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Fact or Fiction? Questions about Williamsburg, Virginia

November 30, 2010 by · Comments Off on Fact or Fiction? Questions about Williamsburg, Virginia 

Williamsburg Mythbusters

by Debi Lander, an AOL Travel Contributor

This article appears on the AOL Travel Website, however, the author’s photos have been substituted here.



Colonial Williamsburg is the quintessential living history museum. The site includes 301 acres with 88 original buildings, 500 reconstructed houses, shops, public buildings, working craftsmen and costumed interpreters. The popular tourist area, close to Richmond and Norfolk, is known as the Historic Triangle of Virginia, which also includes Jamestown and Yorktown. Take the following true-false quiz and see if you are one of the Williamsburg mythbusters.

1. The College of William & Mary, founded in 1693, is the second oldest college in the United States.

TRUE. Harvard was the first school of higher learning founded in 1636. Classes at the College of William & Mary began in temporary quarters in 1694, until the Wren Building was constructed. The Wren Building, which is the oldest college building in the country, has been returned to its original design by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The College of William and Mary was named in honor of the reigning English monarchs of the time, and was a key factor in establishing Williamsburg as capital of Virginia in 1698.

The College of William & Mary
327 Richmond Rd
Williamsburg, VA 23186

2. The popular fictional American Girl character, Felicity Merriman, hails from Colonial Williamsburg, and her story is set in the year 1774.

TRUE. Original American Girl doll founder, Pleasant Roland, wanted to find an appropriate Christmas present for her nieces. She disliked the high fashion Barbie-type dolls; hence, didn’t want to buy a baby doll. While in Williamsburg, she came up with the concept of American Girl dolls and formed The Pleasant Company. Ms. Pleasant followed her own American dream, selling off her company to Mattel in1998 for $700 million. And that’s not a Williamsburg urban legend.

Colonial Capitol Building, Williamsburg, VA

3. Patrick Henry made his “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” speech in the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg.

FALSE. Patrick Henry made his impassioned cry against the English in the House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775, in St. John’s Church in Richmond. Henry was calling for military action against the approaching British army. The urban myth claims that the crowd jumped up and shouted “To Arms! To Arms!” after the speech.

Historians have begun to question the authenticity of Henry’s alleged words, because they were unrecorded until 18 years after his death, but we will never know.

4. Virginia has had three capital cities: Jamestown, Williamsburg and Richmond.

TRUE. Jamestown was the first English settlement in the U.S., and also the first capital of Virginia. The capital moved to Williamsburg from 1698 to 1780, making it the political, social, and cultural hub in Virginia. It then moved on to Richmond at the urging of Thomas Jefferson, who feared the Williamsburg location was vulnerable to a British attack. During the Civil War, Richmond became the capital of the Confederacy and remains the capital of Virginia today.

5. Virginia was named for England’s “Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth I.

TRUE. Virginia was named for England’s famous unwed queen, Elizabeth I. Interestingly, Queen Elizabeth II has visited Colonial Williamsburg twice. Her original trip in 1957 celebrated the 350th anniversary of England’s first settlement in the New World at Jamestown. Her most recent visit in May 2007 occurred during the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement.

6. The establishment and reconstruction of the colonial capital of Williamsburg was the dream of an Episcopalian priest.

Sign marks the Tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street

TRUE. In 1907 Reverend W.A.R. Goodwin, the pastor of Williamsburg’s Bruton Parish Church, worked to save the original structure. Shortly thereafter, he moved away, but returned to the city in 1923. After seeing the deterioration of the other colonial-era buildings, he dreamed of saving them.

Goodwin looked for support and financing from a number of sources and finally inked a plan with philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Their combined efforts created Colonial Williamsburg, with detailed plans for the accurate restoration of much of the city.

Bruton Parish Episcopal Church
331 W Duke of Gloucester St
Williamsburg, VA 23185

7. Williamsburg fine dining restaurants, Christiana Campbell’s, Chowning’s, King’s Arms, and Shield’s, taverns prepare their food on the open hearth.

FALSE. Although the food served in these Williamsburg restaurants can be traced back to similar fare served to colonists, Williamsburg mythbusters know that the ingredients and preparation take place in modern kitchens. The servers, however, are dressed in period clothing and the dishes, flatware and goblets are authentic reproductions of 18th century items.

