Williamsburg and Hampton Roads Feature

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Colonial Williamsburg Basics

The restoration project that gave birth to Colonial Williamsburg began in 1926, inspired by a local pastor, W.A.R. Goodwin, and financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. The work of the archaeologists and historians of the not-for-profit Colonial Williamsburg Foundation continues to this day. A total of 88 original 18th-century and early-19th-century structures have been meticulously restored, and another 500 have been reconstructed on their original sites. In all, approximately 225 period rooms have been re-created with the foundation's collection of more than 60,000 pieces of furniture, ceramics, glass, silver, pewter, textiles, tools, paintings, prints, maps, firearms, and carpets. Period authenticity also governs the landscaping of the 301 acres of gardens and public greens. The restored area is surrounded by a greenbelt controlled by the foundation, which guards against development that could mar the illusion of the Colonial city.

Despite its huge scale, Colonial Williamsburg can seem almost cozy. Nearly 1 million people come here annually, and all year hundreds of costumed interpreters, wearing bonnets or three-corner hats, rove and ride through the streets (you can even rent outfits for your children). Dozens of skilled craftspeople, also in costume, demonstrate and explain their trades inside their workshops. They include the shoemaker, the cooper (aka barrel-maker), the gunsmith, the blacksmith, the musical instrument maker, the silversmith, and the wig maker. Their wares are for sale nearby at the Prentis Store. Four taverns serve food and drink that approximate the fare of more than 220 years ago.

Colonial Williamsburg makes an effort to represent not just the lives of a privileged few, and not to gloss over disturbing aspects of history. Slavery, religious freedom, family life, commerce and trade, land acquisition, and the Revolution are portrayed in living-history demonstrations. In the two-hour "Revolutionary City Program" you can become an active citizen in everyday life against the backdrop of momentous, world-changing events. The vignettes that are staged throughout the day take place in the streets and in public buildings. These may include dramatic afternoon court trials or fascinating estate appraisals. Depending on the days you visit, you may see the House of Burgesses dissolve, its members charging out to make revolutionary plans at the Raleigh Tavern.

Because of the size of Colonial Williamsburg and the large crowds (especially in the warmer months), it's best to begin a tour early in the day, so it's a good idea to spend the night before in the area. The foundation suggests allowing three or four days to do Colonial Williamsburg justice, but that will depend on your own interest in the period—and that interest often increases on arrival. Museums, exhibits, and stores close at 5 pm, but walks and events take place in the evening, usually ending by 10 pm. Some sites close in winter on a rotating basis.

Colonial Williamsburg has two common portals for all properties and events under its administration. The Colonial Williamsburg Web sites are www.colonialwilliamsburg.com and www.history.org.

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