The Living History of Yorktown & Jamestown

Historic Jamestowne ©Kathy Kirby

By Ruth J. Katz

Historic Jamestowne

Where to swing that nine iron in the Greater Williamsburg, Virginia, area? With five nearby golf courses to select from, three courses at The Golden Horseshoe Club (Green, Gold and Spotswood Executive) and two courses at the Kingsmill Resort (Plantation and River), it’s a tough choice. The smart money would choose the Kingsmill River Golf Course, as it is home to (at the 17th hole) the most historic 177 yards in golf. On the periphery of the hole’s tee box is the James River landing where the ships bearing America’s first settlers berthed in 1607 and where the intrepid English passengers alighted. It is a gloriously gorgeous fairway and its historic significance is emblematic of the lore, legend, and actual history that pervade the entire region, known, fittingly, as the Historic Triangle, comprising Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.

The intensely profuse history here is instantly apparent when visiting the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, a living-history museum that replaced the Yorktown Victory Center. After a thoughtfully designed $50 million transformation, this 80,000-square-foot educational center serves up the past on a multisensory platter. By way of an introduction, watch the film Liberty Fever, and then see the compelling movie The Siege of Yorktown, projected on a 180-degree surround sound screen, accompanied by dramatic effects: the aromas of gunpowder, coffee, salt water; wind and smoke; and seats that rumble and shimmy during battle scenes.

Jamestown Settlement Powhatan Indian village making arrows ©Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation

The new galleries feature innovative exhibits chronicling the Revolutionary era from the twilight of Colonial times when unrest was reaching a crescendo (a tea party in Boston, for example) to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to the establishment of the new American Republic. The core exhibitions (among them, The British Empire and America; The Changing Relationship) explore the ideas, events, and legacies of our nation’s turbulent incubation, with thousands of period artifacts, immersive environments, interactive exhibits, and films.

Also on site is an outdoor re-creation of a Revolutionary War Continental Army encampment. Expect soldiers to fire muskets, present military drills, and demonstrate 18th-century surgical and medical practices. Engaging and gifted historical interpreters, in period costume, bring it all to life vividly. Just beyond the camp is a Revolution-era farm, a scale version of the 200-acre property belonging to the family of Edward Moss (ca. 1757-1786), whose life is well documented in York County. The farm is home to meandering Muscovy ducks and hens, a separate kitchen (visitors can help prepare a meal), a tobacco barn, fruit orchards, gardens, and slave quarters, as there are records indicating Moss had six at the time of his death.

Museum at Yorktown British Empire and America exhibit gallery ©Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation

Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement offer up additional history, gift-wrapped in easy-to-digest format, so even distracted youngsters and blasé grown-ups will be mesmerized. Jamestown Settlement chronicles the lives of those first settlers, as they interacted with the local Powhatan Indians and the west-central African cultures that converged here. Jamestown Settlement has expansive gallery presentations and outdoor “exhibits” that includes the re-creation of a Powhatan village (based on archeological findings), with reed-covered houses, crops, and a ceremonial circle of carved wooden posts, and, of course, historical interpreters. There is also a riverfront pier where visitors can board replicas of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, the ships that sallied forth across the ocean (in what must have been a punishing four-and-one-half-month-long journey), to bring the colonists here. Lessons in navigation and seamanship (piloting and knot-tying, for example) are offered, as are tours of the cramped quarters.

Historic Jamestowne, under the joint stewardship of the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia, brings to life the first permanent English Settlement in North America. The archaeological digs have unearthed the original James Fort, the 17th-century church tower, and town footprint. There is also an engrossing archaeological museum, The Archaearium, which displays some 4,000 intriguing artifacts, which weave the story of the pioneers into a rich and dynamic tapestry, through arms and armor, tools, coins, trade goods, personal items, religious objects, and food remains.

The Fifes and Drums of York Town

The luxe choice is the Williamsburg Inn, which was recently renovated and has just over 60 charming, period-furnished rooms, a top-tier spa, a culinary center, tennis courts, walking trails, swimming pools, and the award-winning Rockefeller dining room. Built in 1937 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the Inn combines the historic elegance of its original design with the amenities of a contemporary, luxurious property. A more modest option is a condominium at Kingsmill Resort, opened in 1975, and located on a sprawling 3,000-acre campus. It offers individual rooms, as well as one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, with full kitchens and living rooms. All resort amenities are available, including four on-site restaurants, a fitness center, spa, and marina. Beyond these more modest and value-priced condo units, there are also the more modern, gracious Cottages on the James (five homes), with river views; additionally, the jewel in the crown is the dramatic Estate at Kingsmill, a 7,000-square-foot manse, that rents for upwards of $5,000 a night. Info:;

For more information on Jamestown and Yorktown, visit,;;

© 2019 Ruth J. Katz All Rights Reserved.

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