Day 51 – Virginia’s James River Plantations

Scout, Petey and I had a busy day today.  We left the Walmart parking lot and arrived in Colonial Williamsburg only a short time later around 10 o’clock.  I got so lucky…I followed the brown signs to the area, passed up a few parking lots and ended up pulling into the lot right next to the visitor’s center aside the most historic part of the area.  We took a 1.2 mile walk down Duke of Gloucester Street and back.  The street was lined with sites where “artists” (for lack of a better word) dressed in colonial wear demonstrated a variety of colonial practices such as wig making, blacksmithing, tailoring, and more.

The old Capitol building stood at the end of the street and the Governor’s Palace could be found after a two block walk at the end of the palace green.  I didn’t tour any of the shops or buildings as I had visited Williamsburg as a 6th grader for our class history trip.  It was kind of interesting to note what stuck out in my mind as a 12 year old as compared to now.  I did try to find a cache nearby the Capitol.  I know it was in a nearby tree, but I was trying to look in a stealthy manner as several tourists and even colonial folks were all around.  Not to mention, being in this area is just too close to government security.  I didn’t want to be mistaken for a terrorist.

After our walk through Williamsburg, we wound along Colonial Parkway through forests of fall foliage to several different plantations.  The first stop was at Sherwood Forest Plantation, home of John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States.  The buildings on this property, some dating back to 1680, have remained in constant use and include the big house, the servant’s house, the milk house, the smoke house, the tobacco barn and a few others.  The big house is one of the longest frame houses in America. The grounds (3,500 acres in total) include a variety of gardens, swamp and marsh lands, forests and even a pet cemetery.  I met a lady here from Del Mar that had lost her sim card for her camera with all of her pictures from the previous day as well as several from a trip to France…BUMMER!  I helped her look for a while, but didn’t see it.  Losing my pictures is my worst nightmare!!

We moved on to Berkeley Plantation, site of the first Thanksgiving in America, held by Captain Woodliffe and his 38 settlers after their ship Margaret landed here on December 4, 1619.  The site, also home to the first whisky distillery in America (1621), was at one time home to Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the birthplace of President William Henry Harrison.  During part of its history, the house was occupied by Union troops where taps was composed.  Further, it withstood a variety of wars as evidenced by a cannonball that can be found in the outer wall of one of the buildings. The home fell into disrepair after three years of failed tobacco crops and some 45 years after the Civil War, the property was purchased for timber land in auction by a once young Scottish drummer boy who occupied the home with the Union Troops.  The house has remained in the same family since.

We briefly stopped by Shirley Plantation known for its perfectly portioned Queen Anne house before heading to Richmond.  While many historic buildings were destroyed in the wars, others survived.  Inside the train station looked like a mansion.   It was extraordinary.  Just next to and below it were the remnants of slave holding faciliites as across the street was the slave trading district.  A few other buildings of note are the oldest residential structure in Richmond which houses the works of Edgar Allen Poe and the Old City Hall, now a courts building that looks like a palace both inside and out.  There was statue a nearby which was a virtual cache, so I have logged Virginia!

Given there were three choices for Walmart parking lots in Richmond, I decided to drive toward my next destination to a smaller city.  I settled in Charlottesville where I met Laura at The Outback Steakhouse.  She was my waitress, but I think she felt bad that I was sitting alone and waiting of food, so she just sat down and started talking.  It was so great.  She is Canadian, but has her green card, and is waitressing while putting herself through school.  She wants to be a dermatologist – lots of years to go!  She was truly a delight.  I hope it all works out for her.

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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