Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia: History Made FunSeptember 6, 2010 3 Comments
It would be easy to dismiss Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia as just another roadside attraction. Seemingly plopped down in the middle of a tourist area with a Ripley’s Museum on one side and a Busch Gardens on the other, Colonial Williamsburg could seem like yet another way to part you from your money. But those who venture forth will find the original Colonial capital city recreated with stunning accuracy.
History of Colonial Williamsburg
Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia from 1699 until 1780, when Thomas Jefferson moved the capital to Richmond near the end of the Revolutionary War. America’s independence from Britain was largely conceived and promoted in Williamsburg, where such luminaries as George Washington, George Mason and Peyton Randolph met and planned in coffee houses and taverns.
Colonial Williamsburg, the attraction, was conceived in 1926. Reverend Dr. Goodwin, then rector of the Bruton Parish Church, located on the outskirts of the original town, wanted to preserve the historic buildings, which were falling into disrepair. He managed to sell the idea to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who spearheaded and funded a complete restoration of over 80 percent of the original town. Today the private, non-profit Colonial Williamsburg Foundation continues his work.
How Colonial Williamsburg Works
Today Colonial Williamsburg consists of 301 acres filled with restored homes, shops and businesses. Highly trained re-enactors inhabit the roles of Colonial citizens of all walks of life. You are invited to become part of daily 18th century life as you argue a court case, question Benedict Arnold, learn period dances, or argue politics with Thomas Jefferson.
Your admission ticket includes entrance to more than 30 restored sites, from the Governor’s Palace to various trade shops, and admission to virtually all of the daytime programs. Evening programs are longer and more in-depth, and run the gamut from witch trials and military tribunals to balls and 18th century plays. Evening programs are offered at an additional fee, but certain types of admission passes offer discounts.
What’s In It for Kids?
Kids are an important part of Colonial Williamsburg, and junior reenactors perform alongside their parents. Each day’s schedule features programs specifically designed for the younger set, such as creating a Colonial toy or helping out on a farm. Throughout the day, craft stations and Colonial games can be found throughout the historic area. If your kids want to get into the Colonial spirit, costumes are available for sale or rent at the Visitor Center.
Children are welcome at all day and evening programs, although parental guidance is suggested for the ghost and pirate tours and the late-night entertainment at the taverns. Your kids may have an opportunity to sit on a jury or even appear in a play. The reenactors are highly trained and experienced, and are able to adapt their performances to whomever they happen to be talking to–even jumping back and forth between a detailed discussion of military tactics with a retired sailor and a light chat on Colonial games with a five-year-old.
Where Can We Stay?
Colonial Williamsburg offers official on-site hotels in all price ranges, from the Governor’s Inn budget motel to the deluxe Williamsburg Inn. Or immerse yourselves entirely in the past by staying in an authentic Colonial House, which may be a room in a tavern, a former private residence or even a slave quarter. Staying in an official property provides discounts on admission passes and evening programs, as well as priority reservations for spa services, golf, tennis and dining.
During the summer, children aged 5 to 12 who are staying in an official Colonial Williamsburg property can participate in the Colonial Kids Club for an additional fee. As of 2010, the price is $25 for a half-day session or $40 for a full day, including lunch. Discounts are offered for multiple children in the same family. Kids’ Club staff members are professionally trained and excellent at getting kids involved. They will tour the historic area, play period games, and participate in craft projects, while the adults enjoy some well-deserved “adult time.”
What About Dining?
Colonial Williamsburg offers four official taverns: Shields, Kings Arms, Christiana Campbell’s and Chowning’s, located inside the Historic Area. Dine on authentic period foods such as peanut soup, pork chops and freshly caught seafood. Kids’ menus offer modern kid fare such as chicken strips alongside more traditional dishes. Kids are welcome at all the taverns, which feature musicians and visits by notable Colonial residents. Chowning’s offers a “gambols” menu after 5 p.m., when the focus shifts to pub grub and period games. After 8 p.m., the atmosphere turns slightly rowdier and more PG-rated, though there is nothing offensive.
For quick daytime dining, visit the Garden Café behind Chowning’s or the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop. Both offer a limited menu of sandwiches and quick foods at reasonable prices. If you will be in town for a few days, pick up a refillable Colonial Williamsburg mug. Valid for the entire year, the mug gives you free refills on soda, apple cider, coffee and even ice cream.
What Else Should We Know?
Colonial Williamsburg is what you make of it. Take time out to chat with the reenactors. Take a behind-the-scenes tour. Visit the trade shops and ask questions about exactly what projects they are working on. Colonial Williamsburg employees and volunteers pride themselves on their extensive research into the time period and the people they are portraying, so you can be confident that your children are learning accurate information.
Be prepared to field questions. Some kids are shy about asking questions of the reenactors, but will ask you later about something that they saw. Use your experiences and their questions as jumping-off points for further discussion. Material at Colonial Williamsburg is invariably presented in a very matter-of-fact “this is how things are” sort of way, so neither you nor the kids will ever feel lectured at or talked down to. Learn to recognize the teachable moments that occur throughout the day, and both you and your kids will leave having been thoroughly entertained, without realizing just how much you all learned.