You need to know that "Colonial" Virginia refers to the 17th and 18th centuries under the British Crown, and Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area reflects life from 1750 to 1780. Williamsburg, Virginia is located 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., and 50 miles east of Richmond, and 50 miles west of Norfolk on Interstate 64.
This is confusing, but Colonial Williamsburg is located in the center of the modern city of Williamsburg. It is defined by its 173-acre Historic Area. Now, within the boundaries of the Historic Area, everthing appears as it did in the 18th-century. Duke of Gloucester Street is a mile long main street that bisects this area. Interestingly, tunneling under this main street is the Colonial Parkway, a scenic road that links Colonial Williamsburg to nearby Jamestown and Yorktown.
Fondest memory: I enjoyed the Visitor's Center, and the best advice I can give you is to urge you to begin your visit at this center. There are over 1200 free parking spaces here. You cannot drive in Colonial Williamsburg, so parking here is smart.
The center is a place to buy admission tickets, make needed reservations for restaurants and overnight accommodations, special programs, and evening events.
The best buy for tickets is the Patriot's Pass which we purchased. It is good for one year from the date of purchase and gives you unlimited admission to all Colonial Williamsburg exhibits plus Carter's Grove. In addition, it's where you are able to view an extremely helpful film called Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot which lasts for 35 minutes and tells the story of the American revolution in Viriginia to life.
You will be given a guidebook, a map, and a short orientation. It's good to know that your admission ticket covers use of the bus system.
I personally found that this first stop at the Visitor's Center was quite helpful and oh, so valuable.
Perhaps my favorite little place in Williamsburg was a small shop on Duke of Gloucester Street called Mary Stith Shop.
It's just a one-story brick structure with a bay window and dormers that almost looks like a doll's house; however, it made a big impression on me. Why? I was fascinated by the story of Mary Stith. For the times, she was remarkable. She wrote her will in 1813, and left most of her belongings to her African-American servants. A quote from her will says a great deal:"All the coloured people in my family being born my slaves, but now liberated, I think it my duty not to leave them destitute nor to leave them unrecompensed for past services rendered to me. As in the cause of humanity I can do but little for so many, and that little my conscience requires me to do, therefore I subject the whole of my estate to the payment of my just debts, and to the provision which I herein make for them."
What this means is that she left three buildings and the ground on which they stood; she also left clothing, furniture, and cash. Today, special programs and performances are presented in her shop.
The Golden Ball (Silversmith) I really enjoyed seeing the silversmith create beautiful object by hand. They actually do the casting and forging of silver here! They sell jewelry and silver hollow ware. We purchased jewelry.
Shoemaker's Shop It was great to see a tradesman make shoes using the tools and techniques of the 18th-century. He actually hand sews the soles and uppers.
Fondest memory: But, my all-time favorite place was The Public Hospital. It was the first public institution that took care of the mentally ill.
The Public Hospital was the last major public building in Colonial Williamsburg to be reconstructed. There is a re-created cell with a pallet on the floor, chains on the wall, and bars on the window (18th century); they also have a reproduction of a comfortably furnished apartment from the mid-nineteenth century.
There's also a great exhibit that graphically traces the different theories about mental illness and the methods used for treating it. They even had sound effects which made it seem so real.
By 1883 there were over 400 patients and it was obvious that they had decided to care for the mentally ill but did not have much of a plan. In 1885, a fire completely destroyed the Public Hospital Building (reconstructed by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1985).
The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery is entered through the lower lobby of the Public Hospital.
The photo shows the interior of a patient's cell during the late 18th century.
Painted in gold above the mantel of the Raleigh Tavern's Apollo Room is the motto, "Hilaritas Sapientiae et Bonae Vitae Proles" which means "Jollity, the offspring of wisdom and good living".
This tavern was named after Sir Walter Raleigh who himself tried to colonize Virginia in 1585! His sculptured bust stood above the door of the tavern where there often were balls (dances) held because the colonial Virginians just loved to dance. The likes of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington either ate here or attended functions here.
You could buy theater tickets and merchandise here at the Tavern. Unfortunately, slaves were auctioned from its steps.
The Raleigh Tavern's famed Apollo Room was where a group of College of William and Mary students founded Phi Beta Kappa in 1779. In 1859 the Raleigh Tavern was, it was said, "willfully burnt down"! The Raleigh was not rebuilt.
When restoration of Williamsburg began, there were two modern brick stores on the site where the raleigh Tavern had stood. Excavations began in 1928 and they unearthed the foundations and artifacts from the Tavern.
