Chesapeake Bay > Mouth of the Chesapeake Bay > Williamsburg/Jamestown/Yorktown


[Fig. 7] From 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson succeeded in lobbying to have the capital moved to Richmond in 1780 and Williamsburg subsequently lost prominence and languished in relative obscurity. With the financial help of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and others, this one-time powerful seat of politics, business, and culture has been restored to its eighteenth century appearance.

Colonial Williamsburg is open daily, year-round, including holidays. Anyone can walk the streets at no charge and shop in the stores. To take the official tour, enter many of the public buildings, or ride the buses that run between the historic area and the visitor center, you’ll need a ticket, which can be purchased at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center. Highlights of the tour include an orientation walk, the lavish Governor’s Palace, the Capitol, the Abby Aldrich Folk Art Center, the DeWitt Wallace Gallery, and Carter’s Grove, a once-thriving James River plantation. Costumed interpreters on street corners or in restored homes portray such figures as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, inviting the public to join in lively discussions on government and politics. Onlookers can even participate as a jury member or a witness in a mock trial of a witch. Costumed craftsmen such as silversmiths and woodworkers demonstrate eighteenth century skills in various shops.

The scrupulously tended streets and gardens of Colonial Williamsburg make the perfect backdrop for many annual events, including a Garden Symposium in late March and Historic Garden Week in April. A festive Independence Day celebration begins with a military salute by the Fife and Drum Corps, followed by the reading of the Declaration of Independence from the courthouse steps, and culminating in parades, fireworks, and concerts. The winter holiday season is magical with concerts, feasts, tours, programs, old-fashioned decorations, and sparkling lights. Visitors to Williamsburg, especially during peak times, should make reservations and plans well in advance. This tiny town is host to some 4 million people annually.A 7-mile drive down the Colonial Parkway from Williamsburg leads to Jamestown. Three organizations are charged with interpreting the history of Jamestown: the National Park Service, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA), and the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

The National Park Service operates the Colonial National Historical Park, which includes Jamestown, Yorktown, and the Colonial Parkway. The parkway connects Jamestown and Yorktown to Williamsburg. With the purchase of a ticket, visitors to Jamestown Island can see a short film and tour a museum at the visitor center, take ranger-led tours of the old townsite, watch craftsmen demonstrate the seventeenth century art of glassblowing at Glasshouse, and drive or bike a 5-mile wilderness loop on Jamestown Island. The loop leads through the dense forests of the island, with interpretive signs along the way.

The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) is conducting archeological excavations at Fort James on Jamestown Island. Uncovered so far are more than 160,000 artifacts, nearly half of which date to the first years of the English settlement. The archeological site and laboratory are included in the admission fee to the Colonial National Historical Park.

On the mainland, within 1 mile of Jamestown Island, is the Jamestown Settlement, operated by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. The settlement is a re-creation of that first colony, complete with full-scale replicas of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, the three English ships that came to Virginia in 1607. Interpreters demonstrate, for those who come aboard, the hardships of four months at sea in the seventeenth century. Also at Jamestown Settlement are a re-creation of Fort James, where the colonists learned to adapt to a strange new coastal environment, and Powhatan Indian village, which provides a memorable look at how tribes of Virginia’s coastal plains lived at the time the first settlers arrived.

For another perspective—not to mention an enjoyable way to spend two hours—take the narrated Jamestown Island Explorer Eco Cruise (757-259-0400) around Jamestown Island National Park. Boats are often able to approach bald eagles, osprey, herons, and deer along the shoreline without alarming them. Cruise participants can pull up crab pots, just as watermen do, and dredge the bottom for marine life. The cruise boat and rental kayaks are located just behind the parking lot at Jamestown Settlement. Cruises begin at 11, 1, and 3.

On the other end of the 23-mile Colonial Parkway, 11 miles southeast of Williamsburg, is Yorktown. This little town was a seventeenth century tobacco port where General Charles Cornwallis brought 7,000 British troops during the Revolutionary War in the hopes of meeting up with British ships. However, General George Washington and General Comte de Rochambeau, who was in command of the colonists’ French allies, hurried their armies down the coast to surround Cornwallis and force his surrender by cutting him off from the British ships with their supplies and reinforcements. The rule of British kings over the colonists ended when Cornwallis’s men lay down their arms.

