Colonial Williamsburg - History and Facts | History Hit

Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg, Virginia, United States

Colonial Williamsburg is the recreation of the 18th century capital of Virginia.

Peta Stamper

28 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg is a historic site and open-air museum in Virginia, in the United States, made up of an entire town restored to its colonial state. From homes to public buildings and shops, Colonial Williamsburg takes visitors back to the time when Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia between 1699 and 1780.

Colonial Williamsburg is an extremely popular visitor experience, home to a series of museums and exhibits for both adults and children.

Colonial Williamsburg history

After the Jamestown statehouse burned down in 1698, the Virginia government decided to relocate the American colonial capital to Middle Plantation. The proposal was attractive, as the Jamestown Island location was a hotbed of mosquitoes and malaria and Middle Plantation was particularly fertile.

Middle Plantation was renamed Williamsburg by Governor Francis Nicholson who was a keen advocate of the change and in honour of William of Orange – then ruler of the Dutch Republic, England, Ireland and Scotland. For 81 years Williamsburg was the centre of government, education and culture in the Virginia colony. During the American Revolutionary War, the Governor Thomas Jefferson moved the government to Richmond to be more accessible from the west and British attack.

Williamsburg thereafter went into a period of decline in business as it was increasingly bypassed. The town was fortunate to escape much damage during the Civil War as it was garrisoned by Union soldiers, and following the conflict people relied on the college, Courthouse and Eastern State Hospital for jobs. The colonial-era buildings were modified, protected and neglected.

The College of William and Mary started a fundraising drive int he 1920s, adopting a proposal by ecclesiastical architect, J. Stewart Barney, to save the historic houses and revive the grounds – Colonial style. The project to restore Williamsburg gained support from the wealthy Rockefeller family, offering those living in the historical homes free life tenancies in exchange for ownership. Many of the buildings post-dating 1790 were demolished and local businesses were forced out for the site to be restored.

Colonial Williamsburg today

Today, literally walk back in time from the visitor’s centre to the colonial-style town along the timeline-bridge counting back from present day to the town’s founding. You can walk among the 500 houses that were revived, free of charge at any time, talking with local historical re-enactors who explain and demonstrate aspects of daily life during the colonial era.

For those wanting to enter museums and crafts demonstrations during the day, you will need to purchase entrance. Colonial Williamsburg is also home to the one of the oldest Anglican parish churches in the United States, Bruton Parish Church, that holds regular episcopal services.

Getting to Colonial Williamsburg

For those driving, Colonial Williamsburg is located just off route 60, and is a 50 minute drive from central Richmond where you can rent cars. There is a large free car park at the visitor’s centre, from which you must walk to the town. The town is also along the Colonial Parkway that links Jamestown, Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg. The Williamsburg Transportation Centre also serves the Northeast Regional train line.

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