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Time Machine

Colonial Williamsburg remains true to its American Revolution-era roots.
by John O’Mara

williamsburgMuch of the historic city of Williamsburg was lost to the ages. Progress had paved over and built around nearly all of Virginia’s 18th century capital. It wasn’t until 1926 that Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin hatched a plan (primarily funded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) to restore and reconstruct the 300-acre town as it would have appeared between 1699 and 1780. Today, that vision literally lives on through dozens of historically accurate buildings and a community that exists as part attraction, part time capsule.
The historical district is fairly small and can be traversed in short order. The walk from the Capitol building to the Governor’s Palace is only about six blocks up Duke of Gloucester Street and the town green. But there is a lot squeezed into those blocks including dozens of shops, eateries and attractions.
One can watch a silversmith at work inside his studio next door to a milliner and tailor shop. Yet, watching is only part of the fun. Engage the craftsman, ask them about their trades, learn how someone can create a delicate silver spoon from a small, rectangular ingot. Here’s a hint: It takes lots and lots of hammering. Across the street at the blacksmith’s barn, converse with the guys pounding away at glowing hot pieces of steel. Part of their role is to teach visitors about life in the 1700s through their actions, words and real-life examples.
Start your exploration at the Lumber House, where you’ll purchase the day’s passes. You can walk the streets for free but tickets are needed for admission into the historical properties. Guided introduction tours depart from here regularly. Skip the tour if you wish, though unless you’re a whiz at colonial American history, it wouldn’t hurt to receive a refresher course as you walk past the Parish Church, Wythe House and Public Jail.
Historically appropriate meals are also part of the experience. Establishments such as Chowning’s Tavern serve lunch and dinner daily featuring soups, salads, sandwiches and Williamsburg’s signature craft beers. Up the street a couple blocks, Campbell’s Tavern reportedly was a favorite of George Washington himself.
There are scores of hotels scattered across the city and region and plentiful parking at the visitor center. However, the Williamsburg Lodge & Conference Center and the adjacent Williamsburg Inn can’t be beat. Both are a short walk from the must-see sites and accommodations and services are top-notch. The Inn is the pricier option (and is complete with a spa and golf course), with rooms at the Lodge starting around $200 per night.

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