement, the story of is told through film, gallery exhibits, and living history. The gallery exhibits tell of Jamestown's beginnings in England and the first century of the Virginia colony. They also describe the cultures of the Europeans, the Powhatan Indians, and the Africans who were all a part of Virginia in the 1600s. After viewing a very informative film in a modern theatre, we walked a short distance and found ourselves in a Powhatan Indian village, where we saw first-hand several beautifully recreated dwellings, a crop garden, and a ceremonial dancing circle. Our "Powhatan Indian" guides described what their life was like before white men arrived and how it changed. A tool-making exhibit was being enacted while we were there.
Next, we walked to the riverfront discovery area, where another costumed historical interpreter added to our growing knowledge of the adventurous daily life of the 17th-century settlers. We were able to board replicas of the three ships that brought the colonists to Virginia. It’s hard to imagine 104 men and boys all crowded together in such tight quarters for the 4.5-month journey.
On our way to the recreated James Fort, we enjoyed interactive exhibits featuring crop gardens, canoe-building from a scraped-out tree trunk, animal-hide skinning and tanning, and the preparing of meat jerky.
Inside the impressive triangular wooden fort, we examined the "wattle and daub" construction of the church, governor’s house, storehouse, guardhouse, armory, and very small dwellings. More costumed guides explained the roll tobacco played in the success of the Virginia company, while others demonstrated early colonists’ skills, such as blacksmithing, carpentry, forging and metal repair, food cultivation, and meal preparation. You can try on armor, play games of quoits (ring toss) and ninepins (bowling), or witness a demonstration of a matchlock musket being fired.
This wonderful museum is open from 9am to 5pm daily. There is a nice gift shop and large café on the premises. Adult admission is $11.75, and a child’s ticket (ages 6-12) is $5.75. A combination ticket with Yorktown Victory Center is also available.
With so much to see and do and so little time in which to do it, we felt that we could only spend 1 day visiting the James River plantations between Williamsburg and Richmond. With so many historical homes to pick from, it was very difficult to choose. We finally decided on three, including the Shirley Plantation, the Berkeley Plantation, and Westover.
Since the Shirley Plantation, settled in 1613, is the oldest plantation in Virginia and the oldest family-owned business in North America, dating back to 1638, we decided to visit it first. Edward Hill I added Shirley to his nearby holdings in 1656. The present mansion was begun in 1723, when Elizabeth Hill, great-granddaughter of the first Hill, married John Carter, eldest son of Robert "King" Carter. Completed in 1738, the mansion is largely in its original state and is owned and lived in by direct descendants of Edward Hill I. No wonder it impressed us with its magnificently restored condition. The family has occupied the home for 11 generations.
We parked the rental car in the more than ample parking area and walked toward the house, stopping on the way to purchase tickets at the gift shop, located in what used to be the laundry building in the 18th century. No one sees the inside of the home without a costumed interpreter as his or her guide. Because the family still lives in the top two floors of the home, the guided tour is of the main floor only and features original 18th-century hand-carved woodwork, family portraits, and silver. The square-rigged, "flying" staircase rises 3 stories with no visible means of support. We heard some captivating Hill Carter family history during the guided tour of the "Great House." Afterwards, we began our own self-guided grounds tour, where we explored nine of the original 18th-century dependencies, including the Old Kitchen, Laundry, Ice House/Granary, Tool Barn, Smokehouse, Stable, Root Cellar, Pump House, and Dovecote. Before leaving, we took time to relax and enjoy the view of the James River from below the branches of the 350-year-old Oak tree.
Operating season: Year-round. Open daily 9am to 5pm. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
Location: 18 miles east of Richmond, 35 miles west of Williamsburg on Scenic Virginia Highway 5. Take Route 608 (Shirley Plantation Road) for a 1.5-mile drive to the plantation.
Our second choice to visit was the Berkeley Plantation, the site of America’s first official Thanksgiving. On December 4, 1619, 38 brave men arrived from Berkeley Parish in England to seek their fortunes in Virginia, just 12 years after Jamestown. They came ashore at Berkeley and gave thanks to God for a safe journey. Their instructions were: "Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."
Berkeley is Virginia’s most historic plantation. We were amazed at how wonderfully its condition has been maintained. The original mansion, built in 1726 of brick fired on the plantation, occupies a beautifully landscaped hilltop site overlooking the historic James River. Berkeley's 10 acres of formal terraced boxwood gardens and lawn extend a quarter-mile from the front door to the James River. The gardens are still maintained to this day, although not as well as in the early days, when the Harrison family still occupied the home. At Berkeley, the date of the building, 1726, and the initials of the owners, Benjamin Harrison IV and his wife, Anne, appear in a date stone over a side door. The early Georgian mansion is said to be the oldest 3-story brick house in Virginia that can prove its date and the first with a pediment roof.