Visitors can now take a 7-mile auto tour of the battlefields and a 9-mile auto tour of the encampment areas, viewing trenches and parapets where history was made. They can walk down Main Street where many of the restored colonial dwellings of the eighteenth century remain as private residences, and dine in exquisite restaurants on Water Street on the York River. Also on Water Street is the Watermen’s Museum (757-887-2641), where tribute is paid to the crabbers and oystermen of the Chesapeake Bay.

The battlefields are part of Colonial National Historical Park, where the National Park Service operates a visitor center and conducts ranger-led tours of the battlefield and colonial Yorktown. The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation operates the Yorktown Victory Center, where exhibits, a film, and costumed interpreters tell the story of the colonists’ struggle for independence. The center includes a re-created Continental Army encampment and an eighteenth century farm site.

Still another highlight of the Williamsburg area is the Williamsburg Pottery Factory (757-564-3326), located just off Exit 234 of I-64, 5 miles west of Williamsburg. The Pottery began in 1938 with the sale of eighteenth century, salt-glaze reproductions at low prices. Today, it has expanded to include more than 70,000 items in 32 buildings over 200 acres. Bargain hunters will find aisles upon aisles of candles, ribbons, china, glassware, collector’s items, framed prints, baskets, dried flowers, and much more. Other onsite shops include a bakery, a frame shop, a greenhouse, and a woodworking shop. A restaurant and snack bar are also on the premises. The Fair Oaks Holiday Trav-L-Park (800-892-0320 or 757-565-2101) is nearby.

Busch Gardens/Water Country USA

[Fig. 7(12)] Two theme parks, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA are huge attractions for families and young people who come to the Williamsburg area. Busch Gardens is on US 60, about 1 mile south of Williamsburg. Water Country is about 2.5 miles east of Williamsburg and northeast of Busch Gardens, and about 1 mile east of I-64.Busch Gardens, voted the country’s favorite theme park by the National Amusement Park Historical Association, has thrilling rides and several roller coasters such as the Alpengeist, said to be the world’s tallest, fastest, most twisted inverted roller coaster. Young children will enjoy the mini-flume ride, mini-Ferris wheel, three-story treehouse, and children’s theater. Eight stage shows include an American Jukebox show, dancing to the big band sounds of the Starlight Orchestra, and the musical extravaganza called Rockin’ the Boat at the Magic Lantern Theatre.Handcrafted items such as Italian sculpture and German steins, as well as foods from around the world, make shopping and dining a unique experience at Busch Gardens. The famous Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales are another popular attraction.Water Country is the place to be on a sizzling summer day when even the beach is too hot. Every imaginable ride—more than 30, in fact—that can keep a body cool and wet has been dreamed up for this park. There are side-by-side water slides for racing against friends, rafts that lead through dark tunnels with laser lighting and other special effects, and water playgrounds for young children.

Packages are available with three or four nights lodging and unlimited general admission to Colonial Williamsburg, the Jamestown Settlement, the Yorktown Victory Center, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and Water Country USA. Guests of Kingsmill Resort, a four-star resort adjacent to Busch Gardens, also have unlimited access to Busch Gardens and Water Country USA (with a minimum stay). Kingsmill has three championship golf courses including the River Course, home to the Michelob Championship on the PGA Tour.

