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Dec 15, 2012 -

Colonial Williamsburg, Part Two: The Governor’s Palace and Patrick Henry

First stop in Colonial Williamsburg is the governor’s palace. A popular activity there is to listen to a speech by one of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson or Patrick Henry. The fellow who plays Jefferson apparently looks like him… because he is a direct descendent of him!

On the crisp morning of my visit, the talk was by Patrick Henry. Other than his “give me liberty or give me death” speech, I didn’t know much about him. With the talk being 45 minutes, I didn’t expect to stay through the whole thing. The reenactor was so good, that I hung onto every word! I really would suggest not missing this if you go to Williamsburg.

(As point of reference, by this point, it was 11:30 and I had already been in Colonial Williamsburg two and a half hours!)

All the open buildings in Colonial Williamsburg have an English flag outside the entrance. The governor’s palace did not. It was just open for private school tours. But we could wander around the grounds.

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Museums, Travel, USA, Virginia    No Comments
Dec 14, 2012 -

Colonial Williamsburg, Part One: Introduction and the Hopes Plantation

It is a very weary and happy time travel who posts tonight! My day in Colonial Williamsburg was much too full to do it justice in just one post, so I will be breaking it up into several.

Williamsburg is known as the Revolutionary City. It was the first capital of Virginia and the centre of political activity that would lead to the United States declaring its independence from England.

The historical part of the city, Colonial Williamsburg, is a huge living history museum set circa 1774, just before the American Revolution and the ratification of the Declaration of Independence. I’ll get a little more into some of the history as I work my way through the exhibits.

While Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum, it is not like so many others I have visited where the costumed interpreters play a part and pretend they are actually living in that era. While they may take on the persona of an 18th-century whatever, they are still their 21st century selves and can answer questions as such.

In order to visit all the exhibits, you must purchase a ticket, which is $39.95 for one day. I got lucky and was able to buy my ticket through Groupon for $19.95. But, spoiler, $39.95 is a bargain!

My tips for Colonial Williamsburg: wear comfortable shoes, bring your own water and a picnic, don’t think you’ll find one-of-a-kind souvenirs, and if you absolutely want to pay huge prices for dinner, reserve very early to eat at one of the taverns. Yes, much of Colonial Williamsburg is a giant tourist trap, but one that is still well worth doing!

Plan a lot of time to visit Colonial Williamsburg properly. I arrived at 9AM and by noon I hadn’t even set foot in the core of the city yet! Many visitable buildings include tours of 20 to 45 minutes in duration and you can easily spend 10 to 15 minutes in each of the other ones watching demonstrations. I decided to work my way through the city, devote myself wholly to the activity in which I was engaged, and not bemoan missing anything when the day ended.

One interpreter gave me a valuable tip. While the town buildings and tours close at 5PM, the museum closes at 7PM. A good way to organize you day is to travel clockwise around the city, finish with the museum, and then hop on the free shuttle to get back to the Visitors’ Centre.

I don’t take notes, so the following pictures provide information I remember, but in no way encompass the whole of what I learned during my visit. You’ll just have to come to Colonial Williamsburg one day!

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May 12, 2012 -

Pamplin Historical Park and The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier (Petersburg, VA)

As the morning marched I, I could see that I was going to waste the day moping. I decided that I was in Petersburg and surely there had to be a Civil War battlefield or monument or something where I could go spend a few hours. I went on Trip Advisor to look up the area attractions and the first thing that came up made me giddy. In less than 20 minutes, I was on my way to the Pamplin Historical Park and The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, site of the last big battle of the American Civil War, The Breakthrough.

This major battle of April 2nd, 1865, isn’t well known, but it was the death knell for the Confederate Army. The war ended just a week later with the surrender of Confederate soldiers, including General Lee.

The words to describe this incredible facility almost escape me. There is the museum, but also a plantation, a second museum about the Breakthrough battle, and finally there is a walk through the battlefield. I arrived at noon and the park closes at 5:00. I was the last guest off the property and got back so close to 5:00 that they were literally about to send a search party for me. And after five whole hours there, I didn’t see and do everything!

Regular admission to the facility is $12. This includes an audio tour of the entire facility. This gadget is what made the visit so memorable and ensured I spent as much time there as I did. Photography is only allowed outside, not in the two museums.

The first thing to do is tour The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. You are asked to pick a soldier out of a group and the tour will be personalized with his perspective. I was amused that my randomly selected ‘comrade’, Sergeant Peter Welsh, was originally from Canada! His letters were read by an interpreter, adding a personal touch to the exhibits.

This museum was really, really well done, with lots of artifacts and the audio track being a combination of narration and reading of period documents. One exhibit had three men playing poker and the audio track was of their conversation, a clever way to show the drudgery of daily life in camp.

My favourite exhibit in this museum was one that is optional because it is so intense. You are sent into a battlefield. I shut my eyes for most of it and was completely transported. The ground shakes and bursts of air brush by you, simulating a volley of bullets. By the end of it, I actually ducked and cowered when a shell went off right beside me!

After this museum, I headed outside to tour the Tudor Plantation, a fairly typical tobacco plantation that was occupied by the army. You can tour the house itself, restored to period looks, the kitchen, the tobacco barn, the kitchen garden, and the slave quarters. The slave quarters have a really good movie showing the perspective of six (fictional) people from the 1850s who share their ideas about slavery.

By the time I was doing with the plantation, I had already been on site for three hours! I ate my picnic lunch (bring food!) then continued to the Battlefield Center. On the way there, you can see a reproduction of the trenches used to fight in the area, the sight of which will remind you of World War One.

There are just a couple of exhibits at the Battlefield Center as well as a few movies. It was 3:30 by the time I was done with the exhibits and I had to make the choice between watching a movie or walking through the battlefield. I decided that I wanted to spend some time outdoors.

Before getting to the battlefield, you have to cross a military winter camp. I was disappointed that I’d missed the period reinactors, but they finish for the day around 3:00.

I decided to do the big loop through the battlefield, including the detour to see the Hart farm and the site of a modern camp where people can go recreate the days of the Civil War. But I was too short on time to do the Heartland Trail.

It was amazing to see the Civil War-era ‘works’, the dirt berms built as fortifications. I found it very difficult to believe that at that time, there was nothing in the area but barren ground and mud. While the area is filled with trees today, there was no place to hide except behind the berms during the Civil War.

I had an amazing day at Pamplin Historical Park and am almost grateful that the circumstances have been such lately to have brought me to this memorable facility. I would have really missed out on something special had I been on schedule today.

The pictures below have more information.

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