Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

Colonial Williamsburg: The U.S. history theme park

Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

Governor’s Palace, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg was a puzzle to me. I’ve heard about the place but never went there, even though I lived on the East Coast. I heard conflicting reports that it was a made up place while some claimed it was a real town. So when I had the chance, I decided to start our winter vacation there. And even after looking at their website and brochures, I still didn’t understand Williamsburg until I actually got there and started exploring.

Colonial Williamsburg is sort of like a theme park for American history. Buildings have been moved and rebuilt to simulate life in the American colonies around the time of the American revolution. But it is also the real deal — the town really did exist from way back. The Governor’s Mansion and Capitol, the centerpieces of Williamsburg, were rebuilt on their original foundations as close as possible to the original specifications. The Courthouse and The Magazine, where they kept the arms, are original structures.

Virginia Colonial Capitol - Williamsburg, Virginia

Virginia Colonial Capitol – Williamsburg, Virginia

While there are actors in costume, in fairness to Colonial Williamsburg, this is no ordinary theme park — there are no cute mascots and amusement rides. It’s more of a living museum to American History. Also, unlike a typical amusement park, you can get in and walk around in the town without a ticket. Paying the entrance fee entitles the visitor to tours of the trophy buildings and seeing the demonstrations of the craftsman, such as the blacksmith and wig makers. There are no blatant food stands but there are restaurants in recreated Taverns that line Duke Of Gloucester, the main street.

In Costume, Governor's Palace - Williamsburg, Virginia

In Costume, Governor’s Palace – Williamsburg, Virginia

In Costume, Virginia Capitol - Williamsburg, Virginia

In Costume, Virginia Capitol – Williamsburg, Virginia

Next to Colonial Williamsburg, there are the Market Square Shops, a shopping area done in the Neo-Colonial style. And beyond that, lies the College of William and Mary. Colonial Williamsburg buses, that allow ticket holders to get on and off at several places, make it easy to get around. The main Visitor’s Center complex is where you can buy the tickets. It also has additional shops, restaurants and is the logical place to get started. Everything is done in a classy way and I have come to realize the price of admission is well worth it.

Merchant Square Shops - Williamsburg, Virginia

Merchant Square Shops – Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg Bus - Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg Bus – Williamsburg, Virginia

We spent 2 relaxed days there but there is more than enough to fill 3 days. There are resort style hotels right next to the historic buildings but we opted to stay in a more conventional hotel several miles away. The greater City of Williamsburg is like any small city with the usual sprawl. Drive down Richmond Road and you can find a large selection of standard, new restaurants with modern 21st century food.

The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art museums, both under the same roof, are surprisingly good. The museums are included as part of the general admission ticket. Entrance to the museum was a bit confusing — you can enter the primarily underground complex through the Public Hospital of 1773. Since we were during the winter vacation, there was a magnificent Christmas Tree in the restaurant area.

Christmas Tree, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum - Williamsburg, Virginia

Christmas Tree, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum – Williamsburg, Virginia

Big Cat, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum - Williamsburg, Virginia

Big Cat, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum – Williamsburg, Virginia

Exhibits, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum - Williamsburg, Virginia

Exhibits, Rockefeller Folk Art Museum – Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg is a must for history buffs especially if you are into early American History (the Historic Jamestown settlement is also fairly close). I think the 13-year-old was old enough and knew enough history to appreciate the place. For my 9-year-old, it was more of a stretch. He liked the optional Tavern Ghost Tour we took at night and he was mesmerized by the blacksmith’s handicraft. There are activities geared towards kids that we didn’t strictly follow. Perhaps if we did, our younger son would have like it even more. The Fife and Drum parade down Duke of Gloucester, while not exactly the Disney Electric Parade, did add a nice closure to our stay.

Blacksmith, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

Blacksmith, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Fife and Drum Parade, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

Fife and Drum Parade, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Of course for me, any new place is a chance for photography. I enjoyed Williamsburg and its history but I like the architecture the most. It’s not the big city and there are no shiny lights but finding texture and compositions entertained and challenged me. If anything, I would like to spend more time shooting photographs deliberately but the family schedule didn’t allow for that. My small bag carried two cameras with lenses attached. My new Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 and the Olympus E-P3 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. That’s it. I also had a Panasonic wide-angle adapter that I can attach to the 14mm but I had no other lenses. This kept the photography gear to a minimum and let me enjoy the experience without being weighed down.

The Carriage and Courthouse - Williamsburg, Virginia

The Carriage and Courthouse – Williamsburg, Virginia

The Magazine, Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virginia

The Magazine, Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia

Historic Jail Cells - Williamsburg, Virginia

Historic Jail Cells – Williamsburg, Virginia

Reflection on Duke of Gloucester Street - Williamsburg, Virginia

Reflection on Duke of Gloucester Street – Williamsburg, Virginia

Sunset at the Capitol - Williamsburg, Virginia

Sunset at the Capitol – Williamsburg, Virginia

My wife, who doesn’t know much American History, also enjoyed Colonial Williamsburg. We vowed that sometime in the future, perhaps when we are retired, we will return to this place. We can take our time and savor the details especially since we won’t have young kids in tow. Sounds good to me since I’m always up for more photography. I wonder what kind of camera I’ll be using in the distant future.

Photographs taken with the Olympus E-PM2 with the 14mm f2.5 lens. I used the Panasonic wide-angle adapter for 3 of the photos. I also carried a second camera. The Olympus E-P3 with a Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4.

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

9 responses

  1. That’s where WE went on our summer vacation! The nearby bigt super duper theme park has the biggest baddest roller coasters in this part of the world and we did that too. It was a lot of fun, but my back never recovered. You were smart to do it this time of year. It was ghastly hot in August when we were there.

    January 14, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    • Wow, that’s great. It was a bit chilly for our Texas based family but not too bad. We got hit with some rain on the second day but luckily dodged the big snow storm.

      January 14, 2013 at 11:44 pm

  2. Reblogged this on Serendipity and commented:
    I was there too last summer too, but it was so hot we didn’t stay very long. Pity. There are some terrific photo ops. I was also there in the mid 1960s when they were just beginning to put it together. It was much smaller then … but in a way, more authentic, too. Less shopping. More history.

    January 14, 2013 at 11:41 pm

  3. I really liked this blog post, Andy. The photography is great, and the story that you tell gives it all more meaning than just seeing a series of photos. I especially like the photo you titled “Reflection on Duke of Gloucester Street”. I stared and admired it for quite a while. Great job!

    January 15, 2013 at 11:15 am

    • Thank you Gregg. The rain on the second day made things a bit dreary but allowed me to take some creative photos.

      January 15, 2013 at 12:07 pm

  4. Wonderful tour. I have never been down there at holiday time. I like the fruit wreaths they make and hang over some of the doorways. Unless you have specific reasons for taking certain gear, the kit you had was sufficient and you’ve definitely proven things work. It’s one of the reasons I bought m4/3, so as not to annoy the family too much.

    January 16, 2013 at 1:53 am

    • Thanks Libby. Yes I shot some of those wreaths too. Very understated and beautiful.

      January 16, 2013 at 10:11 am

      • Did you shoot any with pineapples? I love the ones with the pineapple in the middle. Lots of times they are not round but sort of a horizontal arrangement. For some reason, the pineapple was considered the Colonial symbol of hospitality. I don’t really know why. I have a small collection of pineapples here – glass, brass, pewter, even a small lamp base.

        January 16, 2013 at 11:15 am

      • Nope no pineapples, there were probably there but I don’t remember seeing any.

        January 16, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s