Sunday, July 5, 2009



(I'm dedicating the next six weeks' posts to various sites in and around Williamsburg, starting with the historical colonial village itself.)

Let me begin by saying that the best way to approach any visit to an historical site is by preparing to have an "experience"--plan to leave your world and your ecpectations behind and immerse yourself in the one you are visiting. It's easy to do in Williamburg.

The colonial setting, with historical reproductions and restorations of original buildings, will take your breath away. You'll easily imagine, (or at least ask yourself) what was it like to live here . . . in this time and in this place? Now you're on your way. . .

Tour every magnificent architectural specimen--the Governor's Palace, the Court House, the homes, the gardens, shops--you'll think you remember all that great colonial history you learned in Social Studies, but you have no idea how much the guides will teach you about this cradle of America. You'll marvel over the beauty and ingenuity apparent, and the blending of elegant British architecture and English garden mazes interspersed with the rudimentary thatched colonial abodes with their functional vegetable patches.

Some of the park's employees have spent years learning about their characters, understanding their role in history, and perfecting their presentation. Walk up to a colonially-garbed actor and they will respond in character--speaking to you in the dialect of the day and about the issues of "their day". Go to the Revolutionary City portion of the town and hear spirited debate about the British and the burden of taxation. Visit the courthouse and join the debate occurring on the steps as justice is meted out and colonists voice the first cries for rebellion. Imagine Jefferson, Madison and Washington, all Virginians and contemporaries, strolling the streets and popping into Christiana Campbell's place to dine.

You must eat at Christiana Campbell's Tavern! It was George Washington's favorite eatery in Williamsburg, and a place of great historical significance. This respite served as a gathering point where some of the first discussions over a split with England occurred, while Christiana served the organizers seafood delicacies, pot pie and pots of tea. This is a true "experience" you won't want to miss! You'll stroll through the garden, passing under arbors of wisteria boughs while listening to the baas of sheep in the pen to the right. Even the wait is worthwhile, sitting on her front porch, watching the goings on at the Capitol or at the Presbyterian Meeting House. Some will say the food is pricey, but you receive so much more than a good meal. Your servers are in character in dress, manner and dialogue. They'll tell you tales of "the general's" most recent visit, a strolling musician will play and sing for you and you'll be spellbound as you gaze around at the ambiance, knowing who sat here and what was discussed. This tavern also is the setting of many several scenes in "John Adam's" and "A More Perfect Union". Gotta eat here!

Visit the artisans shops, (be amazed at the ingenuity of the craftsman), and the gift stores, (let your children see the few simple toys the colonial children enjoyed). Grab a tri-corner hat and join in the political rhetoric going on in the Revolutionary City. Two-hour interactive programs involve you and your family in great American events like the debate over the signing of the Declaration of Independence. You're not just studying history--you're living it! Can you think of a better way to get your children to love their country, its past and its future?

There are skits and re-enactments going on all along the streets, and treats that take you back to the basics of life.

Summer is the best time for the full program, but December in Williamsburg is spectacular as well. On the Sunday of the first full weekend in December, the city hosts the Grand Illumination, the official start of the holiday season. Based loosely on the old British tradition of placing candles in windows to welcome the arrival of special guests or to herald an occasion of note, the simple candle-lighting has now grown to a full lighting extravaganza, drawing an average of 25,000 people. Click on the photo to the right to see a beautiful photo-essay by Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph. What a great way to begin the Christmas season.

So plan a trip to Williamsburg. Next week we'll tour another spot on Virginia's historic triangle!

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