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Spotlight on:
Historic Triangle

Basking in the sunny climate of Utah's Dixie

Virginia's Historic Triangle encompasses three major colonial centers that continue to thrill visitors to this day.

Williamsburg was the colonial capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1780, and was highly important as a political and cultural center. More than 80 surviving colonial buildings would qualify Williamsburg as an important historic community under any conditions, but the remarkable restoration project that has been carried out under the corporation founded and financed by the late John D. Rockefeller, Jr., has made it unique. Since its inception in 1926, the project has involved restoration of the original structures and reconstruction on the original sites of more than 400 buildings.

More than 90 gardens in Williamsburg have been restored in keeping with 18th-century designs, using only plants and flowers known to have been grown here before 1800. Painstaking research has preceded every step of the project, and the excellent interpretive program gives Colonial Williamsburg great value as a living exhibit of the 18th-century way of life. Skilled craftsmen in period attire are occupied in their shops, which are restored and equipped with authentic tools, producing items of silverware, ironwork, woven fabrics and other articles of the kind made here in the 18th century.

Life at Williamsburg in the 1700s encompassed not only the common folk but also many of the extraordinary figures of the period. Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, George Mason, George Wythe, Edmund Randolph, and other leading Patriots served as burgesses here, debated and resolved the important issues that resulted in many of our democratic concepts, and played important roles in the movement for independence. Through association with places frequented by Patriot leaders, as well as by the creation of its unique atmosphere, Colonial Williamsburg fulfills its purpose that "the future may learn from the past."

The historical character of the area is enriched still further by the fact that Williamsburg is so close to Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement, founded in 1607 and capital of Virginia until 1699. On the other side of Williamsburg and almost as close is Yorktown, scene of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis, which assured American independence in the Revolutionary War. (See p. 73.) These historic areas are connected by the Colonial Parkway, which passes through Williamsburg. Colonial Parkway, Yorktown Battlefield, and part of Jamestown Island are administered together as Colonial National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park System.

On May 13, 1607, Jamestown was established as the first permanent English settlement in North America. Three cultures came together—European, Virginia Indian and African—to create a new society that would eventually seek independence from Great Britain. On October 19, 1781, American and French troops defeated the British at Yorktown in the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War.

Colonial National Historical Park is a series of historic adventures ranging from early 17th-century colonization to American Revolutionary War battles, from Civil War earthworks to a quiet, relaxing drive along the scenic Colonial Parkway.

Plan at least two hours at each of the sites of Jamestown and Yorktown. Friendly volunteers at the information desks can help orient you. Stroll through visitor centers and museums and view short introductory films. Then, follow a park ranger or guide on a tour of the historic areas and learn why Colonial National Historical Park is considered the beginning and end of English Colonial America.

You can walk, run or bike the Battlefield Tour roads, the Jamestown 3- to 5-mile loop drive or the Colonial Parkway. Or, if you prefer, you can drive these roads in the air-conditioned comfort of your RV.

For the history minded, the park spans the timelines from precolonization through Colonial Virginia; from the end of English Colonial America through the American Revolutionary War and from America's Independence to the Civil War.

There are self-guided tours, ranger and park guide tours, living history tours, glass-blowing demonstrations and, for younger visitors, hands-on programs. Check the individual National Park Service web sites for Jamestown and Yorktown for specific information about programs.

Both Jamestown and Yorktown have Junior Ranger programs. The programs are developed for families to learn together and are designed for ages 6 through 12. Booklets for the program can be purchased from the gift shops for a nominal fee. It generally takes about two hours or more to complete the program and gives young visitors and their parents a good background into the history of each site. At the successful completion of the booklets each child will be awarded a certificate and patch designating them a Junior Ranger of Jamestown or Yorktown.

During the Jamestown Pinch Pot hands-on 20-minute children's program, each child receives a small ball of clay to make a souvenir pot using the pinch method employed by American Indians. In the Young Soldiers program, youngsters join a costumed interpreter at Yorktown to learn about life as a soldier during the American Revolution. The program, conducted from mid-June to mid-August, includes a hands-on activity.

Yorktown, of course, was the site of the final battle of the American Revoluion. Here, American forces surrounded the army of British general Charles Cornwallis. After a long seige, Cornwallis surrendered, paving the way for the new nation.

Children in Nature programs at Colonial National Historical Park, Historic Jamestowne, Neck O'Land are one-hour free outdoor nature programs for children ages 6–12 accompanied by an adult. The programs include hands-on activities and a short outdoor walking tour highlighting the natural setting of the area.

Visitors are always welcome to roam the park's historic sites at their leisure; maps are available at visitor centers. For more structured programs, ranger and park guide tours are available at both Jamestown and Yorktown. These tours will take you around to several stops in historic Jamestown, through the town of York, and around the Yorktown Battlefield, providing an in-depth history of what happened. Each tour will provide insight and some unique points of history that one normally does not get from history books. Tours generally last between 30 and 45 minutes.

For More Information:
America's Historic Triangle

Virginia Tourism Corporation