Walking Through Early America
Historic Jamestowne is today managed by the U.S. National Park Service. While little remains above ground from the 1607 era, it's a place with a strong aura of history. Visitors are given a map that helps guide them along gravel paths to highlighted spots.*
By Hal Gieseking
Stand face-to-face with a 400-year-old woman who came to Jamestowne looking for a husband. Shake hands with Pocahontas and pose for a picture with this Indian princess who once did cartwheels across the original James Fort.
Many surprises await you on a stroll through Historic Jamestowne, the site of the first permanent English settlement in America. Here are hysterical and historical highlights.
- Meet a woman's skeleton at the Archaearium, the new on-site archeology museum. Her face has been re-created by forensic scientists from her skeleton. Sent from England in about 1620, the woman's goal was apparently to "land" a husband. It's doubtful she had any trouble getting a date or a husband in Jamestowne's all-male colony.
- Pocahontas’ metal statue with an outstretched cold hand guards the entrance to the re-created James Fort, built in 1607 by 104 men and boy settlers from England. Once thought to have been swallowed by the James River, the site was rediscovered in 1954 by archeologists. And they just kept digging, recovering over a million artifacts!
- When you arrive (except on the America's Anniversary Weekend when driving onto the historic site is not permitted), drive directly to the new multimedia Visitors Center. Park for free. Admission is $10 for adults (good for seven-day day visits to Historic Jamestowne and the Yorktown Battlefields). Children 15 and under are admitted free. The original Golden Age Passport and the new Interagency Senior Pass ($10) for people 62 and over admit the pass holder and three other adults.
- You'll discover that the park service provides a free access pass for handicapped individuals (and one companion). Free wheelchairs are available with your drivers license as security. The gravel/crushed oyster shell paths make it hard to push wheelchairs. Use the grass! (Editor's note: We did push a wheelchair with great difficulty late last year at this historic site. Hal is right, we should have used the grass -- but really the park service should improve access for physically challenged folks.)
- Navigate by sight. There are no “streets” but all of the attractions are within view of each other. Pick up a walking map at the Visitors Center. Don't miss the informative new introductory movie shown every 15 minutes on the half hour.
- Now take the boardwalk that ends at the white Tercentennial monument. That's the starting point of tours conducted by National Park rangers and historic interpreters in period costumes. You may meet John Rolfe. Tell him you shook hands with his wife, Pocahontas.
The white Tercentennial Monument was erected during previous commemorative festivities at Historic Jamestowne.*
- The tour ends right where America began, near the James Fort entrance. Walk toward the imposing statue of a well-fed Captain John Smith, the no-nonsense General Eisenhower of his day who told the settlers, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat."
- Stop at those basement-size excavations along the way. Every weekday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. archaeologists spoon and sift fragments of the settlers’ lives: pieces of armor here, a mouth harp there, even wine bottles marked by the owner, “J.S.” John Smith? Writer Patricia Cornwell called these digs “the autopsy of America.”
- Walk out the fort's entrance and you’re in sight of the Archaearium. Each of the thousand artifacts here tells a story. Example: Iron padlocks once helped settlers protect their few belongings in chests stored in the lockless barracks.
- Traveling with children? The museum’s front desk can help kids go on an artifact scavenger hunt wearing bracelets with pictures of pottery, weapons, and 17th century coins.
- Getting hungry? No need to starve like those early settlers. Stop at the Dale House Café, opening in March across from the Archaearium. Enjoy salads and sandwiches on the brick patio with a James River view.
- As you leave through the Visitors Center, you can drive to the right on an Island Drive loop for glimpses of 17th-century-like wilderness, wildlife and historic scenes on billboards.
A loop roadway which begins near the Visitors Center will take drivers through pristine eco-areas. You'll view the area's natural landscape much the way the settlers did upon landing.*
- Or drive back toward the Park entrance and watch for signs to the Glasshouse. Another left turn off the main road takes you to the 17th-century glass factory restoration. Here, craftsmen blow molten glass into everything from ornate vases to colonial sugar bowls. Once cooled, the glass creations make a cool souvenirs you might buy right on the spot.
To view glass made the old-fashioned way -- by craftspeople blowing it -- check out Historic Jamestowne's glass house.*
Just the Facts
Historic Jamestowne is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the year. It's closed Christmas and New Years Day. Once in the park, you can stay until sunset and leave by taking a detour around the closed Visitors Center.
The site is located near Williamsburg on the western end of the Colonial Parkway. The easiest route to the site? Take I-64 to Route 199 west to the well-marked “To Jamestown” signs at the entrance to the Colonial Parkway.
Traveler's Tip? Starting in March a free shuttle runs between Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown. Why not see and do it all and let someone else do the driving?
Jamestowne Historic Site Resources
For more information, call 757 229-1733 or visit www.historicjamestowne.org.
Hal Gieseking, based in Williamsburg, VA, is the former consumer editor of Travel Holiday magazine and is a past president of the Society of American Travel Writers.
*All photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of Susan J. Young, editor of SouthernTravelNews.com. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.