Benjamin Harrison, son of the builder of Berkeley and the plantation's second owner, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and three-time Governor of Virginia. Benjamin Harrison VI installed the handsome Adam woodwork and the double arches of the "Great Rooms" in the mansion in 1790 at the direction of Thomas Jefferson. William Henry Harrison, Benjamin's third son, born at Berkeley, was the famous Indian fighter known as "Tippecanoe," who later became the ninth president of the United States in 1841. His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, was the 23rd president. George Washington, and later, the succeeding nine presidents of the United States, all enjoyed the famous hospitality of Berkeley. "Taps" was composed at Berkeley when General McClellan headquartered 140,000 Union troops in 1862.
An audio-visual program and museum exhibit area are available in the basement, where the original hand-hewn floor joists are visible. The basement also displays models of early plantation buildings and farm equipment. Costumed guides conduct tours of the mansion daily. Lunch is served in the Coach House Tavern on the property. The gift shop has a unique collection of historical mementos and charming gifts.
Berkeley Plantation is located on Virginia Route 5
12602 Harrison Landing Rd.
Charles City, Virginia 23030
Toll Free 888/466-6018
OPEN DAILY 9am to 5pm.
Our third choice was Westover, built about 1736, by William Byrd II (1674-1744). William was born in Virginia on his father's plantation, but was brought up in Essex, England, by his uncle Daniel Horsmanden, the Rector of Purleigh near Chelmsford, where he met his maternal grandfather, the formidable Colonel Warham Horsmanden, who for 20 years had been a member of the ruling council in Virginia. William attended Felsted Grammar School near Braintree for 9 years when Christopher Glasscock was its headmaster and then studied law at the Middle Temple. He was called to the Bar in 1695, served a short apprenticeship in Holland, and visited the Court of Louis XIV. In London, William was becoming known as a satirical writer and wit, and in 1696, through the good offices of his mentor Sir Robert Southwell, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. His influence grew, and he was appointed Virginia's colonial agent in London, thus at the heart of the conflict between Crown and Colony that was eventually to spark into revolution. No man had a better preparation for representing the old world in the new and vice versa.
When his father died in 1704, William was 30 years old and returned to Virginia to manage the family's 26,000-acre estate. He became President of the Colonial Council, on which he sat as a Member for 35 years, and in 1733, established two towns, Richmond on the James River, now the capital, and Petersburg on the Appomattuck. He was truly one of the founding fathers of the modern state of Virginia, whose southern boundary he personally established by leading the surveyors who first traversed the Great Dismal Swamp while establishing the boundary line, 240 miles long, with North Carolina. William was hardy and energetic and, like most Virginians of his time, often in the saddle. A great traveler, he was no ordinary pioneer: this was a man of culture, wide accomplishments, and considerable charm, a genial host who had powerful friends on both sides of the Atlantic, which he crossed 10 times, often sailing on a ship called the "Golden Rose."
We were not able to tour the inside of Westover, considered one of the most outstanding examples of Georgian architecture in America. Of special notice is the unusual steepness of the roof, the tall chimneys in pairs at both ends of the main structure, and the elaborate doorway, which continues to be recognized as the "Westover doorway" despite its adaptation to many other buildings. The grounds and garden are open 9am to 6pm daily.
Westover, sitting 35 miles downstream from Richmond, was named for Henry West, fourth Lord Delaware and son of Thomas West, Governor of Virginia. The two wings were originally identical and not connected to the three-story central structure. The east wing, which once contained the famous Byrd library of more than 4,000 volumes, burned during the War Between the States. The library had also contained Bibles in Dutch, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, all of which William could read, a mark of his scholarship. The present east wing was built about 1900, and both wings were connected to the main home at that time. Just west of the house is the icehouse and a small structure containing a dry well with passageways, which led under the house to two secret rooms and to the river, a reminder of the danger that once existed of attack by Indians and other raiders. Across the driveway from the icehouse is the Necessary House. At each approach to the property are elegant wrought-iron gates incorporating the Byrd family arms. The main gates have WEB woven into their classical design, while large eagles of lead stand on the stone columns from which the gates swing. Beneath the house is a labyrinth of cellars where the claret and madeira were stored. The formal gardens were re-established about 1900. At the center, where the paths cross, is the handsome tomb with its interesting epitaph honoring the colorful William Byrd II, "Black Swan of Westover," who was buried there in 1744.
Although we were unable to tour the inside and had no guide to enlighten us about Westover’s historical significance, it must be obvious that it made such a grand impression that we have since researched it. There was no set admission fee when we were there. There was just a small holder with brochures and a sign asking for a token donation.
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