York River State Park

[Fig. 7(13)] York River State Park is about 12 miles northeast of Williamsburg on the tidal York River. A beautiful visitor center overlooking the river has interpretive videos and displays about the complex workings of the estuary, pine forests, and marshes.The York River and its tributary, Taskinas Creek, are the focal points of this unusual 2,505-acre state park. The York is a Chesapeake Bay tributary formed when the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers merge at West Point. The mix of salt water and fresh water of the marshes here provide the perfect nursery for Chesapeake Bay marine life. In fact, 525 acres of the Taskinas Creek and its wetlands are managed as part of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve under the auspices of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). The Reserve sponsors important environmental programs at the park such as a workshop on landscaping with native plants at the Native Plant Arboretum.At the arboretum, which was completed in 1999, you can see plants native to the area such as butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), New York aster (Aster novi-belgii), and Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus). The Jerusalem artichoke is a large sunflower that grows as high as a cornstalk. An Indian squaw prepared the nutritious tubers of the plants for explorers Lewis and Clark in 1805. Today the tubers are sold in health food stores. Many butterflies have particular native plants that, in the caterpillar stage, they rely on for food. The painted lady caterpillar feeds on the Jerusalem artichoke, for instance.Many who come to the park are fascinated with the fossils of ancient marine life that are commonly uncovered along the banks of the York River. Some 5 million years ago, the land was covered with a shallow sea, brimming with early versions of today’s whales, porpoises, sharks, clams, scallops, and snails. Traces of the existence of those early marine forms now show up as fossils on the York River beach.Canoes are available for exploring the marshes of Taskinas Creek, where the spotted sandpiper (Acititis macularia) probes the muddy banks and the American woodcock (Philohela minor) performs its amazing courtship displays. A park concessionaire has john boats, paddle boats, and other craft for freshwater fishing on the park’s 7-acre Woodstock Pond. Motorboats may be launched from the boat ramp on the York River at Croaker Landing, which is located in the park at the eastern end of VA 605. Hikers have 25 miles of woodland and marsh trails to explore. Bicycles may be rented for the 20 miles of bicycle trails. Several trails are also designated for horseback riding.Park personnel put a lot of creativity into coming up with new programs and excursions to interpret the park’s environment for visitors. The Taskinas Creek marshes are the setting for guided canoe trips by moonlight or starlight, fall foliage canoe trips, and wetland walks. Friday evening ghost hikes are popular in summer and fall, when tales such as The Lady of the York and What Happened to Moody’s Wharf provide spine-tingling adventure. Fishing clinics at the park’s Woodstock Pond, fossil hunting on the York River, and a pontoon boat ride on the river provide other ways to enjoy the park.

Restaurants in the Colonial Virginia Area

Josiah Chowning’s Tavern. Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg. Menu mixes food typical of British pubs with American cuisine. Located in the historic district. Moderate. Phone (757) 229-2141 or (800) TAVERNS.

Rosie Rumpe’s Regal Dumpe. Ramada Inn Central, 5351 Richmond Road, Williamsburg. Dinner theater where you’re part of the show. A five-course meal is served with, perhaps, a visit from King Henry VIII. Moderate. Phone (757) 565-4443 or (888) 767-9767.

Second Street Restaurant and Tavern. 140 Second Street, Williamsburg. Casual atmosphere. Sports center with nine television screens. Homemade soups, sandwiches, local seafood, steaks, and burgers. Late-night grill. Inexpensive. Phone (757) 220-2286.

Shields Tavern. Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg. The menu features items from local farms, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (757) 229-2141 or (800) HISTORY.

The Yorkshire Steak & Seafood Restaurant. 700 York Street, Route 60 East, Williamsburg. The menu includes prime rib, steaks, and fresh seafood from Virginia waters. Moderate. Phone (757) 229-9790.

Lodging in the Colonial Virginia Area

Motels, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and campgrounds are abundant in the Williamsburg area. Rates are considerably lower in winter. The Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association (800-500-4834) coordinates reservations with some 75 hotels, motels, and B&Bs and offers packages that include area attractions.

The Newport Hospitality Group (800-444-HOST) also offers packages in combination with stays at the Ramada Historic Area, three Quality Inns (one in historic area), two Hampton Inns (one in historic area), and a Comfort Inn. Moderate to expensive.

The Official Resort Hotels of Colonial Williamsburg (800-HISTORY) offer packages in combination with stays at Williamsburg Lodge (large verandas overlooking gardens, huge fireplace; expensive), Williamsburg Woodlands (Cascades restaurant, waterfall, pine forest, adjacent to visitor center; expensive), and Governor’s Inn (swimming pool, game room, near historic area; expensive).

Liberty Rose B&B Inn. 1022 Jamestown Road, Williamsburg. Restored home with gardens, courtyards, and century-old trees on a hilltop. Expensive. Phone (757) 253-1260 or (800) 545-1825.

Newport House B&B. 710 South Henry Street, Williamsburg. Dance on Tuesday evenings in the ballroom of this home that was designed in 1756. Period furnishings, canopy beds. Located a short walk from the historical district. Expensive. Phone (757) 229-1775.

The Travelodge Historic Area. 120 Bypass Road, Williamsburg. Large outdoor heated pool, volleyball court, picnic area with grills, adjacent restaurant. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (757) 229-2000.

Days Inn West. 90 Old York Road, Williamsburg. Close to Water Country and Busch Gardens. Restaurant, gift shop, pool, picnic tables, attraction tickets available. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (800) 635-5366 or (757) 253-6444.

Yorktown Motor Lodge. 8829 George Washington Highway (US 17), Yorktown. Pool, nearby restaurants, close to Yorktown attractions. Moderate. Phone (800) 950-4003 or (757) 898-5451.

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