Colonial Williamsburg can be seen in several different ways: A village that was founded in 1638; former capital of Virginia and an 18th century living history museum with people dressed up in period costumes. A place where the sound of horse and carriage on the streets is common, along with the occasional sound of musket and cannon fire from the Armory grounds. It is also a popular tourist attraction, which some might find a bit of a tourist trap. There is so much here to experience you need a couple days and it is impossible to write in this blog about all that we saw. The village has one long main street called “Duke of Gloucester” and several side streets with many restored buildings that house shops of tradespeople and taverns. Managed by a foundation, there are 20+ tradespeople to visit as well as other attractions and it takes planning to decide where to go and what to see. Due to popularity and Easter breaks, there were lines in front of some of the shops so I had to decide did I really want to wait to see the wig maker, the silversmith, the tailor, the gunsmith, the printer or the hat maker. One shop I was not going to wait to see was the blacksmith. Although they are interesting, I have seen blacksmiths at so many historical sites I believe I have had my fill for a long time to come. I took the picture below while waiting in front of the jewelry shop.
I enjoyed a visit to the shoemaker’s shop as it was fun to photograph all the shoes laying and hanging about. The trades people not only dress the part but also create their specialty items as they were made in the 18th century with the same tools and materials. Although most of the shops that I visited were not selling items, some of them do make things to sell elsewhere or to be used for certain events. For example, at the shoe shop the shoes are made for the reenactors to wear.
Below is a picture from the cabinetmaker’s shop. This shop was reconstructed on the site of a previous cabinetmaker from 1751 that produced furniture for the village. Besides furniture, this shop also made harpsichords which are still made today as pictured below.
The tin smith was another interesting stop. Tin ware was popular with soldiers because it was light weight, low cost and durable. Shops like this one supplied the army during the Revolutionary War making kettles, cups, plates and other items. I had my eye on the hot chocolate pot, pictured below in front. The pot has a wooden stirring rod in the middle commonly called a chocolate mill that is whirled between the hands to mix the chocolate well in the liquid and cause it to froth. Drinking chocolate was popular and was considered to have medicinal or healthful values. Since I really enjoy very dark chocolate, I heartily agree with the early colonists!
The Bruton Parish Church was completed in 1715 and still holds services today. Inside are high box pews with doors that were typical of the time period. Former U.S. presidents Washington, Jefferson and Monroe worshipped here. A previous minister of this church feared that many of Colonial Williamsburg buildings would disappear and their history lost. In 1926, he was able to recruit John D. Rockefeller Jr. who joined him in preserving Colonial Williamsburg. The Rockefeller family provided much of the funding to preserve or reconstruct buildings, which is why Colonial Williamsburg survives and prospers today.
One of the centerpieces for Colonial Williamsburg is the Governor’s Palace. The original building burned down in 1781 and was reconstructed in the 1930’s on the original spot. The original palace was the home of seven royal British governors and two Virginia governors, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. The building both inside and out is quite ornate.
One of the largest buildings in the village is the Capitol building. Williamsburg became the capitol of Virginia in 1705 after it was relocated from Jamestown. Like the palace, this building was also reconstructed in the 1930’s. I took a tour of the inside with an excellent guide who talked about the struggle of the colonists against Britain and the loyalties that many of them had with Britain which made separating so difficult. It was one of my favorite stops.
Since I love gardens, one of my favorite parts of the village were the flower gardens hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets. I found a number of them in my wanderings and it was nice to discover and photograph them, like the one below. There was also a large vegetable garden which showed plants that were used in colonial times.
Next to Colonial Williamsburg is the College of William and Mary, one of the oldest colleges in America. The Wren building built in the late 1600’s, is actually the oldest building on a college campus still in use today. The building is open for the public to visit and still holds classes for students. Former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler attended here. I ate my lunch in front of the Wren building (below) admiring its age. I then wandered around the campus checking out many of the other old brick buildings and student gathering places.
I ended my second day by watching and listening to the fife and drum corp as they marched around a field and then down Duke of Gloucester Street. Fifers and drummers once served with enlisted men in colonial times and now they perform at 5:00 each day for admiring visitors. A special way to end a visit at a remarkable historic place.
Thanks for reading! I hope you will stay with us as we continue exploring Virginia.