If you're looking for a slice of American history, you should look no further than the state of Virginia. Here, spread over just a few miles, lie four sites that are connected to the very beginnings of America – both as a colony and a nation.
This area has been named the “Historic Triangle” of Virginia, and consists of the following sites:
In the year 1607, 100 English men and boys landed on a peninsula and began the story of a land that would one day become America. There they built James Fort, creating the first permanent settlement in the “New World.” The settlers suffered starvation and bitterly cold winters, but somehow survived. The fort became Jamestown in 1619, and would go on to serve as the capital of the Virginia Colony until 1699.
Today, Historic Jamestown is run and preserved by the US National Park Service. When visiting this site, you can see archaeological excavations of the original James Fort (including a brick church tower that is nearly 400 years old), the remnants of old burial grounds, and statues of John Smith and Pocahontas. You can also visit an archaeological museum with artifacts that have been uncovered at the site and information that spans hundreds of years of history.
Just down the road from Historic Jamestown lies Jamestown Settlement, an interpretive center that is made up of an extensive museum (including an exhibit that tells the REAL story of Pocahontas and John Smith), a re-creation of a Powhatan Village like the one Pocahontas would have lived in, replicas of the ships the original 100 settlers came over on, and a re-creation of James Fort.
Unlike in the actual Jamestown site, here you can explore everything you see. You can sit in a Powhatan hut, climb aboard the Susan Constant ship, and even put on some heavy plate armor in order to take some photos in the re-created James Fort.
From Jamestown, the next point to visit on the Historic Triangle is Colonial Williamsburg. When the capital of Virginia was changed in 1699, it shifted to a town called Middle Plantation. Middle Plantation would soon be renamed Williamsburg, and it was the focal point of Virginia politics until 1780, when the capital moved once again (to the present-day capital of Richmond).
Today, Williamsburg represents a re-created colonial city around the time of the American Revolution. It's the top tourist destination in Virginia, mostly because of the care and detail that has been put into the re-creation. It is referred to as a “living history museum” and is populated by costumed re-enactors representing everyone from George Washington to Benedict Arnold. You can explore nearly every building in Williamsburg, from the Governor's mansion to the shoe smith's shop, and watch the city's characters interact with one another just as they would have back in the 1770s. Also, don’t miss the chance to walk the beautiful grounds of the 2nd oldest university in the nation – The College of William and Mary. Often called one of the best small universities in the country, William and Mary has taught luminaries such as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Tyler and more.
The last point in the Historic Triangle is Yorktown, the site of the battlefield where British General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington in 1781. This was the last major battle of the American Revolution, therefore solidifying Yorktown's place in American history.
There are multiple sites to visit here, including the Yorktown Battlefield, Yorktown Victory Center, and the town of Yorktown itself. Yorktown Battlefield is operated by the National Park Service and includes a self-guided driving tour of various battlefield sites (stop in at the visitor's center to pick up a numbered map). The Victory Center focuses more on living history, offering a re-created Continental Army encampment and farm for visitors to explore.
Have you been to Virginia’s Historic Triangle? What did you think?