Sept 27 - Oct 11 - Williamsburg, VA Area
If you're a history buff, there can't be many places more fertile than Virginia's Middle Peninsula - that relatively small spit of land extending toward the Chesapeake Bay, between the York and James Rivers. The first permanent English settlement in the new world was at Jamestown, back in 1607. The most decisive battle of the Revolutionary War was fought at Yorktown, about 20 miles away, in 1781. And in between, there is the national treasure that is Colonial Williamsburg, quite possibly the best preserved and restored living history museum in the country. Talk about overdose.
We parked the motorhome for two weeks at the Thousand Trails Chesapeake preserve, north of Gloucester, VA, and about 35 miles from Williamsburg, on the north side of the York River. Gloucester is no historical vacuum, either. Remember Pocahontas? From the Gloucester area. And while legend says she may have intervened to save the life of Capt John Smith a couple of times, there's no direct evidence of that. She was at most 11 years old at the time. Truth is, John Smith was far from a popular governor, and after an alleged assassination attempt left him somewhat singed, he went back to England for medical treatment and never came back to Jamestown, even after returning to America and exploring much of the area.
Our visit here started on a reunion note, as we had a delightful dinner with Al's former boss, Bob Richardson and wife Sandy. Bob had been officially retired from the former Wicks Broadcast Solutions in Reedsport just two weeks when we met, and next morning they flew back to Oregon to get on with being retired. It was good to see them again.
We started our historical touring at Jamestown. There are actually two Jamestowns. Historic Jamestowne is the actual site of the original settlement, a National Park, and largely an ongoing archeological dig, and extremely fascinating. The Jamestown Settlement (a private non-profit foundation) is an interpretive museum, with a replica of parts of the original fort, and reconstructions of the three ships that brought the original settlers from England. We unwittingly checked into the Jamestown Settlement in the midst of an outing by 2,700 Girl Scouts. We couldn't hear the tour guides, the historical interpreters, or much of anything else. But we could hear a pervasive high-pitched hum - the combined sound of 2,700 pre-pubescent girls in constant vocalization. Still, the exhibits were very impressive. It was much quieter at Historic Jamestowne, where the real things were on display. The dig goes on, and it would be interesting to come back in a few years to see what else they find.
We spent parts of several days in Colonial Williamsburg. The historical area is a faithful preservation of the city core as it was during the late 1700s, when it was Virginia's capitol. Many original buildings have been preserved and restored, and many that had been destroyed or deteriorated have been reconstructed. The restoration started in the late 1920s, and got a major boost when John D Rockefeller Jr and his wife adopted the project in the 1930s. So today, we can stroll the streets with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, witness historical events, interact with tradespeople and slaves and the gentry of the day, and generally get very tired.
Our first day in the village we took in an amazing musical event - the Crystal Concert. Imagine almost an hour of mesmerising music produced totally on instruments made of glass. The star of the show was the Glass Armonica, brought to this country from France by Benjamin Franklin. There are only a few in existence, and even fewer people who can play them. Then there was one of the world's only two glass violins, the only set of glass handbells in the world, and a couple other amazing instruments. Dean Shostak, the young man (well, mid-40s) who played them was equally amazing. Among other things, he was the last guest ever to appear on Mr Roger's Neighborhood, demonstrating the Armonica on the very last program filmed.
There's a full time cast of more than 30 actors who perform in an ongoing drama every day in Colonial Williamsburg. "Revolutionary City" involves you in many events that helped shape the rebellion that brought independence, and then the formation of the country that grew out of it. The actors move about the city, and you can follow or not. It's a six hour drama played out in two-hour segments spread over three days. We saw some of each day's presentation. We actually bought year passes to Williamsburg, partly to make sure we could wander in and out during the two weeks we were here, and also in case we want to come back on our way north in the spring. If you've never been here, you need to visit. There's literally nothing else like it.
We took in two evening concerts at the Bruton Parish Church in the colonial section of Williamsburg. Dating to 1624, this Episcopal Church is still very active, with about 2,000 members, five services each Sunday, and at least one service each weekday. They operate a gift shop that has thrown off almost $1.7 million dollars for outreach ministries since 1995. They stage around 125 evening "candlelight concerts" a year - averaging almost 3 a week. We saw a wonderful choral concert by the Carteret Chorale from Morehead City, NC and came back three days later for a delightful organ recital by Douglas Beck, the organist at St Paul's Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA. The organ has nearly 6,000 pipes and makes a truly marvelous sound in that old building.
We didn't spend all that much time around Yorktown, having dinner there once. But we did tour the Yorktown Victory Center, a marvelous interpretive center and museum explaining how the Battle of Yorktown happened and why it was so significant. One exhibit covers the archeological recovery of one of the dozen or more ships scuttled by the British in an effort to keep anyone from using the docks. It was a naval blockade that made all the difference, keeping the British army from being resupplied. The blockade was courtesy of the French Navy, as George Washington had no navy, just an army. So much to learn over again, and so much that we didn't learn when they taught us this stuff in school, way back in the last century.
Twice we visited at First Presbyterian Church in Gloucester, VA - it only dates to 1880. Very friendly church. We were even recognized by folks from the church when we went to the grocery store. They're just embarking on a $1.5 million dollar building fund drive to renovate and expand the church. They're expecting to average a 6% growth over the next 10 years or so as more and more people move into this area. We wish them well.
Speaking of churches, in the 26 miles between our RV park and the bridge across the York River, we counted 14 different Baptist churches, two of them with the word "United" in their name. Just a guess, but there must be about 10 Baptist churches for every church of another denomination. We must be in the Bible Belt. Other evidence that we're getting into the old South? We're starting to hear the many implementations of "Y'all". "Y'all" apparently can be either singular or plural. "Y'alls" is definitely plural, as is "All y'all" and even "All y'alls". We're nowhere near knowing when, where and how to properly use these words, but we're paying attention and may figure it out yet.
We've posted pictures, of course. There are about 150 images in our Williamsburg area slide show. You'll find them here.