Colonial Williamsburg

31st March 1999

We've been to Colonial Williamsburg several times. I've been 3 times, but Anne's been about 6 times. There's always something new and interesting to do. When we first went, we bought Patriot Passes. These are tickets that last a full year, and allow entry and parking as often as youw ant during that year. This is quite a good deal if you plan on visiting more than once. It's not such a good deal anymore. When we bought our passes, they were $30 each. Now they are $65 each.

Colonial Williamsburg is a recreated 18th century American colonial city. In the early 1900s, most of the colonial buildings in America were being pulled down and replaced by modern buildings. In the mid-1920s, the local priest in the Williamsburg area, realised that Williamsburg was about the only place left with a sizeable number of the original historical buildings and houses. And if something wasn't done about it, they too would be pulled down and modern buildings put up. Goodwin went looking for funds. He eventually approached John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller agreed with Goodwin and contributed about $70 million for the restoration work. They purchased the land and buildings, maintained what was maintainable and rebuilt what was no longer there. Rockefeller established an endowment to continue the restoration after his death.

The Williamsburg area is historically important. It was one of the earliest settlements in the USA, and it was essentially the location of the start of the American War of Independence. It has US history oozing from every building.

The city is a small one. Many of the houses have been restored. Most of the major buildings have been restored or rebuilt. The city is populated. People live in the houses, and dress in colonial clothes during the day. They work in the city, doing dressmaking, shoemaking, carpentry, brickmaking, wheelwrighting, blacksmithing, cooping, printing, wigmaking. It's fun to walk around all day, look at the buildings, talk to the people who try and stay in character, and watch the old occupations. Sovereign Hill in Victoria is similar in concept.

Our First Visit

Our first trip was just after one of the big hurricanes in 1999. We stayed overnight at Williamsburg Woodlands, one of the hotels that surround the historical area. The hotel was almost empty, so we had our pick of where we wanted to stay. The restaurant was closed after damage from the hurricane, so we got a suite at a small room price. The suites were way up the back, in a large ugly blocky building. Here we are parked behind the building. It was quiet and it was peaceful and the rooms weren't too bad. [Parked behind Woodlands]

We walked down from the hotel to the tourist and bought our passes. Then we took the bus to the historical area. It dropped us near the Governor's Palace and we walked down to it. The Palace is a large building that has been completely reconstructed from original drawings, some plans, documents and manifests. It was burnt down. The reconstruction is amazing. They have regular tours through the building, and we had to wait. While we waited, we were entertained by a jovial navvy who had a saucy tale to tell about every state that us visitors came from. He even had jokes about Australia. We took the long tour through the palace and we oohed and aahed in appropriate places. It's a great reconstruction and the furnishings are incredible, especially the weapons used as decoration. There's photos of them further down. [Governor's Palace]

This is the Governor's Palace again, taken from the gardens at the back. [Governor's Palace from the
    back]

The back door to the Governor's Palace. [Governor's Palace back door]

We went down into the storage areas underneath the Governor's Palace, and this is the wine cellar. [Wine cellar]

This is the Capitol, a reconstruction of the original building. Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia, and this building was the most important one in the state. The Governor governed from here. The colonial government met here. The General Court met here. Legislation was made and justice was done. [The Capitol]

The Magazine. This is a thick brick building, surrounded by thick walls. They wanted it fairly safe because they kept the gunpowder and weapons here. Until Governor Dunsmore got worried about the damn colonials and moved the gunpowder to his ship "for safety". That sparked a whole lot of trouble for the Brits. [The Magazine]

This is the reconstruction of the house of a wealthy merchant, George Wythe. We took the tour through the house. The house is furnished pretty much as it was when it originally stood, and it's pretty effective. The living areas of the welathy houses were quite reasonable. Poor people lived in very small buildings with very small rooms. [George Wythe's House]

Anne's Third Visit

On our first visit, we took a ride on one of the carriages. We took photos but Anne's camera died and they never came out. On Anne's third visit, she had her new camera, and she took photos of some of the carriages. Later on, I took more photos. I got a shock when I went to get up into the carriage. The whole thing was leather sprung and it just swayed towards me when I stood on the step. After the ride, I swarmed all over the carriage looking at how it was supported and sprung so that it stayed fairly steady. The horses were great. It had been a long time since I had smelt the smell of horse dung, and that was a very happy smell. [Carriage ride]

If you look back at the first few photos of the Governor's Palace, you'll see that this was above the back doorway. Anne took a closeup of the coat of arms. [Detail from Governor's
    Palace]

The Governor's Palace used weapons as very effective decorations. We saw images of this a few years ago in Robert Hughes' documentary of American art. Now we've seen the originals. The weapons make very formal, stylistic decorations, yet can be pulled off and used as weapons at a moment's notice. Swords, muskets, pistols, all are used as decorations. [Weapon Decorations]

This is a striking ceiling centrepiece, made of muskets with bayonets. [Ceiling Weapon Decoartions]

The Courthouse. Several times each day they hold court sessions. These are very popular and there is usually a big lineup of people waiting to get in. When they open the doors for the next session, everyone stands up and gets in line. Then they hold a little test. They want people from the audience to be judges, to be jurors, and to be criminals. Judges are the fun ones to be. To let the circumstances bite a little, they hold a test to see who gets to be a judge. Everyone puts their hand up. Then, put your hand down if you aren't a white male. Put your hand down if you aren't a Protestant. Put your hand down if you don't own property. Those few remaining land-owning white anglo-saxon protestant males get to be the judges.

To the right, out of sight on the photo, are the stocks. They have several different types of stocks. I declined to be placed in the stocks.

[The Courthouse]

Along Duke of Gloucestor Street are most of the shops of the town. The one we visit every time is the milliner's shop. This is staffed by a man and two women. The three of them are exceptionally entertaining and will talk and talk and talk. They know the clothes and the fashions and the history and the politics of the times. It is fascinating to listen to them and ask questions. They stay in character, and they are real characters. [Millinery]

There are a number of taverns to eat at on Duke of Gloucestor Street. This is one of them. The food is roughly authentic. We had a meal at Christiana Campbell's Tavern on our first visit. It was expensive, but well worth it. Once. [A Tavern]