Colonial Williamsburg, located in the historic heart of the city of Williamsburg, Virginia, was Virginia's capital city from 1699 to 1780. Today you can visit the homes, shops and churches that once hosted colonial patriots such as George Washington, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, and experience life as it was during Williamsburg's colonial heyday. Professional craftsmen still make wheels, weave cloth and shape silver into jewelry and utensils, just as they did when Virginia's colonial legislature, the House of Burgesses, met here. Costumed first-person interpreters take the roles of famous citizens, British soldiers and ordinary townspeople, while third-person interpreters explain life in the colonial capital from a 21st-century perspective. Colonial Williamsburg's special events and holiday programs attract visitors from all over the U.S. and around the world.
After Virginia's capital moved upriver to Richmond, Williamsburg became just another college town. Bruton Parish Church, founded in 1660, played an important role both in colonial times – it even served as a hospital during the American Revolution – and in the restoration of Williamsburg. Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, Bruton Parish Church rector from 1903 to 1938, loved the town's old colonial buildings and wanted to preserve them. He convinced John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the well-known philanthropist, to finance restoration of some of Williamsburg's historic structures, and the project took off from there. Rockefeller's leadership and generosity eventually led to the restoration of more than 80 buildings and the development of a visitor center and other facilities for tourists. Today, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation continues the work of Mr. Rockefeller and Reverend Dr. Goodwin.
One of Colonial Williamsburg's newest endeavors is called "Revolutionary City." For two hours each day, a section of the Historic Area will be dedicated to dramatizations of life-changing events and decisions that citizens of colonial Virginia faced. You'll need a ticket to Colonial Williamsburg, a "Revolutionary City Adventure Pass" from one of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's hotels, a College of William and Mary student identification card or a Good Neighbor (local resident) pass to access the Revolutionary City area during performance times.
Revolutionary City brings the issues and conflicts of colonial times to life in a very personal way. You might meet Patrick Henry or another famous patriot, speaking to a local crowd about the important issues facing the American colonies, or you may encounter George Wythe's slave, Lydia Broadnax, and hear about the conflicts she faces. Should she stay with Mr. Wythe's household or go with the British regulars, hoping to earn her freedom?
Whether you enjoy gardening, interior design, history or the arts, you'll feel at home in Colonial Williamsburg. You can wander the streets, visiting homes and shops and talking with historical interpreters. Stop and watch the blacksmith or wheelwright at work. Linger to discuss the issues of the day with Patrick Henry and George Wythe.
If you're staying overnight in the Williamsburg area, don't miss Colonial Williamsburg's evening programs. Stop by the Capitol for "Dance, Our Dearest Diversion," and learn the basics of the minuet. Listen to harpsichord music or sway to "Diamond Joe," "Go Down, Moses" and other traditional African-American songs. Take in a performance of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums – their music will transport you back to the days of the American Revolution – or learn how Christmas was celebrated in the days of George and Martha Washington.
In addition to the world-famous Historic Area, Colonial Williamsburg also features three museums. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum showcases American and British antiques and, somewhat incongruously, an exhibit on colonial-era mental illness and treatments. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum includes toys, furniture, musical instruments and more – you can see almost anything the Virginia colonists created, whether for daily use or for pleasure, in the museum's collection. You can even tour Bassett Hall, the home John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, shared during renovation of the Historic Area.
If you're planning to bring children or grandchildren to Colonial Williamsburg, you'll have no trouble keeping them busy. Head over toward the Magazine to watch the militia on parade and see musket and cannon firing demonstrations. (Cannon fire is loud. You have been warned.) During summer months and the holiday season, special programs aimed at children help them learn about daily life in colonial times. Your young guests may find themselves watering an herb garden or assisting with chores. You can even rent costumes for children to wear at the Visitor Center. I highly recommend renting a costume if your budget permits. My eight-year-old daughter didn't walk the Historic Area streets in her rented costume, she floated. Interpreters bowed and curtsied to her, and she enjoyed feeling involved in the events of the day.
Plan Your Visit
Colonial Williamsburg is open 365 days per year. Hours vary by season and building. Tickets are required to enter historic homes and buildings and to visit the "Revolutionary City" area during performance times. Some tours, events and performances require special tickets. Check with the helpful Visitor Center staff to find out which ticket package is best for you. Holiday programs and special programs take place throughout the year. Contact Colonial Williamsburg's Call Center at 1-800-HISTORY for more information.