Location: Williamsburg, Virginia
Webpage: Private Living Museum
General Description: Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum with actors, craftsmen, and tour guides in period dress to provide a real sense of life in Williamsburg, the Provincial Capital of Virginia. While most of the buildings are reconstructions, they have been meticulously built and furnished using tools and materials of the colonial period. Along with the actors, visitors are treated to life in a colonial town just prior to the American Revolution. The tensions between the patriots, loyalists, and the British governor are played out by actors throughout the day in a series of skits and presentations that involve the tourists as if they are part of the community. Visitors can watch craftsmen including wheelwrights, carpenters, blacksmiths, weavers, bakers, silversmiths, tinsmiths, book binders, coopers, and more practice their craft producing everyday items to supply the needs of the town. While much of Williamsburg can be experienced without purchasing a ticket, the ticket is necessary to visit any of the craftsmen at their work and attend any of the many tours of historic buildings. Tours include the beautiful Governor’s Palace and extensive grounds, the Wythe House, the Capitol, the Magazine, the Randolph House and more. Programs throughout the day vary by day of the week but include highlights such as the Storming of the Palace, A Public Address with Thomas Jefferson, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, Revolution in the Streets, and a review of the troops by General Washington before marching on Yorktown.
1) They recommend buying tickets for more than one day, but we only had the one day to spend. I would recommend two days, but I would buy only a single day ticket. With the ticket concentrate on the craftsmen and tours that are of interest. Return the second day to visit the shops and take part in the presentations throughout the day which do not require a ticket. While we were able to see most of Colonial Williamsburg in a single day, we were able to participate in only one of the presentations.
2) Storming the Palace was a lot of fun. The actors interact with you as if you are citizens of Williamsburg yourself with some actors trying to incite the storming of the Governor’s Palace and others speaking out against it. The storyline is that the British soldiers have removed the gunpowder from the magazine during the night to be stored on the British ships under orders from the Crown to reduce the danger of rebellion. The citizens of Williamsburg see this as further threat to their liberties as the magazine was operated by the town and not the soldiers.
3) The tour of the Governor’s Palace follows a storyline directly after the Storming of the Palace when the Governor has left the Palace suddenly with his family for the safety of the ships. Therefore, we can “sneak” into the Palace for a quick look around. The actors not only continued the storyline but did an excellent job of pointing out the interesting features of the Palace. This is unlike any museum I have ever been in. Most museums strive to preserve the original structure and furnishings, which are going to be very old. This makes it difficult to get a true sense of the living conditions and the beauty the lived with. Since the Governor’s Palace was burned when the abandoned building was used as a hospital following the Battle of Yorktown, Colonial Williamsburg had the opportunity to rebuild the Palace and then furnish it with beautiful wall papers, paneling, pictures, furniture, etc that are made according to colonial period technology, but don’t look like they are over a hundred years old. Consequently, the Governor’s Palace is simply awesome. For instance the entrance hall has a marble floor and long lines of crossed swords and muskets covering the walls. Very impressive display. The grounds of the Governor’s Palace were extensive including both formal gardens and a hedge maze that you can explore.
4) We did not have the time to locate all of the craftsmen scattered across the area, but we greatly enjoyed seeing the wheelwright, blacksmith, tinsmith, and book binder. It was instructive to watch these craftsmen busy at work creating items needed for ongoing projects in the town, instead of producing trinkets for sale to tourists. So instead of watching the blacksmith creating a decorative key chain, he was making iron nails. The book binder was also fascinating as we watched him gluing a leather cover to a ledger. It was interesting to realize that a book back then would cost a year’s wages for most people, so the vast majority of books were not for reading. They were for the keeping of records in blank ledgers.
5) We took the tour for Wythe’s House who was an influential Founding Father that you don’t hear a lot about. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the first Professor of Law at Williams and Mary, and the instructor and confidant of Thomas Jefferson. The wallpaper in his house was stunning, as can be seen here in his living room. We also checked out the Public Armory.