We are happy to announce exciting changes are underway in the Historic Area—ones we hope will make your next visit an even more memorable one! Beginning in March 2017, the life of the town will be drawn into a tighter circle, allowing you to more quickly immerse yourself in our vibrant colonial community.
What exactly does that mean? The short answer is that activities currently taking place along the outskirts of the Historic Area will be redirected closer to the heart of our Colonial Capital, making it easier for you dive right into a rich sensory experience. When you visit our sites, we want you to be able to hear, smell, see, and feel what life was like in the 18th century. This shift reinforces our main entry point for the shuttle which is now at the Market House and Magazine. We want you to to be able to step off the bus and into another world as seamlessly as possible.
Within a short walk from that main entrance, you will have four newly-reinvigorated options for exploration: the Wythe House, Geddy House, Randolph House, and Public Armoury. These are already significant sites, but come spring all will be open seven days a week and populated with an unprecedented level of activity. And each will have its own flavor.
Speaking of flavor, our Historic Foodways program will be an even bigger part of your new experience. Look for chocolate making demonstrations to start in the basement of Charlton’s Coffeehouse and an added kitchen interpretation at the Wythe House. The revival of this interpretation is one Master Weaver Karen Clancy is particularly excited about. She recalled starting out in the Wythe Kitchen two or three years, er, decades, ago: “Coming from western New York to Virginia and working in a kitchen with a bonfire in your back pocket was a lot more heat than I was used to! What a great job! Didn’t have to buy clothes, didn’t have to worry about a bad hair day, and allowed to talk all day!”
While this is very much a work in progress as we iron out details, we think (and hope) you’ll share our excitement for the vision. In the end, our goal is to create additional opportunities for meaningful engagement while capturing some of the bustle that the 18th-century capital really had. Allow us to explain.
George Wythe’s home has been outfitted as Washington’s Headquarters before Yorktown since last September. In 2017, it will return to being the household of Mr. Wythe. Perhaps Mr. Jefferson might stop by to see his old law professor, or you’ll be able to speak with Ben, an enslaved member of the household. There’s a good chance you’ll hear music inside, as musicians will frequently be rehearsing and playing throughout the home.
Out back, the Basketmakers will have new neighbors as the Coopers move from their present location on Nicholson Street into the building next door. And as we mentioned, Historic Foodways will reopen the Wythe Kitchen for 18th-century cooking demonstrations.
Fun for kids will be a new focus at the Geddy, with hands-on games and activities, and a more intensive interpretation of domestic life. Some of our staff from the Powell House, which is known for its family-friendliness, will be bringing their bags of tricks to the site (where you might even be able to try out the bed—no, seriously!).
The Silversmiths will also open a satellite location in the Foundry in back of the house, a change the Master of the Shop has been advocating for for quite some time.
The Randolph House has had an ongoing resurgence of activity, so many of the changes, such as the addition of cow milking and the move of the Candlemaking trade on to the property, have already been put in place.
It also remains a crucial site for the interpretation of the African American experience. In terms of portraying differences in race and class in colonial Virginia, the Randolphs’ emphasis on enslaved people complements the gentry perspective found at the Wythe House and the middling tradesperson’s point of view at the Geddy.
Many of you are already familiar with this home to the Blacksmiths, Tinsmiths, Foodways, and Military Artificers. Soon, you’ll have the chance to meet more character interpreters—and soldiers, who might be drilling, cleaning their weapons, or getting their equipment repaired. You’ll have a new opportunity to learn about simple machines, like levers and pulleys!
Our Foodways interpreters from the Powell House will be moving to the complex to replace the current crew headed to the Wythe kitchen.
In 2017, you won’t have to decide whether to dedicate a chunk of time to visiting Great Hopes Plantation or coming directly into the city. You’ll be able to do both, as our Carpenters are busy working on their new home at the corner of Botetourt and Nicholson, and our Historic Farmers will soon be developing pastures around town. One of the first targets is at the southwest corner of Nicholson and Colonial Streets, behind the Prentis Store.
In addition to being more accessible, the hope is that the pastures will benefit from cultivation. Director of Coach & Livestock Paul Bennett says he’s excited for his team to partner with their friends in Historic Trades. Together, they will bring farming into the city and the greater public view. “Not only will be growing different crops, in turn, it will allow us to replant, reseed, and replenish grass for our Rare Breeds and allow our animals to flourish in the coming year,” he told us.
Detailed plans are still in the works, but expect to see several of these areas coming to life not just with grass and crops, but also our farm-to-table vegetables for Colonial Williamsburg’s chefs to use in our taverns and hotel restaurants.
As a result of the move, Great Hopes Plantation will feature signage, so that if you want to take self-guided tours of the site, you can. But you won’t have interpreters to map things out for you. The same holds true for the Public Gaol, which will no longer be actively staffed. We would like to mention though that both sites will continue to be available for school and group tours.
The Powell House, which has previously been open to the public during the summer, will also only be available to school and group tours, with its talented interpreters brought into contact with more guests at the expanding sites closer to the action.
These moves are another step in the direction of efficiently using our available resources and providing you with the richest possible experience every time you come to visit. While we would love for you to stay in our hotels and visit for a week or month at a time, we realize that isn’t possible for many of you. And as our loyal friends will tell anyone who will listen, you could spend years here and still not see it all. We want you to get the most out of your trip!
These changes reflect our commitment to our unwavering mission to inspire citizens, and bring us all closer together as Americans while honoring our diversity through the ages. We can’t wait to watch these exciting moves come to life and look forward to bringing you more updates right here on our Making History Blog in the coming months.