In addition, using drawings from Lossing's book, A Pictorial Field-Book of the American Revolution as well as insurance policy sketches, they were able to precisely reconstruct the original Tavern.
Interestingly, Raleigh Tavern was the first exhibition building reconstructed, and that took place in 1932.
Fondest memory: I enjoyed seeing the Raleigh Tavern and was enthralled to see the Apollo Room where Phi Beta Kappa was founded.
The photo shows that particular room.
Today, you can purchase cookies, bread, and other baked produce at the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop ^b in the Raleigh Tavern Kitchen
Allan especially enjoyed seeing the James Geddy House and Foundry. James Geddy was a gunsmith, and he and his sons lived at or operated shops at the James Geddy House and James Geddy Workshop and Kitchen.
After James died, his sons, David and William carried on the trade. But, Anne Geddy, the widow, sold this property to her son, James, Jr, who set up shop as a silversmith, goldsmith, and watch repairer. When you visit today, you can see the domestic and commercial activities of the family of James Geddy, Jr. interpreted. In the foundry behind the house, you can see skilled craftsmen cast objects of beauty out of bronze, pewter, silver, and brass.
Fondest memory: I enjoyed the architecture of the house the most because it was unusual for Williamsburg. It's a two-story, L-shaped house (the uncommon part) that was probably that way to adapt to fit the corner lot.
It was restored twice: once in 1930 and again in 1967. The entrance porch was replaced and the chimneys were rebuilt above the roof ridge. I read that the ground gutter used at the Geddy House appears often in 18th-century construction throughout tidewater Virginia.
The James geddy Foundry was reconstructed in the yard to the rear of the house.
The Geddy family operated for nearly 50 years, and artifacts of many of the articles that they made were found in the 1968 excavations of the Geddy site! I find all of this quite fascinating.
There were several apothecary shops in Williamsburg during the 18th Century. Before becoming partners, both Pasteur and Galt had run competing apothecary shops.
Their partnership began about 1775 and lasted until 1778 because Pasteur retired from medicine.
The one you see today is a reconstructed shop, and it stands where the original once did. It's stocked and furnished very much as it was then. On display in the shop are delft drug jars, original pharmaceutical equipment, medications, and ingredients listed in period dispensatories. They also have reproduction splints, braces, and dental tools.
Then, medicines were stored as raw materials in drawers or cupboards. Villagers could purchase these compounds; they would bring their own contaner to hold the ingredients to take home.
During the Revolution, Galt was a military surgeon, and he also served as director of the state apothecary until 1789. He served as a visiting physician to the Public Hospital and was appointed to its court of directors; he seerved in both capacities until he died in 1808.
I found this shop just fascinating. I have a wild imagination and could create all kinds of "situations" in my mind's eye!
Fondest memory: The Pasteur & Galt Apothecary Shop fascinated me because of all the original and reproductions that were on display. It made me realize how far we have come in medicine since then.
Allan and I loved seeing the Wren Building of the William and Mary College. It's the oldest academic structure still in use in the nation. The building was begun in 1695 and is considered the "signature" building of the second oldest college in the USA (next to Harvard). Great people studied here: James Monroe, John Marshall, Thomas Jefferson, and John Tyler!.
Sadly, it was destroyed by fire three tiems. The Wren Building was the first major building restored by John D. Rockefeller, Jr..
It's proper name is the College Building. The first building's design was a "fire trap". They used the original foundations when it was rebuilt. The basement was raised, more steps were added, and was two and one-half stories high..
This building also burned, gutting the building!
When the restorations began in 1930, steel beams were added. It was the first major Williamsburg structure to be restored by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Today, students of the College of william and Mary still attend classes in the WRen Building; it's chapel is the site of many weddings. The first floor of the wRen Building is maintained as a Colonial Williamsburg exhibition, so be sure to see it!
Fondest memory: But, what we loved most about the College of William and Mary was the theatre department which was doing the play Chicago while we were there.
We purchased tickets and saw this delightful play way before it was the smash success on broadway and at the movies.
This is where you start your experience. Here in the visitor center is where you will get assistance in purchasing tickets to the town or reservations for walking tours, carriage rides, dinning, lodging or other evening programs. Wheelchairs are available here too, but limited. A bookstore, a tea & coffee refreshment store, custome rentals available for children, souvenirs store and a wonderful movie presentation. Restrooms are here too and this is where free shuttles buses that take you to the park and drop and pick up at various areas of the town. Outside is a wonderful court yard to enjoy with a lovely water fall.
