When you hear about the area of Virginia known as the “Historic Triangle” it is referring to three towns in the eastern portion of the state: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. “Historic”, as this area contains many landmarks and locations where some of our country’s most pivotal and history-shaping events took place. “Triangle”, because each of these towns mark the angle or point of a visual triangle on the map.
Being the history nerds that we are – this is one area that we were really looking forward to visiting when spending time on the eastern seaboard. We had done our homework as to the various museums in the area, as well as the different ticket options. Knowing that we wanted to visit The Jamestown Settlement, Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg, The American Revolution Museum, and the Yorktown Battlefield, we opted for a combo ticket that saved dollars over the price of individual admission prices. The combo is valid for seven consecutive days, includes free parking at all sites, can be purchased at any of the stops, and proved to be a good value for us.
At least once while traveling between the three points of interest within the triangle, be sure to hop on the historic Colonial Parkway. This 23-mile scenic drive links Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown and has been designated a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road.
The lovely tree-lined roadway is slow moving, averaging 35 to 45 mph, and prohibits semi-trucks making for a pleasant meandering drive. The James River is at one end of the route and the York River at the other with many turnouts and interpretive signs along the way.
The Jamestown Settlement:
The first thing to know when visiting the Jamestown Settlement is that this is NOT the actual location of the settlement and for that reason some folks fail to stop here. I highly encourage visiting this location and recommend making it your very first stop while touring the locations in the triangle.
Jamestown Settlement is divided into two parts. An indoor museum and an outdoor living-history museum. The indoor museum is incredibly informative with multi-media presentations and films describing the events that took place on and leading up to May 13, 1607. The museum’s gallery exhibits set the stage by describing the English business venture that sent three ships consisting of 105 passengers and 39 crewmen to establish the first permanent English colony on the North American continent on this very day.
The outdoor living-history museum consists of three re-created areas: a Powhatan Indian Village, the colonist’s fort, and the three ships that brought the English colonists to this new land. The Powhatan Village offers re-creations of their wigwam-style dwellings (not very authentic, however – thatch-covered fiberglass shells!) as well as demonstrations and descriptions of their daily lives. Educational, nonetheless.
The colonist’s fort describes the day-to-day challenges and hardships they were forced to overcome in their efforts to establish this new colony. Explore various examples of the early 1600’s dwellings and learn about the food, tools, and cultural exchanges they encountered with the area natives.
A little ways past the village and fort, you find replicas of the three ships that made the four-and-a-half month voyage: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery. You can board all three and learn about life aboard ship during the arduous journey, as well as see demonstrations of navigational techniques during the 17th century.
Contact Info: 2110 Jamestown Rd., Williamsburg, VA 23185 / 757 253-4838 / www.historyisfun.org/jamestown-settlement
Once you’ve visited the Jamestown Settlement and have gained a basic history of the events of Jamestown, I suggest visiting the real-deal Historic Jamestowne. This park, run by the National Park Services, is the actual location on the James River where the colonists came ashore in May of 1607 and established their colony.
Start your visit by viewing the movie about the settlement of Jamestown, featured on a 360 degree screen and located in the Visitor Center. Next, head out to the actual site and meet up with one of the park rangers for a walking tour and account of the events while standing on the very spot where they took place. Finally, tour the area on your own, paying attention to and visiting with one of the archaeologists on hand to explain the excavations that are still taking place at this location today.
While visiting, learn about my two favorite Jamestown VIP’s and the role they played in the settling of Jamestown: Pocohontas and Captain John Smith.
Pocahontas was the daughter of the most powerful Powhatan ruler. She was especially intrigued and interested in the new settlers who had arrived from England. She assumed the role of somewhat of a “peacemaker” between the colonists and her people. It was a rocky relationship, at times one of friendship – other times one of violence. Pocahontas was ultimately kidnapped and during this time converted to Christianity and married an Englishman, John Rolfe. They were married in 1614 at the church that is still under excavation at the fort today.
CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH
Captain John Smith was probably the most instrumental leader in the establishment of Jamestown. One of the original colonists to arrive in Jamestown, aboard ship he was known as a troublemaker. Once arriving in the new world, however, his stubborn resolve proved beneficial and he was named as part of the governing council. He was excellent at negotiating with the area natives and, although not historically verified, a popular story is how at one time he was held captive by the Powhatan’s and then rescued by the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas. His discipline, while not always popular, helped to improve defenses, farming, and exploration. Without his leadership the colony might not have survived.
Contact Info: 1368 Colonial Parkway, Jamestown, VA 23081 / 757 856-1250 / www.historicjamestowne.org
Colonial Williamsburg is an outdoor living history museum comprised of approximately 300 acres and several blocks of restored and reconstructed buildings. The neighborhood is an authentic replica of 18th Century America leading up to the Revolutionary War.
The easiest place to park to visit the colonial area is at the Visitor Center where you can purchase tickets and board a shuttle that will take you to various stops in town. You can also view an introductory film, shop for souvenirs or refreshments, and even rent 18th century costumes so you, too, can fit right into the colonial atmosphere. Yep – colonial cosplay.
