Williamsburg is a delight at any age and in any season. I always feel that autumn gives a certain vibrancy to colonial sites. I first visited Williamsburg as a teenager with parents and was enthralled with the feel created by authentic colonial architecture, landscaping, crafts and costumed living history enactors. As my older brother was going off to college soon, it was an unscheduled bonding time for our family.
On a return last fall, I had the same enthusiasm of 4 decades ago as in my youth. I wanted to get out and do and see and soak up all Williamsburg had to offer. Today, I initially had concerns about parking, but with a little planning and not staying too long in one lot, there was never a problem. Free parking for 2 hours during the day is available in lots scattered parallel to Main Street. From 1699 to 1780 Williamsburg was the capital of England’s oldest, largest and most populous North American mainland colony and the seat of power in the new nation’s most influential state. Historic Williamsburg was the dream child of Rev. Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin who approached John D Rockefeller Jr. about funding this once decaying original American town. Since 1926 the 301 acre Historic Area comprises 88 original buildings and hundreds of other structures reconstructed on their original foundations.
To hear the pipe and drum corps parade past original and restored colonial buildings, stirs the imagination. Their infectious beat and light hearted tune can only be experienced in its expansiveness in person. CDs can be purchased for a pale remembrance. A sunset cannon salute should not be missed, along with several special tours, including a ghost walk, period musical entertainments and even an enacted witch trial, where the audience may decide the verdict. I took in the “Cry Witch” enactment where Grace Sherwood in 1706 was charged with witch craft and was known as the “Virginia Witch.” This memorable candle-lit trial is quite believable and enlightening as to the jurisprudence of the day. And it’s always fun to stumble around in the dark talking about ghosts during the hour long ghost walk.
An evening Capitol Concert where music of the 18th century era is played is instructional and a pleasant hour or so. There are many other events taking place during the day and evening such as this, where special tickets and reservations are required.
After and during all this pedestrian exercise, it does make one hunger, not just for history but for sustenance. I recall on my teenage visit having the treat of eating at the Kings Arm Tavern. I have no idea what I ate then, but this trip I dined on an interesting tri-cornered set of appetizers, a lukewarm corn chowder, and a Prime Rib, that was less than prime. The atmosphere almost made up for the mediocre fare, when a strolling musician happened by. While I was assured they could make a martini, what I ordered came in a conventional glass. A martini is not a martini unless it’s in a martini glass – otherwise it’s just Vodka on the rocks. While this over popular dining spot was not the highlight of my visit, other eateries were. (During the day out back there is a pleasant outdoor eatery where my mountainous Turkey sandwich was like no other!)
The Trellis Restaurant (www.thetrellis.com) at 403 Gloucester Street in Merchants Square was a joyous treat. With no reservations I arrived and had a sour apple martini which accompanied a very sweet grilled cinnamon-dusted salmon fillet, brown sugar-glazed butternut squash, carrots and black currant barley. The combination of sweet food and sour drink was a combination made in heaven. I can see why the Trellis Restaurant has garnered such critical acclaim. And to add to its charm it’s sandwiched between retail shops to temp the eye and pocketbook. (www.merchantssquare.org)
A Wine Tasting at the Williamsburg Lodge Restaurant (www.ColonialWilliamsburgResort.com), was another surprise and of course an enlightening time for the taste buds as well. Each Saturday the Inn hosts an afternoon tasting. This time the “Wit and Wisdom” was paired with cheeses. With this introduction I also enjoyed a gourmet evening meal at their restaurant to the delight of my taste buds. Maybe I just arrived early, but again no reservations were needed here, when other restaurants were either closed or booked. It was meant to be.
Because I could not make hotel accommodations early and because this was William and Mary’s (www.wm.edu) homecoming weekend I could not stay, as hoped, within the grounds of the Williamsburg Historic area. Instead, only a 5 minute drive away, I stayed at the very comfortable Crown Plaza Williamsburg (www.cpwilliamsburghotel.com) at Fort Magruder on Pocahontas Trail, which leads easily into the historic area.
While in the area I did have to have a quick visit to Jamestown (www.historicjamestowne.org) and Yorktown. Both had their own charms and historical significance. Exploring the Jamestown area with its glass-making workshop, I obtained two different hand-blown, limited edition green glass goblets.
All in all, the autumn weather cooperated, and I did not get hopelessly lost and checked off most of the highlights of the area, and of course soaked up the memory of tarrying around 18th century cottages from another era of both my childhood and early Americana. While early American history lives here, you can visit and make your own personal history.