Williamsburg and Jamestown

Originally uploaded by squidpants.
So I went to Williamsburg and Jamestown last weekend with my parents. It was pretty fun, and I do like historical stuff. However, it was also a little strange - Williamsburg is pretty antiseptic. The town was founded in 1699 and was the colonial capitol, but most of the buildings are rebuilt, only 80 out of 500 or something are original. Which is fine, but it just seemed a little Disney-ish, with spotless old houses and such. It's still kind of a nice atmosphere though and there are lots of little shops along the main street. It was nice walking around, especially at night. And talking to people about how much they loved the town (and also how people actually voted Disneyworld's Main Street USA as the best part of the park) made me think of how people really like traditional townscapes like that.

But anyway, they had a lot of historical reenactments, like soldiers and drum and fife corps, craftspeople making wigs and furniture and blacksmithing and such, which was interesting. Some of the reenactors were interesting and funny, but some were insufferable and annoying, especially the younger ones. I guess they are probably all theater types who think they're great actors. It was also weird seeing black reenactors dressed as slaves - accurate, but sort of unsettling. Anyway, here's a picture of soldiers marching outside the Kings Arms Tavern, which had pretty good food.

The town is centered on the old main street, Duke of Gloucester Street, and most of the historical stuff is within a block of two of that. It's actually laid out a lot like DC, with the Lincoln Memorial corresponding to William and Mary's oldest building, the Mall being Duke of Gloucester Street, the White House where the Governor's Palace is, and Capitols in the same place. I assume L'Enfant used Williamsburg for inspiration (map of the historic area here). There's also a few museums, like the Dewitt-Wallace Decorative Arts museum, which had silver and jewelry and crap like that, but also a really interesting exhibit on old maps, with lots of originals - John Smith's map of Virginia, lots of others from the 1600s, and so on. It was neat. The William and Mary campus is neat too, lots of old buildings. Here's the back of the Governor's Palace. It's sort of hard to tell, but there are 10 foot tall cylindrically trimmed boxwoods that look really cool.governorspalace
There's also the normal, modern day town of Williamsburg, which is nothing special, but there was a good Mexican restaurant called "Casa Maya". I recommend it, it was more Mexican than Tex-Mex, and things were flavored differently than normal Mexican food.

After Williamsburg, we went to Jamestown, which is actually two parks. There's the original site of the settlement, called Historic Jamestowne, which is run by the Park Service and a group called the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, and there's the Jamestown Settlement, a reconstruction, run by a pseudo-state government foundation, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. It's kind of confusing. We went to the reconstruction first, and I expected it to be corny, but it was actually the better of the two. They have a huge visitor's center with movies and food and all, and a gift shop with lots of stuff, from historical things to cheesy tourist crap. The park itself starts with a rebuilt Indian village, which was sort of interesting. The tour guide was a big high school looking kid in a Pocahontas-ish costume that was sort of funny, but was probably accruate. Then we went to the ships, pictured above, which were really interesting. One of the ships was being worked on, so it wasn't there, but the biggest and smallest were, the biggest is pictured. They're reconstructions also, but seemed very well done, and are seaworthy - the big one sailed across the Atlantic, and apparently is in an upcoming movied called "The New World" about Jamestown and such, with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. It actually looks pretty good, and also has Wes Studi, who is also cool. He was the bad dude in "Last of the Mohicans."

But anyway, we got to walk all over the ships, which was really intersting - it would suck to have to cross an ocean in one. The smaller ship was meant to be for exploring the area around the colony, and was actually built smaller than it should have been, but was still pretty tiny. The fort and town inside were really neat too, very primitive, and the reenactors were doing things like making food and working on armor. It was very hands on, more than at Williamsburg. I enjoyed it, you really got a feel of how much in the wilderness they were.

The Park Service/APVA Jamestown, however, was bad. There was a lot of construction going on, which is fine, but it seemed like they didn't pay much attention to park visitors. After going to a rebuilt glass furnace (pretty neat), we went to the main part of the park. We couldn't find a real visitors center, but did find a little gift shop. So we wandered across a bridge over the swamp which leads to the island the town was built on. It was basically unguided, since we didn't get a map (couldn't find the visitors center), and the park really didn't tell me anything. There was a big obelisk from the 300th anniversary, and there were foundations of buildings with some small plaques, a partially rebuilt church, and that was it basically. It left me with more questions than when I started, and that was after already learning about Jamestown - it must have been nonsense to people who didn't go to the other park. For example, there was a big plastic dome over one area. I assume it was to protect an archaeological dig, but there weren't any signs or anybody to tell me what it was. We didn't see a park ranger until after we had finished everything, and he was leading a tour. Where the tour started and how people found out about it, I have no idea. And it's not like we came in the back way, there's only one way in and one place to park. So the Park Service section was nice and peaceful, and gave you a good idea of where the place was, but I really didn't learn anything additional. I wrote them an email about the crappy experience, and they wrote back soon saying these were problems that were going to be fixed, but still. But not interesting park aside, I'm glad I went, and I enjoyed it all.

So that was the trip. Here are links and a couple more photos.

the non-Park Service, better Jamestown park. Dumb URL.

The Park Service site for Jamestown

Colonial Williamsburg. It's crazy they got "history.org" as their domain. They must have registered it 20 years ago or something.

Now pictures, here's the ceiling of the Governor's Palace. Those are guns. Apparently this was common back then.

Here's a crazy-shaped tomato from a garden in Williamsburg.

And here's me chilling with my pal Thomas Jefferson on the main drag in Williamsburg.

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