by D.J. Wilson – Historic Williamsburg is a one of a kind American experience, offering a memorable vacation in a colonial city. Considered a living history museum, this Virginia city is designed to preserve the early history of the United States and to celebrate our nation’s patriots. Since many of the buildings have been reconstructed over time, some critics question the authenticity of the city and debate if it’s possible to “truly step back in time” by visiting. Perhaps these naysayers should consider the benefits of visiting Williamsburg, from cultural and educational perspectives. It is an enriching experience to walk amongst the restored and re-created sites of Williamsburg, where buildings date from 1699 to 1780. Consider that this is the closest we may come to experiencing the ideals of 18th century America.
What is there to do?
History buffs will enjoy strolling along Duke of Gloucester Street, once described as the “most historic avenue in America” by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was originally named in honor of his Highness William Duke of Gloucester, heir to the English throne. It first began as a narrow Indian trail and developed into a horse path during the 17th century. The street played a significant role in history. During the battle of Williamsburg, wagons carried wounded warriors along the street. Governors would ride down “Main Street” in gilded carriages toward the capital. Time brought change and neglect to the route. Thankfully, it was reconstructed to its original colonial day glory. Today, folks may walk along the nearly mile long street and pass reconstructed stores, taverns and special buildings.
Take a glimpse at what visitors may explore:
The Capitol: Tour this centerpiece of Colonial Revival architecture to learn about the government of the colony of Virginia. Destroyed by fire three times, the current building was reconstructed from 1931 to 1934 and is a main attraction in Williamsburg.
Wren Building: The Sir Christopher Wren Building is part of the College of William and Mary and is the oldest continuously used academic building in the United States. Destroyed by fire on three occasions, the building took on varying appearWren Buildingances. It served as a military hospital during the Revolutionary and Civil War.
Governor’s Palace: The palace served as home to seven royal governors and two elected governors. The palace was designed to project British wealth and power. The interior consists of elegant décor and a grand ballroom. There is a large display of period swords. On the exterior, there are tiered gardens which overlook a stream, an original icehouse and a boxwood maze.
Bruton Parish Church: The current structure is the third of a series of houses of worship, its construction commencing in 1712. The church had special seating, with parishioners sitting in boxed pews and with the sexes sitting apart. The Governor was given a canopied chair on a platform opposite the raised pulpit and notables who died were buried beneath the church. The church served as a hospital and storehouse during the Battle of Yorktown and as a hospital during the civil war. This Episcopalian church remains an active house of worship to this day.
Market Square: This 18th century retail village features over 40 fabulous shops and restaurants. Amidst the colonial atmosphere of Williamsburg, Market Square hosts many wonderful special events, such as live musical performances. If you’re looking for products made in America by an American company, look no further than the Pewter Shop, which features two main collections. In addition to wide array of specialty shops, choose from a variety of restaurants, from fine dining to pub and casual eateries.
Raleigh Tavern: Established in 1717 and named for Sir Walter Raleigh, the Tavern was an important gathering and meeting place. Balls were often held there, which a young love-stricken Thomas Jefferson once attended. The tavern played a role in history after the dissolution of House of Burgesses. In 1776, Phi Beta Kappa was founded at the tavern by a group of students from The College of William and Mary. The structure was destroyed by fire in 1859 and was rebuilt and dedicated in 1932.
James Geddy House: Located on the Palace Green near Bruton Parish Church, this two-story home is one of the original buildings in Williamsburg. Unusual features, from its low roof to the balcony above the front porch, make it truly unique. James Geddy Jr. owned the property through the Revolutionary era and built the house in 1762. The home was used for foundry, gunsmith and silversmith businesses and is a beloved site in Williamsburg.
History lovers will enjoy experiencing the spirit of the 18th century in beautiful Williamsburg. It’s impossible to squeeze volumes of historical information and places to visit into one short article, thus a trip to colonial Williamsburg is essential. Excitement ensues as visitors are treated to historical interpreters and recreations of life on the eve of the Revolutionary War. For touring and lodging information, please visit: www.visitwilliamsburg.com.