Christina Campbell’s Tavern
101 South Waller St
Williamsburg, Virginia 23185
Hours vary

Chowning’s Tavern
109 East Duke of Gloucester St
Williamsburg, Virginia 23185
Hours vary

King’s Arms Tavern
416 East Duke of Gloucester St
Williamsburg, Virginia 23185
Hours vary

Shields Tavern
422 East Duke of Gloucester St
Williamsburg, Virginia 23185
Hours vary

8. Colonial Williamsburg has been criticized for becoming almost a theme park of reenactments.

TRUE. Foundation president, Colin Campbell has said, “Presenting American history in a place that is both a tourist attraction and an education landmark leads to inevitable strains between entertainment and authenticity.”

Sadly, Williamsburg mythbusters, even the Foundation’s 1996 publication conceded that “Colonial Williamsburg bears the burden of criticism that the restored town appears too neat and clean, too ‘spick-and-span’, and too manicured to be believable.”

The Corner Chat- Williamsburg Reenactors




Williamsburg on Dwellable

Valles Caldera National Preserve or the Super Volcano of New Mexico

November 27, 2010 by · Comments Off on Valles Caldera National Preserve or the Super Volcano of New Mexico 

The vast Valles Caldera National Preserve

The stunning Jemez Mountains of Northern New Mexico were created by volcanic activity over thirteen million years and once stood higher than Mount Everest. An eruption, estimated at 500 times greater than the 1980 Mount St. Helens event, caused the super volcano to collapse.  A 12-mile wide crater formed, known as the Valles Caldera, and gradually filled with about 5,000 feet of ash and debris.

The Grand Valley existed as a home to Pueblo people for centuries until they eventually fled. Between 1860 and 2000 it functioned as the  privately owned Baca Ranch.  In 2000, Congress purchased 94,000 acres, deeding 5,000 acres to the Santa Clara Pueblo and designating the remaining 89,000 as the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Under the terms of the Act, the Preserve is managed by a trust and must produce sustaining income, a new and demanding  policy as opposed to being protected as a National Park.

On a recent trip to New Mexico, my group explored Bandelier National Monument in the morning (see previous blog post here) then headed, by car, up a pass into the Jemez Mountains. Upon partial descent an enormous field of gold suddenly appeared. The 180 degree head turning sight was so unexpected and vast, it justifies the term jaw dropping gorgeous. Everyone in the van gasped with oohs and aahs. The hollowed out valley looked like a former test site for an atomic bomb now overgrown with grass resembling melted butter.  Unfortunately rain started to fall and low lying clouds and fog crept in, limiting the visibility and photo opportunities.

The ponderosa pines at Valles Caldera

Nonetheless, we met with guides who shared their telescopes permitting us to spy on an elk herd of 2,500-3,500 in the distance. Seeing hundreds of animals as tiny specs put  the enormity of the area into perspective.  The majestic acreage  including Redondo Peak at an elevation of 11,254 feet encompasses forests, grasslands and wetlands which are open to the public.

We drove down into the Preserve through a flourishing grove of ponderosa pine and seized the opportunity to get out of the rain and picnic inside a three bedroom bunkhouse.The rustic but upscale rental property felt log-cabin cozy and the living room offered panoramic views of  the valley. The bunkhouse, another lodge which sleeps sixteen people, as well as primitive campsites can be reserved- think family reunion.

The Valles Caldera Trust is experimenting with methods to use, sustain and fund the Preserve with activities and events such as:  cross country skiing , snowshoeing, sleigh/wagon rides, fly fishing,  turkey hunting, equestrian trail riding, hiking, van tours, photography workshops, mountain biking, marathon races and archery contests. They also run educational workshops and camps while continually watching for ecological change.

A small cabin rests within the Valles Caldera

Rob Dixon, Recreation Program Manager said, “We keep the numbers of visitors small so you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself. This means you can really experience a sense of solitude. I’m sure you’ll find the visit unlike any other you’ve had in a park or national forest.” I was impressed with the park and the dedicated staff. Let’s hope this type of national  preservation program works.

Canada – A Delightful Day in Halifax

November 18, 2010 by · Comments Off on Canada – A Delightful Day in Halifax 

Canon Firing at the Citadel in Halifax

Following a delayed and circuitous route to Nova Scotia (don’t get me started with airline delays) I arrived in Halifax, Canada by evening. So did my friend, Barb, from Colorado and that left us with a day to explore the city before our photography workshop with Bryan Peterson. But, I was also left without my luggage.

