Taking a Trip Back in Time
What to see and do at the Jamestown Settlements
A trip down the Colonial Parkway ends with a fork in the road: to the left, the entrance to Historic Jamestowne, to the right, the route to the Jamestown Settlement. What to do? Go to both. Despite some overlap, the sites complement each other as they share the unfolding story of the first permanent English settlement in America.
Historic Jamestowne encompasses the area on Jamestown Island where three English ships landed in May 1607. Archaeological digs have allowed scientists to alter conventional concepts of what Jamestown looked like. The Jamestown Settlement, meanwhile, is a "living history" venue with a tactile approach.
In a shift from past anniversary observancesthe word celebration is avoidedJamestown curators and organizers have taken pains to ensure that the exhibits examine the dark underbelly of colonialism, which included slavery and the displacement of indigenous peoples. "We wanted to be able to say that the beginnings of democracy started at Jamestown," says Sandy Rives of the National Park Service, "and that it had its problems."
Here's what to expect on your visit:
At your first stop, the Glasshouse, artisans use centuries-old methods to re-create an industry that ultimately failed but was among the first commercial ventures in the United States. The blowers dip metal rods into a kiln to get a dollop of molten glass, then form vases and the like. You'll want to watch for a whilekids often have to be pulled away.
From the Glasshouse, a scenic drive along the James River brings you to Historic Jamestowne, where you can watch a film and take in a gallery. The aims of Historic Jamestowne, administered by the Park Service and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, are to preserve historic resources and illustrate connections between present and past. Considering those lofty goals, it's jarring to see the 103-foot-tall obelisk built for the Jamestown Tercentenary as well as the 1922 statue of Pocahontas in historically inaccurate Plains Indian garb. Among other modern touches: "virtual viewers," binoculars fitted with television screens that superimpose colonial scenes over the current landscape.
The Jamestown fort itself is a triangular encampment surrounded in part by wooden palisades. Archaeologists are constructing a barracks they believe might have stood there. Nearby, the remains of a church bell tower represent a key moment in American history: In 1619, the church held the first representative assembly of colonial leaders, considered the precursor of Congress. A reproduction was built over the original foundation, visible through glass panels.
Just a short walk from the fort, the new Archaearium holds some of the more than 1 million artifacts unearthed in the Jamestown Rediscovery project. The museum was built on pilings so as not to disturb the treasure belowthe foundation of Jamestown's last statehouse. From skeletons to tools to a trumpet mouthpiece, the museum includes a wealth of unusual objects.
An exhibit explores the three cultures that came together here. Lighted maps show the encroachment of English settlements and deterioration of Indian towns. Here, too, are the replicated bow of a ship and a re-creation of a 17th-century English street. A guided tourtake it; it's free with admissionbrings you first to the village of Powhatan where, in a traditional dwelling of bent hardwood, you can test sleeping benches and try your hand at scraping hair off deer hides using sharpened oyster shells.