The finishing touches are being applied to Liberty’s Ice Pavilion, which will open for a second season of ice skating on Duke of Gloucester Street Friday, November 18. The oval rink is 50-feet wide and 70-feet long, and it will remain open through Monday, February 20.
Last year’s experiment was a rousing success, with about 20,000 guests strapping on skates for a spin on the ice. Remember, this is real ice, not that weird plastic stuff that gets all sticky and weird.
Once again the skating has been made possible with the support of a grant from the Dominion Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Dominion Resources. We’re grateful for their support, which will light up cold afternoons and evenings.
Burning cressets, festive lights and classic Christmas tunes from the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s promise to create a wonderful holiday atmosphere.
Enjoy treats like coffee, hot chocolate, tea and cider, cookies, warm pretzels, popcorn, nachos, and a variety of sandwiches and wraps at Liberty’s Eats and Treats. You can also find mittens, scarves, and other cold weather necessities available for purchase there.
Live music by local performers will feature sets of old and new seasonal favorites 7-9 p.m. on Friday evenings through the end of the year. Liana Dagmar, one of our area’s finest voices, will help open the rink on Nov. 18. The schedule is still being finalized, but here’s what we have so far:
- Nov. 18: Liana Dagmar
- Nov 25: Billy Joe Daniel
- Dec 2: Jocelyn Oldham
- Dec 9: BJ Griffin Duo
- Dec. 17: (Saturday!) Keep Cookin
- Dec 23: Good Shot Judy
- Dec 30: TBD
- Feb. 14 (Valentine’s Day): Triple Crossing Jazz Project
Skating hours are:
- noon-8 p.m. most Sundays through Thursdays
- noon-10 p.m. Fridays, with extended hours until 10 p.m. Nov. 23 and 30
- 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, plus Thanksgiving Day; Dec. 4 (Grand Illumination); Dec. 17-30, Jan. 1-2, Jan. 15 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend); Valentine’s Day and Feb. 19 (Presidents Day weekend)
You can even ring in the new year on the ice, with New Year’s Eve skating extended until 1 a.m.
Get your tickets (come and go all day with your wristband!) at the ticket booth set up next to the rink or at any Colonial Williamsburg ticket location. Tickets are available online as well. The cost is $12 for adults, $10 for kids 3-12, and free for the under-3 set. Skate rentals are $4.25 per person, but are free for Colonial Williamsburg hotel guests.
Liberty’s Ice Pavilion is located on Duke of Gloucester Street between Henry and Nassau. Barnes and Noble stands near one end of the rink, the Tailor Shop near the other, so the rink bridges Merchants Square and the Historic Area.
Although it’s only on the very edge of the interpreted sites in town, many people wonder just how common ice skating was in 18th-century Williamsburg. In fact, while Virginians don’t see sub-freezing temperatures very frequently these days, they did more often in colonial days, when the period known as the Little Ice Age sent extra chills through parts of North America. Many of the creeks and ponds in and around Williamsburg undoubtedly froze over.
But specific evidence for ice skating, like so many casual amusements of yesteryear, is fragmentary.
In his diaries, William Byrd II mentions skating a few times. A 1709 entry reads, “We took a walk and I slid on skates, notwithstanding there was a thaw. Then we returned and played at billiards till dinner.”
Skaters show up in the background of many winter scenes, but most of those were produced in England and Europe. The scene below, for example, is from London’s Hyde Park in 1784.
Back in Williamsburg, Sarah Pitt advertised “fluted and plain skates, with and without leather” available in her shop in a Nov. 1766 issue of the Virginia Gazette. There aren’t very many ads for skates, likely because customers would have more commonly ordered them, as opposed to merchants offering them on spec.
Yorktown merchant John Hatley Norton, for example, procured “scates” for Robert Gosling in 1766. (That’s the very same Norton who got in hot water, so to speak, in 1774 for importing tea, precipitating the Yorktown Tea Party.)
The winter pastime was established enough that “A Treatise on Skating” was published in London in 1772. A surprising number of pages explain how to put skates on properly so that you don’t have them slip, cut off your circulation, or cause a broken ankle:
The method which is taken by the common people is so well known, as not to need any particular description; they only make use of buckles, straps, rings, and heel pegs; which may be well enough for those who continue this diversion for a few minutes at a time, and think skating consists in an awkward shuffling over the ice, for ten or a dozen yards, for they seldom or ever are able to go any greater length without falling.
The pamphlet even spelled out in detail how to skate backwards or perform the “pleasing manoeuvre” of making the figure of a heart on one leg.
But the use of proper ice skates was probably the exception. Anyone can slide around on ice, right?
In Jan. 1774 Philip Vickers Fithian wrote in his journal, “At twelve we all went down to Mr. Carter’s millpond—none had skaits but Mr. Cunningham—we diverted ourselves on the Ice til two, when we went up to dinner.”
With or without the appropriate footwear, it seems certain that there was room in the lives of colonial Virginians for play alongside work and political debate. We hope you’ll make time for some too.