Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Colonial Retreat

Many of you expressed interest a few weeks ago when I posted that my daughter Maria and I planned to visit Colonial Williamsburg for a few days after the Christmas holiday. So, I thought I'd describe a few of the highlights of the visit while the memories are still fresh.

The snowstorm that dropped over a foot of snow along the Northeastern seaboard areas also deposited about 8 inches of snow in Williamsburg. Both Colonial Jamestown and nearby Williamsburg are located near the James River which runs directly to the Atlantic Ocean by way of Norfolk/Virginia Beach at the mouth. So, the seacoast is not far away---hence the 8 inches of snow. Now, that area is not used to snow, so the grounds people were busily at work getting it moved away. Maria and I, however, are Colorado-hardy and know how to dress for cold weather & snow---snow boots & layers to keep warm. Consequently, the first day we arrived (right after the storm stopped), we were warm & dry and tromped all over in the sunny weather. And we certainly weren't alone. There were many, many visitors already. Some folks spend their Christmas holidays at the Colonial area. Temps quickly rose to the mild upper 40's by the next day & the sun kept shining, so the crowds grew as Maria and I traipsed all over the historic areas, visiting shops and museums and listening to the historical re-enactors detail life in the Colonial era of late 1600's through the late 1700's.

As a lover of history and someone who spent over a decade writing historical novels before I wrote mysteries, I loved every minute of visiting with the costumed re-enactors and walking the picturesque streets and poking into shops. There were so many events scheduled for each day, it is impossible to see or hear everything that's going on: concerts, presentations, theatrical events, family participatory events. Truly, something for everyone. Two of my favorite events were the "Conversations" with some of our famous Americans from that period---one with George Washington and another with Patrick Henry.

Washington's event is held every week, even so, Maria and I had to sign up in our hotel and get tickets the day before. And believe me, the theatre was packed. Firebrand Patrick Henry's gathering was more casual since it was in the Palace West Garden, but it too was crowded. Since I'd missed Thomas Jefferson's conversation the day before when the garden filled up, I made it a point to get to Patrick Henry's nearly an hour early. Both re-enactors that portrayed Washington and Henry were fantastic. Clearly, these men have had to study for ages to be able to portray these men so authentically. Plus, they have learned their speeches and absorbed their philosophies so well that after speaking for nearly 30 minutes, they then take questions on any question the audience asks. Fascinating. In costume, of course, their mannerisms and demeanor are completely authentic as well. I was entranced, of course, and stayed after to listen to Washington's questions. Patrick Henry, known for his talkative nature & passionate political discourse, talked for over an hour and 40 minutes of which half was spent answering questions in that sunny courtyard. All of the visitors and children were spread around, standing, sitting on benches or the ground, mesmerized.

And of course, let's not forget the wonderful assortment of cafes and restaurants. Maria and I had fun meals in each tavern because the policy is open seating, so if you're a party of two at a table, then two more diners will be placed with you. We enjoyed it immensely, because we met some great people that way. And for those of you who might be tempted to visit but are not real history buffs, take heart. There's a beautiful golf course down the road and a luxurious spa right between two of the lovely hotels: Williamsburg Lodge and the Williamsburg Inn. So, the history fans can traipse through the historic areas to their heart's content and the other family members can relax other ways.

Have any of you visited historic areas with historical re-enactors? Who were the characters portrayed?


Dru said...

The only ones I've been to was at Colonial Williamsburg. I would love to attend a re-enactment at Gettysburg.

Sheila Connolly said...

When my daughter was still in high school, we came up to Massachusetts for a visit during her spring break in early April. Since we passed right by Old Sturbridge Village and she had never seen it, we decided to stop and spend the night there. Even though it was April, it was snowing lightly, and there were almost no visitors. It was very easy to imagine yourself in another century, watching the reenactors in period costumes making their way between buildings.

