With an extra day off work for the Veteran’s Day holiday, Chris and I were anxious to get out of town and see some nearby sites. Since I am not originally from Virginia, I have actually never been to the “Historic Triangle” of the Jamestown settlement, Colonial Williamsburg, and Revolutionary Yorktown, and I’ve also never been to the Outer Banks. It was time to remedy that.
We left northern Virginia on Thursday after work and of course traffic on 95 South was a nightmare. But we arrived not too late in the evening, stayed the night in Williamsburg, and were up early on Friday morning to explore Jamestown, the first permanent settlement in Virginia. Established in 1607, the settlement served as the first capital of the colony (until it moved in 1699 to Williamsburg). You can visit Jamestown every day of the year except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day- they are open from 9-5 (6 in the summer). For adults, tickets are $17, or you can get a week-long ticket that includes entry to all three “triangle” sites for $92 for adults or $43 for youths. Some discounts apply if you stay at a hotel attached to one of the sites.
The Jamestown Settlement consists of both an indoor museum and an outdoor living history recreation. You can climb aboard replicas of the 3 ships that brought the first settlers, walk through a Powhatan village, and enter the buildings inside the settler’s fort. At each building there are costumed interpreters who will explain their daily tasks- we chatted with a doctor, a blacksmith, a flintknapper, a canoe builder, a ship’s captain, and a soldier. You can also visit the ruins of the old glasshouse that the settlers used, as well as a new glasshouse run by the National Parks Service, which is still in use, and you can watch glassblowers work and purchase some of their products.
The next morning, we drove to Cape Hatteras lighthouse. It is the tallest lighthouse in the United States, and one of the most distinctive with its navy blue and white stripes. The lighthouse was actually moved to its present location in 1999, due to erosion of the barrier islands. The lighthouse and grounds are run by the National Parks Service, and there is no fee for visiting, although there is a fee to climb it ($8, and only April-October). They do a special full moon climb in the summer months as well.
We drove along Pea Island, a National Wildlife Refuge, and saw kite surfers out on the windy waves, hunters returning from early morning duck hunting, and lots of sand dunes. The largest sand dune system is in the Outer Banks, around Nag’s Head, at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. You can fly kites there and even hang-glide with a permit.
Next we visited Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, home of even earlier settlement sites than Jamestown. Explorer expeditions- and one ill-fated settlement- landed here between 1584 and 1590. In 1587, 115 colonists established a small settlement on Roanoke Island. Relations with nearby Native Americans were not good, and a settler was killed while fishing for crabs. The settlers, losing faith in the governor of their colony, send him back to England to bring back more supplies and greater numbers. Just before he left to sail across the Atlantic, the first English child, Virginia Dare, was born at Roanoke. The governor left, but due to war with Spain, it was three years before he could return to the colony. When at last he returned, they had all disappeared. The buildings of the settlement were torn down, and there were no skeletons or graves. One word carved in a tree- Croatoan- was the only clue. Governor White wanted to continue looking for the missing colonists, who included his daughter and granddaughter Virginia Dare, but storms forced him to return to England. To this day we do not know what happened to that group- murder? Starvation? Disease? Were some of them absorbed into nearby Indian groups? An account in 1790 recorded some evidence of “gray eyed Indians” on Hatteras Island (formerly Croatoan), so to me it seems likely that at least some of the settlers wound up with the Indians there.
The last stop of the day for us was the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk. Entrance is usually $7, but it was free for everyone on Veteran’s Day. Lucky for us, a ranger talk was starting just a few minutes after we arrived, and it was a really good explanation of why the brothers chose Kitty Hawk, how their background in bicycle mechanics helped them to envision a flying machine, and the three seasons that they spent at Kitty Hawk trying to get their flying machine to work. On the day we visited, it was 51 degrees with 9 mph winds- I cannot imagine what it was like on December 17, 1903, when it was 6 degrees with 27 mph winds. But on that day, the Wright Brothers got their machine to fly four times- the first time for 12 seconds, and the 4th attempt for 59 seconds. One photograph was captured that historic day- possibly the most reproduced photograph in the United States. Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912, but Orville lived on until 1948, meeting both Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, witnessing both world wars, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. In 1969, a piece of cloth from the Wright Flyer was taken on the moon landing in the pocket of Neal Armstrong.
We stayed a second night in the Outer Banks, at Nag’s Head, and then the next morning we started driving back to DC. Halfway home we stopped again in Williamsburg, this time to visit Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia’s second capital city (1699-1780). Colonial Williamsburg is a private living history museum, and encompasses 300 acres, 140 buildings, including 80 private homes. There is also a public jail (where Blackbeard’s crew were held!). Four taverns and two inns are on the property, and various hotels on the outskirts of the historic district also offer reduced entrance if you book rooms with them. A one day pass for adults is $40, and $20 for youths, or you can buy a week-long ticket or a combination ticket with Jamestown and Yorktown. This weekend, though, it was free for Veteran’s, so it was the perfect time for us to pay a visit.
Inside Colonial Williamsburg, we visited the Governor’s Palace, spoke with an apothecary about 17th century medicine, chatted with a shoemaker, watched weaving, spinning, and dyeing happen, and visited the armory. We also popped in to the post office (where I finally found out what the heck “macaroni fashion” was), visited a milliner, and took a tour of the capital building. Finally we chatted with a wigmaker and an artificer, and decided we had enough history. A special thanks to Home Depot and Colonial Williamsburg for offering free tickets to military and retired veterans, as well as the Liberty Lounge, where they offered us tea or coffee and a place to rest our feet.
Leaving Williamsburg, traffic was fairly light, and we made it back to Northern Virginia in time to get ready for the next week, with Thanksgiving just around the corner!
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