Travel Trails By Martin B. Deutsch



June 1, 1965 -- A friend of mine recently agreed, reluctantly, to take his wife and two oldest children (he has five in all) to Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia. When I saw him a few days after his return, I asked how he'd enjoyed his trip. "It was great for the kids," he said, "and their parents enjoyed it even more." He described Williamsburg as "visiting another world; like turning back the clock for two centuries."

His enthusiasm is apparently shared by millions of Americans (and thousands of foreign tourists). There's little doubt that Williamsburg today ranks among the top attractions in the United States, along with the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and Disneyland. The magnificent restoration has the further advantage of being within a stone's throw of the nation's capital, as well as being a part of that magnificent pocket of American history and heritage which also includes Jamestown and Yorktown, the former site of the pioneer settlement in 1607, the latter the battle site of the decisive confrontation with British forces which clinched the Revolutionary War for the fledging United States.

Also in this corner of Virginia lie the memories and monuments of the Civil War's most crucial encounters. (The Union was born and preserved on Virginia's soil.) As if all this weren't enough for an ideal two-week vacation for the family, the greater Williamsburg-Jamestown-Yorktown area is also endowed with a score of elegant Southern plantations; several state parks; the thriving maritime centers of Newport News and Norfolk; world-famous Virginia Beach; Richmond National Battlefield Park, and, not very far away, the graceful, history-rich capital city of Richmond.

To digress for a moment from the state's Tidewater area, with which we will be primarily concerned in this article, I think it is a good idea to underscore a few things which distinguish all of Virginia. There are, for example, more than a dozen state parks, handsomely situated among beautiful and flawlessly preserved woodlands. They offer swimming, boating, fishing, picnicking, camping and hiking. Horseback riding is confined to two parks, Douthat and Fairy Stone. There are cabins in all but Seashore and Pocahontas. The parks are usually open daily from nine a.m. to ten p.m., April fifteenth to October fifteenth. There's tent and trailer camping as well as the housekeeping cabins, which run $30 a week for two occupants and $15 for each additional person. Reservations are made for a minimum of one week and, when space is available, for a maximum of two weeks. The cabins are available from approximately May fifteenth to October first. There's a parking charge of thirty cents per day for day-use visitors. Hunting for wild turkey and deer is permissible in the late fall in the parks. In addition to a state hunting license, you'll need a special $1 park permit.

Virginia has both fresh-water and salt-water fishing. The rivers, streams and lakes (many man-made) offer a wide selection, with bass especially popular. There are also lake trout and pickerel, rainbow and eastern brook, crappie and perch, as well as the bass, which are largemouth and smallmouth. The Department of Conservation and Economic Development will send you, free of charge, a fresh-water fishing map, listing all 450 public streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Write to the same place for the booklet, "Salt Water Sport Fishing in Virginia."

Aside from the state parks, there's the magnificent Shenandoah National Park, and two national forests, named for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The spell-binding scenery and setting of the Shenandoah is legendary: the park embraces eighty miles of the Blue Ridge, ranging in width from two to thirteen miles. The Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, among America's most exciting highways, run along the spine of the mountains of the Shenandoah Park. Hiking and horseback trails, species of trees and flowers by the hundreds, a profusion of wild life, picnic grounds, trout fishing (three-day license for $3) and lodges, campgrounds and trailer sites--you and the family can enjoy them all in the Shenandoah Park. There's an annual $1 permit charge per car (or 50 cents for one day), but use of the campgrounds is free, with a limit of fourteen days in one year.

To facilitate your travels, you'll find that Virginia's highways are not only excellent, well marked and plentiful, but you'll also discover more than 1,300 roadside historical markers which will tell you what happened, when and where. You'll also find a number on each marker (large enough for you to see as you drive by, if you don't stop). The reason for this is that the state gives you a handbook (free) which is keyed to the roadside markers. This enables you to read all about what you've just passed.