I live near Plimoth Plantation, and they do an excellent job of representing the early 17th-century--a friend of mine who is a historian spent time there just to observe their recreations. And somehow the creators managed to position their site so that you don't see any annoying modern intrusions, even though it's in a well-populated area. (I even got to talk to one of my ancestors!)

Maggie Sefton said...

me, too, Dru. In fact, I'm thinking of attending the yearly re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg this July. I'm sure the crowds are huge.

Maggie Sefton said...

Sheila--Don't you just love that? It was fascinating to watch all the Williamsburg re-enactors get around in the snow. They didn't have any probles plus they are wearing the authentic sturdy shoes & and long woolen capes. Actually the wool was felted to shed water and make it warmer. Felting is an ancient technique. It was done in medieval times.

I'll have to make it up to Plimouth sometime. In addition to my Virginia ancestors who came in th 1640's, I'm also related to Roger Williams. Now, he's someone I'd really like to sit down and share a cuppa. :)

Barbara said...

We've been to Williamsburg twice, once at Christmas, then in the spring which was unbelievably lovely with all the gardens. We've been to Sturbridge too, to Monticello and Madison's home in Virginia, and we went to a battle reenactment at Manassas. The latter was the only one we didn't enjoy - excessively hot that day and only one or two stands selling lemonade - no water until someone thought to bring in a water buffalo. Awful day. We've been to Gettysburg at Christmas, so I'd like to return in July for the reenactment.

Debra said...

Hubby and I went to Mystic Conn to celebrate an anniversary. I did not expect to like it so much.
19th century drugstore, ships store etc. with historic reenactors.

Miki Willa said...

I have been to Old Sturbridge Village, Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Plimoth Plantation. I have also been to many James River plantation homes during holidays when there were actors fulfilling the old family roles. I really enjoy the idea of being plopped down in another time for a few hours. I guess my favorite actors are the ones who play the ordinary people, the cooks, gardeners, and laundry women. Too often, history books focus only on the prominent people of the past. It is good to be reminded there were ordinary folks like me, as well.

signlady217 said...

Just this past Sunday, our pastor was talking about the Declaration of Independence and the 56 men who signed it. They put their lives on the line for freedom and independence. How many of us would do that now? What a rich heritage we truly have!

We took a group of high school students to Shiloh (TN) one year. Very cool. And I've been to Corinth (MS) several times, also.

Ellery Adams said...

I love Colonial Williamsburg! When I lived in NY, our class took a bus trip down and we all got dressed up as Colonial Virginians (I wore a blue dress and had braces - a bit of an anachronism!)

Glad you had fun in the Old Dominion, Maggie!

ev said...

We spent a week in Gettysburg this past summer. I thought one, maybe two days at the battlefield to satisfy hubby and then off to Hershey.

I dragged him back 4 times! (Not that I really had to drag him) I would love to go back next year for the anniversary, but it will be a madhouse, esp as it is over the 4th of July weekend. There are things going on all year tho from what I understand.Next year we are discussing Williamsburg. We go in our RV so we can take the dogs.

And Salem, MA is fun at Halloween time. We only live an hour or so away, in NY, so it's a day trip, along with Sturbridge.

Maggie Sefton said...

Rural View--Thanks for saying that. I imagine the crowds would be huge for a Gettysburg re-enactment. It would be wonderful, however that is in hot, hot July.

Debra--That sounds fun, too.

Maggie Sefton said...

Miki Willa---That's one of the reasons I enjoyed researching and writing historical novels---you could include all levels of socity in the story.

signlady---I think those school trips can be so very valuable to help kids get in touch with our history. It helps to bring it closer & personalize it.

Maggie Sefton said...

Ellery--I've been to several historic areas in Virginia over the years---some many years ago. I think it's time to re-visit some of them.

ev---Ohhhh, my. You're right. This summer's re-enactment would be over July 4th weekend. Wow. . it would be a madhouse with all those people. I think I'll see what other re-enactments they have scheduled.