Virginia: Steeped in History

Historic Triangle

Often referred to as the birthplace of American democracy, Virginia’s Historic Triangle consists of Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. The first permanent English settlement in America was in Jamestown. The ideas of revolution simmered in Williamsburg, and independence from Great Britain was won at Yorktown.

This year Jamestown is hosting special events and programs to launch a year-long celebration of its 400th anniversary in 2007. A 1,500-acre site consists of two major attractions. At Historic Jamestowne, share discoveries with archaeologists at the 1607 Fort James excavation site, tour an original 17th century church, and watch glass blowers using colonial-style techniques. Take a shuttle ride to Jamestown Settlement, where costumed interpreters lead tours through facsimiles of the colonists’ fort and a Powhatan Indian village. Climb aboard replicas of the three 17th century sailing ships – Godspeed, Discovery and Susan Constant – that brought colonists to Jamestown.

While Williamsburg was the vibrant capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1769, it was in decline when John D. Rockefeller Jr. started a massive restoration project in 1926. Begin your tour of the 301-acre site at the visitors’ center and walk across the Bridge to the Past to experience the 18th century. You’ll first come to Governor’s Palace, the meticulously reconstructed and lavishly furnished home of seven governors, including Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. Meet historic people from the past at Raleigh Tavern, and listen as they make plans to join other colonies in the American Revolution. Enter nearby colonial shops to see the silversmith, the grocer and other merchants at work. The Magazine, a colonial arsenal, is the place to see muskets and cannons as you listen to fife and drums. Tour the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum to see an extensive collection of American and British antiques. Bassett Hall is the frame home where John D. Rockefeller and his wife, Abby, lived during the restoration of the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area. Known for its collection of American folk art, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum is currently closed. It will reopen in early 2007.

Yorktown is gearing up for the commemoration of the 225th anniversary of the Siege of Yorktown, which will be observed Oct. 19-22. The Yorktown Victory Center, a state-operated museum of the American Revolution, chronicles America’s struggle for independence, from the beginnings of colonial unrest to the formation of the new nation. Muster with troops in a Continental Army encampment or help with chores on a 1780s-style farm. In time for the Siege of Yorktown anniversary, the museum will debut a renovated entrance gallery and a new exhibition, The Legacy of Yorktown: Virginia Beckons. The Yorktown National Battlefield Park showcases the events and people who contributed to the final battle of the Revolutionary War.


In 1781, the Battle of Petersburg took place as the British tried unsuccessfully to regain control of Virginia. During the Civil War, Petersburg was important to Union troops because of its rail and road junctions. This prosperous town endured a 10-month siege from June 1864 until April 1865.

Pamplin Historical Park and The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier consistently ranks as one of America’s top Civil War attractions. Upon arrival at the 422-acre site, visitors are asked to choose a real Civil War soldier from a group of profiles that includes rank and home state. The entire experience is keyed to an audio tour featuring the words and “voice” of that real participant in the war. Every visitor then has a different personal experience, just as every soldier did. A mile-long walk is lined with costumed interbuilding that was once the city’s grain exchange is home to the Siege Museum. Check out Civil War exhibits and don’t miss The Echoes Still Remain, an 18-minute film narrated by the late actor Joseph Cotton, a Petersburg native.

The highlight of Old Blandford Church is their stained-glass windows of saints that were designed by Tiffany Studios. America’s first Memorial Day service was held here in 1866 to honor the 30,000 Confederate soldiers buried in the church cemetery.


Monticello is the autobiographical masterpiece of America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson. Its style is familiar to most Americans because its columned portico is shown on the U.S. five-cent coin. Construction began in 1769 according to Jefferson’s architectural plans. He continued to remodel it until 1784. At the time of his death in 1809, Jefferson was so heavily in debt that his daughter was forced to sell the contents and then the plantation. In 1923 the newly formed Thomas Jefferson Foundation purchased the estate, and still manage it. Visitors can see a 43-room home with about 60 percent of the furnishings original to Jefferson, outbuildings essential to maintaining a large farm, the family cemetery and slave quarters.

In 1799, James Monroe moved adjacent to Jefferson’s Monticello. Jefferson had previously urged Monroe to move to the area to create a “society to our taste.” Today, visitors can tour the fifth president’s 535-acre working farm. The home, Ash Lawn-Highland, was recently refurbished with original and period French and American furniture based on new research and inventory lists.

Mount Vernon

The country estate on the Potomac River known as Mount Vernon was George Washington’s home for 40 years. The house is furnished as it would have been during his presidency, from 1789 to 1797. The 500-acre grounds are maintained as the original farm, with gardens, grazing sheep and slave quarters. Washington’s Tomb is also here. The most popular room with visitors is the spacious master bedroom. One of five bedrooms on the second floor, it was accessed by a narrow stairway over the study. Separate from the other bedrooms, it gave George and Martha Washington a quiet retreat in a house overflowing with family and guests. It was here that Martha planned her schedule, hung portraits of her grandchildren, wrote letters to friends and family members, read her Bible and kept careful watch over the operations of the house and kitchen staff. A Chinese lacquered dressing glass and a French mantel clock, purchased in Philadelphia during the presidency and brought back to Mount Vernon, provide elegant touches in the otherwise simply decorated room. George Washington died on December 14, 1799, in this room, and in the very bed it contains. It was willed to Martha Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, who carefully preserved it in his home. His descendants generously returned it to Mount Vernon in 1908.  When she became a widow, Martha Washington closed this master bedroom for the remainder of her life and retired to a room on the third floor. It seems she did not wish to remain in a part of the house that held so many memories of her life with her husband of 40 years.

The grand opening of two new additions to Mount Vernon is set for Oct. 27. The Ford Orientation Center and Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center are the major components of a $95 million campaign. Carefully designed just inside the main gate so that the pastoral setting and views to and from the mansion will be preserved, these state of the art buildings will have dozens of interactive exhibits exploring fascinating chapters of Washington’s life, including early adulthood, military leadership and his presidency. In the museum, hundreds of objects showcasing the Washington family will be on display in six permanent galleries and one changing exhibition space.

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