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Historic Jamestown, VA As It Is Today
Four hundred years ago three tiny ships set sail from England and crossed the Atlantic to establish a colony in the new world. The island (Jamestown) the voyagers settled on is today a fantastic place to look into the world of these sixteenth century travelers and get an idea of how English culture and the beginnings of our modern government and came to exist and later on flourish on this continent.
Both Jamestown Road and the Colonial Parkway lead to the Island, officially called Historic Jamestowne and the adjacent interpretive park, Jamestown Settlement. The Parkway is definitely the way to go. It is a beautiful drive that runs much of the way along side the James River. There are plenty of places to pull off for a picnic, or if you have tackle and bait you can stop and do a little fishing. Both attractions require entry tickets.
Historic Jamestowne (Locals refer to this as “The Island”)
Here you will walk the ground of America’s first permanent English settlement. This land witnessed the establishment of the language, customs, laws, and government practiced in our nation today. It is jointly managed by the National Park Service and the APVA .
This is the island the leadership of the settlers decided would be the best place to establish the Colony. Until fairly recently it was thought that much of the fort that was built had been lost to the erosive effects of rain and the river on the island. As planning ensued for the Jamestown 400th anniversary celebration to be held in 2007 it was decided to begin archaeological investigation anew to determine what evidence might be found to help us understand what occurred at this early time in our nation’s history. This excavation has led to an incredible number of uncovered artifacts that you will get to see at the interpretative museum called the Archaearium. You will also see the footprint of most of the fort (only a tiny bit had actually been washed away).
At the Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center there are exhibits and walking tours with Park Rangers that provide background on Jamestown’s beginnings. You may walk the town site and see the original 1690 church tower and reconstructed footings of some of the earliest English built buildings in America. I am always awed to walk this area and imagine the different families and individuals that lived here and the hardships they must have faced and endured. Very sobering to walk just a few steps more and observe the diagram that locates many unmarked gravesites of those that died trying to establish this colony in a lonely and hostile environment.
At the Glasshouse you may watch craftsman providing demonstrations of one of the earliest industries attempted in America. I am still amazed, as I was as a little boy, when the interpreter takes a glob of molten glass, puts it on the end of a tube, and proceeds to blow air into it, ultimately creating a bottle.
Another of my favorite things to do is drive the island loop. You can choose the 3 or 5 mile route. You will easily slip back 400 years in this lush and wild setting. Interpretive signs and paintings along the way discuss some of the early industries attempted by the English. There is a fair amount of wildlife on this one way route around the island. If you are lucky you may get to see one of the Bald Eagles that nest here. It really is a most relaxing drive. If you brought your bicycle this is probably one of the top rides around.
Historic Jamestowne is open daily every day of the year (except December 25 and January 1). The front gate opens at 8:30 AM and closes at 4:30 PM. Once admitted, visitors may remain at Historic Jamestowne until dusk.
Admission Rates National Park Service Golden Eagle Pass are admitted free
The Jamestown Settlement (Locals call this the “Festival Park”)
Here you will find much of what had existed on the island in the 1600’s recreated in full life size. The colonists’ fort, replicas of the three ships that sailed from England in 1607, and a Powhatan Indian village are all described and occupied by costumed interpreters that realistically portray the this time in our history. To the park has done a good job of interpreting for the past 50 years. Just in the last few years many new buildings and interpretative and exhibition galleries have been added for this years celebration. A must see is the introductory film that traces Jamestown’s beginnings in England and the first century of the Virginia colony. As with all our historical attractions park is truly a “virtual reality” historical experience as you can grind corn, scrape out a canoe, play Indian games, wear armor, and engage in other activities that make the 17th century come alive.
Recreated house at the Jamestown Settlement
There is not a “town” at Jamestown. Most commerce that ever existed there has long since faded away. With that said there is a camping area for tents and camp vehicles across from the Jamestown Settlement. Also a small commercial marina is a stones throw between the Settlement and Powhatan creek. A decent fast food type eatery is located with in the Settlement. Of course, a gift shop is also located on the premises.
Both the island and the festival park together can easily take a full day to visit. Regardless of which road you take the distance is about 13 miles from our Williamsburg Bed and Breakfast. If you have to choose between the two because of time limitations, do the island first.