Newest Review: ... like we did the day we visited. You buy the tickets from the Visitor's Center near the Colonial Parkway and I believe our ticket was f... more
The 'Truman Show' set in Colonial Williamsburg
Member Name: catsholiday
Advantages: A great day out and you learn a lot - brilliantly done
Disadvantages: Some feel it is too clean and neat to be authentic
A couple of years ago we took my daughter and her partner to the USA with us and visited many sites in Virginia before driving on to Tennessee. My daughter is mad keen on American history and so Virginia was perfect as it was here where the first colonists settled in Jamestown, where the declaration of Independence was made and also where significant Civil war battles too place and where peace was signed so a lot of places of great significance in US history to be found.
Colonial Williamsburg is a living-history museum based on the historic district of the city of Williamsburg, Virginia, USA. This is a pretty big site encompassing a few blocks of the city and covering about 300 acres. The buildings in this area date from 1699 to 1780 and were some of those which made colonial Virginia's capital city. There are many original houses and other reconstructed ones buildings which have been restored and within the area during times when the public are visiting all those who live in the houses have to wear costume and no cars are allowed within those specific streets. If someone wants to work in their garden they have to wear clothes of the time and use gardening equipment of the time too.
If you want to visit it is a good idea to plan carefully and choose the day you want because during the day specific events are performed in different parts of the town. The events in the town change depending on which day you visit so do check out which one appeals more to you. What is unusual about this living history museum is that anyone can walk through the historic district of Williamsburg free of charge at any hour of the day. The only time you have to pay is if you want to go into any of the historic buildings, if you want to watch any of the arts and crafts demonstrations, or attend the specific outdoor performances like we did the day we visited.
You buy the tickets from the Visitor's Center near the Colonial Parkway and I believe our ticket was for the historical triangle and included Jamestown and Yorktown as well but as I didn't do the paying I am a bit hazy on the costs and tickets. While at the Visitor Centre you can see a short film, "The Story of a Patriot", which was tells the story of a young man fighting in the war of Independence and the lead up to the war. This is also where you park the car as there are no cars allowed in Colonial Williamsburg. I think there may be a bus for wheel chair visitors to the perimeter but once in the historical area then it is walk or wheel chair only.
On the day we visited the first event we came across was Thomas Jefferson giving a speech. There were many people in the audience in costume mixed with the paying public like us. Those in costume heckled the speaker or shouted out in agreement so you really felt like you were part of the time.
I will probably get the order of our day incorrect and forget some places but so much took place and there was so much to see that you may be grateful for me forgetting some things. We wandered around generally taking in the lovely old colonial house and looking at those in costume, some of the gardens were beautiful full of glorious flowers and indeed neat rows of vegetables and herbs too. There were shops and restaurants offering items that were historical copies or things related to the time, old fashioned sweets and so on.
The places to eat obviously offered modern food but a word of warning the portion sizes were colonial rather than modern day American portions. My daughter and I said we would share some soup and rolls and the portion of soup would barely have filled an egg cup and the bread roll was suitable for a sparrow and it wasn't cheap either so that was the only negative thing I would say about the entire day. If you are thinking of visiting I would suggest taking a picnic as the food was expensive by US standards.
One of the other events we attended was Washington in a theatre and you could ask him questions. People were asking really interesting questions tying in the eighteenth century with modern times and asking about the future and what he thought might happen to America . He answered as thought he had no idea of what actually has happened so as though he really was George Washington which was very clever.
We watched a mini show about where a woman's daughter was marrying someone who was for Independence and she was against and wanted to remain true to the crown and England. This was the theme of the day we visited as the townsfolk debated this question should they remain loyal to the old country or challenge the king's authority for a chance at liberty and equality.
We 'met' two slaves who had of course no say in the course of history but who still had opinions and we watched a mini play with two who were not sure what to make of the general feelings of uncertainty and which way their lot might be improved .
As we were walking around the town soldiers marching as a pipe band came along the street and once they passed by you could follow them through the street to the Governor's Palace. When we arrived there a huge crowd was there and something historically important was about to happen. Someone very important arrived in his carriage and met the Burghers of the city. Speeches were made and there was much heckling and amongst the crowd those in costume were discussing with the public what might be happening and voicing their hopes and concerns. It was all very exciting and you did kind of get caught up in the atmosphere. After standing there feeling the tension building with the crowd eventually someone lowered the British flag and the Union flag was raised and in May 15, 1776 this then was the beginning of the fight towards Independence.
We had a brilliant day walking for miles for one activity or show or debate to the next. Colonial Williamsburg is not all authentic buildings and many have criticized it as being too 'Truman Show' and clinical, far too neat and clean but it was really interesting and even though I studied American history at college I was impressed with the performances and found them authentic and well performed.
According to architecture critic "Williamsburg is an extraordinary, conscientious and expensive exercise in historical playacting in which real and imitation treasures and modern copies are carelessly confused in everyone's mind. Partly because it is so well done, the end effect has been to devalue authenticity and denigrate the genuine heritage of less picturesque periods to which an era and a people gave life." I would say that it may be a bit too clean and perfect but if it inspires an interest in history and the facts are correct does it really matter that some buildings are authentic and other reconstructions! I thought it was really well done and would have not enjoyed walking around authentic smelly buildings so long live' clean and neat' in my view.
I think you are a perfectionist and really knowledgeable on Colonial American architecture then you may not be as impressed as we were but we had a fabulous day and were more than impressed with all we saw. You could join in more fully if you wanted to and hire costumes for your children, there were craft exhibitions and so much more that if you wanted to, you could spend more than a day here and still not see everything. We spent a full day here and went back to our accommodation exhausted but having had a thoroughly great day out.
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Summary: A living museum in Virginia showcasing Colonial Williamsburg pre- Independence