There are some other things you'll encounter and enjoy in "The Old Dominion" when you're driving through. For example, there are special events that will capture your fancy, such as the "Wild Pony Roundup" on Chincoteague Island the last Wednesday and Thursday in July; the Virginia Highlands Arts and Crafts Festival at Abingdon, August first to fifteenth, and the Tobacco Festival for a week during the autumn in Richmond. And there are nine fascinating caverns for safe underground adventures.

The battlefield parks, which lend an aura of drama to the countryside, stretch from Manassas to Petersburg, and from Gold Harbor to Appomattox. All have well-equipped picnic and rest areas, information and direction signs, maps and orientation discs, and in some cases, museums and visitor centers with dioramas, relief maps, and collection of Civil War mementos.

Virginia also invites the visitor to dozens of challenging and beautifully placed golf courses, from one end of the state to the other. There's golf every month of the year here, since Virginia enjoys mild winters. A free booklet, "Golf in Virginia," lists 150 nine- and eighteen-hole courses and information about each one. This, too, can be gotten from the Department of Conservation and Economic Development.

But now let's get back to the chief object of our visit, the Colonial Williamsburg area.

The Virginians describe Williamsburg as the "city that turned back time." They say, and rightly so, that "nowhere else in the world can you see the eighteen century live again so completely as here." They invite you to "drive down Duke of Gloucester Street behind a coachman in tricorne hat and knee breeches; listen to a harpsichord of the Royal Governor's Palace; watch a soldier load and fire a Revolutionary 'Brown Bas' musket at the historic Powder Magazine; see how colonial ladies in fashionably wide farthingales got through narrow doors; tie a yard-square napkin 'round your neck and feast on favorite foods of our forefathers at a famous colonial inn. At every step, you are on historic ground."

A mile long and nearly half a mile wide, the colonial area of the city holds more than 400 buildings. More than half the major ones are original, the others have been faithfully rebuilt, the products of extensive research. You'll also find modern shops, to help get rid of any excess cash, along one end of Duke of Gloucester Street. The College of William and Mary also lies off one end of this thoroughfare. Exhibition buildings are open daily from nine to five from March through November; from ten to five in winter, except Christmas Day. During the summer and portions of spring and fall, the exhibition halls and craft shops are open in the evenings.

You can purchase tickets at the Information Center, near Governor's Palace, in any number of combinations. Attendants will help you plan your tour. Admission to all buildings is $3 per adult; $1.50 for military personnel and students: children seven to twelve, $1; the kids under seven are admitted free.

Admission to the Governor's Palace only is $1.50; six other major buildings are 75 cents each. These are the Capitol, Public Goal, Raleigh Tavern, Magazine and Guardhouse, Brush-Everard House, and Wythe House. Also at the Information Center, continuously from nine to six, they show a free movie to familiarize you with the historical significance of Williamsburg. On top of all this, free buses make a complete circuit of Williamsburg every few minutes.

Now you can join me for a quick tour of the major buildings, so you'll know what to look for when you actually get down there.

The Palace, fittingly enough facing the Palace Green, was utilized from 1720 to 1775 by the royal governors. Destroyed by fire in 1781, when it was being used to house the wounded from Yorktown, the Palace is today an exact replica of its predecessor. There are also rare antiquities and lovely gardens to lend authenticity. The Capitol, which stands at the end of the Duke of Gloucester Street, was opened in 1705, and rebuilt in 1751. Four years after it had burned. The original 1705 foundations provide the underpinnings for today's structure. The present furnishings follow the descriptions from the records of the Virginia Colony. On display here are famous portraits of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. Every Saturday night, you can make a candlelight tour between eight and ten p.m.

The Public Gaol (pronounced jail) dates back to about 1701. The restoration includes the sticks and pillories and cells. Raleigh Tavern was the hub of social and political life before the Revolution. It was erected sometime before 1742 and played host to such leading figures as Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry and many other who played significant roles in America's drive for independence. Students from William and Mary reportedly founded the Phi Beta Kappa Society in 1776 in the tavern's Apollo Room. Razed by fire in 1859, Raleigh's has been fully rebuilt on the original foundations.