We began walking in the direction of the Old Burying Ground across from Government House (circa 1799) which reminded me of civic buildings in Belfast or Edinburgh. I’d passed a statue of Queen Victoria on my taxi ride into town, giving another UK feel to the city.

The Old Burying Ground, Halifax

The haunting old cemetery dates back to 1749 and holds over 12,000 graves but only 1,200 headstones. A number of the markers are carved with detailed motifs common to the 1700-1800’s and contain poignant epitaphs honoring the deceased. Stopping here brought a  personal connection to the early maritime history of the province.

We strolled along Barrington Street to St Paul’s, the first church built in Nova Scotia and the oldest building in Halifax. The church survived the tremendous explosion of 1917 when two warships carrying TNT collided in the harbor. The resulting fire, said to be the largest blast before the atomic bomb, caused a death toll of 1,900 with an additional 9,000 injured.

Reaching City Hall, we headed uphill toward the Citadel, one of the most visited National Historic Sites in Canada. Rightly so;  this stronghold presents living history, costume and color, plus a grand view of the seaport below. The star-shaped enclosure was built in the19th century as a British fortification with multiple lookouts. I reckon it would be nearly impossible for a surprise attack.

Every noon the 78th Highlanders perform a gun ceremony and blast the canon atop the Citadel. Unfortunately, we just missed the event but encountered a friendly bagpiper dressed in a green plaid kilt.  Another member of the regiment, festooned with an ostrich-feathered hat, took us on a  tour of the musket galleries, garrison cells and parade grounds. Barb and I snapped away at the photo worthy changing of the guard and smaller canon firing by the royal artillery.

Changing of the Guard, The Halifax Citadel

We then stopped at corner of Argyle and Sackville Street for lunch at Durty Nelly’s, an authentic Irish Pub which was designed and built in Ireland and shipped to Canada. The restaurant sports an elongated wooden bar and apparently is ‘ the  place’ for listening to the Craic, what the Irish call storytelling and partying. FYI- My seafood chowder was mighty fine, too.

Halifax boasts a deep, natural harbor, actually the second-largest in the world which called for investigation.  A ferry crosses the harbor to and fro Dartmouth so we grabbed a seat and began photographing the skyline and waterfront. Apparently you can ride all day on your $2.50 ticket. Sadly, we did not leave time for  The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, the city’s signature museum. To be honest, my feet were killing me as I’d worn heeled boots on the plane and they were my only shoe choice.  If I ever return I’d like to see the Titanic displays in the museum. Halifax was closest to the tragic sinking of the oceanliner.

The Great Halifax Harbour

We strolled along the restored buildings on the wharf, a popular tourist haven, and stopped into Nova Scotia Crystal. To my surprise, we found crystal being mouth blown, hand-cut and etched right there in the factory. Irish artisans hoping to keep their craft alive opened the facility in 1996 and  it remains the singular crystal manufacturer in Canada. Each master craftsmen, from glass blower to cutter, have apprenticed their skills for a minimum of ten years. The  showroom pieces glisten in the light and tempt purchase, but watching the operation remains the best part.

Etching a goblet at Nova Scotia Crystal

After just one day in the walking- friendly city, I felt I had it under control. The layout is straight forward and pretty directionally unchallenging.  The thing I will remember was the aura of welcome emanating  from the citizens: the baristas in Starbucks,the regimental members in the Citadel, the waiters and waitresses and workers on the ferry. They couldn’t have made a tourist feel more appreciated, something I don’t usually perceive in American cities.   At the time, I did not know the awe inspiring sense of wonder  I would garner from the Oceanstone Inn near Peggy’s Cove, but, I left Halifax grateful to have taken the extra day to tour and connect.


If you go:

Beautiful Nova Scotia Crystal

The Halliburton, a boutique hotel, became an excellent choice for downtown lodging within easy walking distance of all the sites. The inn, now connected with three townhouse-style buildings, was built in 1809 for the Nova Scotia Supreme Court’s first chief justice. Their small restaurant offered service and food far above expected and really quite sensational.

Read also about lodging at the Oceanstone Inn in my previous article here: A Mystical Escape in Nova Scotia.

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