While no admission or ticket is necessary to stroll the street, eat or drink at the taverns and pubs or shop in the stores, a ticket is required for entrance and guided tours of the historic buildings.
Once arriving in the old colonial section, start your tour by strolling down the main thoroughfare – the Duke of Gloucester Street. Visit the historic buildings and listen to the costumed interpreters as they explain their function and role during this time in our nation’s history. Learn about their various trades – blacksmithing, book binding, dressmaking, gardening, carpentry and so much more.
Enjoy a carriage ride through the streets, listen to one of the musical programs, and visit the gardens and grounds surrounding the historical buildings. And by all means – have a meal or a pint of ale at one of the taverns located along the way.
If you only have time or funds to explore one thing while in this historic area of Virginia – Colonial Williamsburg might just be the one to visit. The costumed interpreters are in full character while sharing about the life and times of free and enslaved, privileged and challenged. A visit to Colonial Williamsburg helps define the term, “liberty”, and how this era helped shape who and what we are today!
Contact Info: Visitor Center – 101 Visitor Center Dr., Williamsburg, VA 23185 / 888 965-7254 / www.colonialwilliamsburg.com
American Revolution Museum:
The American Revolution Museum (previously the Yorktown Victory Center) consists of two parts – the indoor museum and an outdoor living history museum. This museum is the perfect spot to visit for an overview of the colonial period stretching to the composing of our constitution and beyond. Follow this up with a visit to the Yorktown Battlefield to see the actual sites of what you learn here.
The indoor museum is filled with artifacts and innovative multi-media presentations describing the events leading up to the Battle of Yorktown. It was this battle that resulted in General Charles Cornwallis surrendering to General George Washington, turning the momentum of the Revolutionary War and ultimately ensuring a victory for the American colonists. Don’t miss the film – “The Siege of Yorktown” – shown on a 180 degree screen “in the round” and full of vibrations, smoke, and other special effects.
The outdoor portion of the museum is divided into two sections: a continental army encampment and a revolution-era farm.
Row upon row of primitive tents greet you as you enter the army encampment area.
Visit different areas to learn about the day-to-day life as a soldier – medical practices, the quartermaster’s tent and an outdoor kitchen. Watch and take part in military drills and artillery firing.
Continue beyond the military encampment to the Revolution-era farm. Here you’ll discover what it was like to be an 18th century farmer. Tour the farmhouse, log kitchen and slave quarters. Learn about Virginia farming and enjoy whatever crops the season has to offer. And finally, talk with the interpreter in the nearby tobacco barn to learn all about the process of making this crop a lucrative one for the settlers.
Contact Info: 200 Water St., Yorktown, VA 23690 / 757 887-1776 / www.historyisfun.org/yorktown-victory-center.
The final stop of the Historic Triangle area is the Yorktown Battlefield in Yorktown, Virginia. This park is run by the National Park Service and commemorates the general location and sites pertaining to the battle that took place from late September to mid October, 1781. This pivotal battle of the American Revolutionary War is documented at this park and the Visitor Center is a great place to begin your day at the battlefield.
The Visitor Center houses a small museum and an informative movie that provides an overview of what lead up to, those who took part in, the surrender, and the aftermath of the cataclysmic battle. After the museum and movie, stop by the gift shop and pick up a $5 CD for a narrated driving tour that leads you along the seven-mile Auto Tour Route with stops at the various sites of the battle.
Before jumping in the car to start your Auto Tour, check out one of the ranger-led walking tours of the historic homes in nearby Yorktown. Or follow the marked pathway for a self-guided tour along the bricked roadways and beautiful mansions of this once-thriving tobacco port. Along the way, pass the Victory Monument – memorial to the battle and surrender of England and Cornwallis to General Washington in 1781.
Finally, jump in your car, insert the CD into your player and follow the directions. If you opted not to purchase a CD tour, the Visitor Center also furnishes maps with directions and descriptions of the stops along the way. The auto tour guides you in and out of the British and Allied battle lines. (Allied = American and French allies). The bunkers and redoubts (fortifications) where the Colonial army trapped General Cornwallis and his forces are restored to represent how they appeared during the multi-week siege.
One of the final stops on the tour is the Moore House where the negotiations took place following the surrender of the British. This restored home, overlooking the York River, is open during the summer months for self-guided tours.
Contact Info: 1000 Colonial Parkway, Yorktown, VA 23690 / 757 898-2410 / www.nps.gov/york/
Whew! You still with me? This was a LONG post – but such an amazing bunch of American history all crammed into one compact area, wouldn’t you agree? Hope you have the opportunity to visit this incredible Historic Triangle of Virginia for yourself someday! Until next time … thanks for “keeping up with us”!
Have you visited any of the historical attractions mentioned in this post? Which are your favorite? If you had to choose only one to visit – what would be your suggestion? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
If you like to visit and learn about historical sites, famous battles, and memorials – here are a few other blog posts we’re sure you’ll enjoy!
AND … HERE are a couple of family scrapbook pages devoted to our country’s FREEDOM and LIBERTY!!