For the reservation desk for lodging and dinning please call 1-800-Taverns or 757-229-2141
Fondest memory: It was cool, comfortable and friendly:-)
Many of the homes are private residence and are not open to the public and are nestle in between some the open exhibits. The town is closed off for the tourist during the day, but open back up at night so residence can have their privacy back. This means the roads are open back up, so be careful if your strolling around on the streets at night.
Here is a guide of the sites you can see and make sure you follow the map so you don't tress pass onto some else's private property
I liked the fact that most of the businesses take the time to blend in the buildings with the historical significance of the architecture. The Wachovia Bank, N.A on 306 South Henry Street caught my eye and I took a picture of it. I liked the little stars on the face of the building. It doesn't have any ATM here, but there are others nearby if you need cash.
The very first thing all visitors to Colonial Williamsburg see is the visitor's centre. This is where you buy your tickets to tour the historic area. In October, 2004, the ticket prices ranged from $29-69. The plan that gives you the most bang for the buck is the $45 Key To The City plan. This gives you access to the whole historic area including the Capitol and Governor's Palace. The only hitch is, it's good for two days and I do this in a day. It may seem like a waste, but the Capitol and Governor's Palace are well worth the extra money. There is also a theatre where they show you a short movie Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot. There are numerous gift shops on each level of the visitor's centre. After you buy your ticket and see the movie, you go down the stairs to meet your shuttle bus which takes you in a circuit around the historic area back to the visitor's centre when you've had enough history for one day.
NOTE: Click here to check on current prices and new features.
Fondest memory: The tour guides dress like it was 1776. This one pictured here, outside the Capitol building, even remembered me from previous visits. I had been 8 times before this and we're bound to have met at some point. Another one, the guide at the Governor's Palace, knew my cousin Hazel when she was a guide here years ago. Matt says the folks at Colonial Williamsburg ought to let me in free or offer me some kind of discount when I bring folks from out of town with me because I've done it so much. Since 1988, I've brought Pierre-Olivier Pelletier (France), Phil Costello (New York), Fernando Pensado Miguel (Spain), Javier Espejo Pinto (Spain), J.D. Sitton (Georgia, now New Jersey), Eric Rauschenberger (New Jersey), Mark Jones (North Carolina, now Pennsylvania), and Matt & Urszula Niwinski (Poland). Bobby and Katey Clark, y'all are next!
Fondest memory: Urszula is new to this colony and she didn't know to mind the company she kept. Back during the Revolutionary War, these guys were Tories (British loyalists) and they tried to keep us from gaining independence from England. To my friends in England, I'm only kidding, folks.
Favorite thing: Your admission ticket for Colonial Williamsburg includes a 30 minute Orientation Tour. Even if like us you don’t like to go round in a tour group this is worth taking, especially if you only have one day for your visit, as it gives you a quick overview of the site. It will also help you focus on the things you most want to see and plan your day in a logical way to fit as much as possible into it.
If like me you’re fascinated by the human stories behind the big historical events, check out this website:
Here you’ll find biographies of many Williamsburg residents, from slaves and trades people to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
If you've been reading through the Williamsburg tips, then by now you've figured out the ticket structure... but here it is again...
Colonial Sampler - $34 ($15 youth) - One day admission, but does not include Capitol, Governor's Palace, DeWitt Museum & Bassett Hall. Essentially worthless.
Governor's Key-To-The-City - $48 ($24 youth) - Two day admission and includes all of the above, but does not include Walking Tours and Behind-the-Scenes Programs. A much better value.
Freedom Pass - $59 ($29 youth) - Good for unlimited admission for up to a year, plus 50% discounts on Walking Tours and Behind-the-Scenes Programs.
Independence Pass - $72 ($36 youth) - Same as Freedom Pass, but you get free tickets to Colonial Evening Performances (except dining events and certain holiday times), and the ability to reserve time slots for the Capitol and Palace tours (avoiding the huge lines).
If you only have a half day at Williamsburg, don't bother paying. Just stroll around for free.
You should really plan on spending two full days at Williamsburg, or at least a day and a half. One day is just not enough time, and the one day Colonial Sampler is a colossal waste of money - the ticket omits all of the best attractions. If you arrive in the middle of the day, I would strongly suggest going to the Visitor's Center, picking up the free "This Week" guide, and taking the brief walk to the historic area to soak up the ambience, and make plans for a full day tomorrow. Then, since you have a two day ticket, plan to spend the following morning at Williamsburg before hitting the road - or stay all day.