Dating back in 1717, the Brush-Everard House is a fine example of a typical eighteen-century middle-class home. There's a library, and the furnishings and antiques are the real thing. The Wythe House on the Palace Green was built in the middle of the eighteenth century and was occupied from 1755 to 1791 by George Wythe, a teacher of Thomas Jefferson. The Magazine and Guardhouse on the Market Square Green held arms and ammunition for the colony during the crucial decades of the eighteen century. Build in 1716, it now exhibits cannons, guns and pistols from that era.

The craft shops are especially interesting. Open every day at no charge, they allow you and the family to watch craftsmen, in colonial attire, practice skills that date back 200 years. The arts trades and crafts include bootmaking, millinery, wigmaking, and you can watch an apothecary, a cabinmaker, a blacksmith, a weaver, a baker, a printer and bookbinder, a miller, and a silversmith-clockmaker and engraver at work. The shops are open daily from nine to five; in winter, from ten to five. Several are also open evenings in summer and portions of the spring and fall. The craftsmen who man these shops comprise the costumed colonial militia which drills Tuesdays and Thursdays on Market Square from April to mid-October.

The Courthouse of 1770 is an archeological museum which exhibits old china, glass, iron and other relics of the colonial era. Admission is free. The Bruton Parish Church was built 1711-1715 and has been completely restored.

On the fringes of Colonial Williamsburg proper, there are several buildings of interest. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection, one of the most renowned in America, is on display in a museum building between the Williamsburg Inn and Lodge. It's open daily except Monday from ten a.m. to nine p.m., and from noon to nine on Sunday. The Craft House in the same area features reproductions of eighteen-century furniture and furnishings.

The College of William and Mary was chartered in 1693 and graduated three American presidents: Jefferson, Monroe and Tyler. The Wren Building, which dates back to 1695, still has the original outer walls and is the oldest academic building now in use in North America. Open eight to five daily, there's no admission fee. The President's House, which is not open to the public, was built in 1732 and has since housed all William and Marry presidents. It also served as headquarters for the British General Cornwallis in 1781.

The bird's eye view of Williamsburg, which for eighty-one years was the capital, social and cultural center of Colonial Virginia. The new world's most venerable representative assembly met there, and there many of the dramatic events leading to American independence took place. In 1780, Virginia moved its capital to Richmond, and in the words of the state: "Williamsburg slumbered for over a century and a half as a quiet county seat and college town. Then the rector of Bruton Parish, Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, dreamed of restoring Williamsburg to its former beauty. His dream fired the imagination of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who saw in it a great educational project with the aim 'that the future may learn from the past.' Since then, many millions of dollars have gone into patient research and restoration. ÉFor the comforts of visitors from all over the nation and the world, Williamsburg and its environs now offer many places to stay. They range from luxury resorts to moderate-priced hotelsÉAnd whether you spend days or weeks, you'll never run out of fascinating discoveries in this living world of Washington, Jefferson and Patrick Henry."

Accommodation run as low as $8 at nearby motels, but the average is in the vicinity of $12. There is good eating around, such as hot Sally Lunn rolls, savory devilled crab and plump Virginia oysters, native turkeys and incomparable Virginia Brunswick stew, cured and hickory-smoked Virginia ham, served with red-eyed gravy and hot biscuits.

And when you're through in Williamsburg, there are Yorktown, and Jamestown, Newport News and Hampton, Norfolk and Portsmouth and, of course, Virginia Beach. And plenty more, all within a few miles of each other, for a convenient, delightful, versatile two-week family vacation. Just bring car and camera.

One of the best ways to get down to the Williamsburg area is via Washington. Cross the Potomac and you're in Virginia at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, and at the grave of President John F. Kennedy. Then motor south, stopping, if you like, at Mount Vernon, the colonial home and burial place of George Washington, as well as at such places as Fredericksburg, scene of several important Civil War battles; Richmond; Pocahontas State Park, and the fabulous James River plantation of Berkley (1619-1726).

You can get all the literature you possibly need from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Economic Development. Or, the American Automobile association has an excellent section on Williamsburg and Virginia and its Mideastern tour book.

This column originally appeared in Argosy magazine.

Copyright © 1962-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.