Many people are more familiar with the names of the component parts of this park than they are with the whole. Colonial National Historical Park includes Yorktown Battlefield, Jamestown and the Colonial Parkway, and a great time for a visit is coming up in mid-October.
It began on the swampy marshes of Jamestown in 1607. It ended on the battle-scarred landscape of Yorktown in 1781. It was 174 years of hope, frustration, adventure and growth that saw a lonely settlement of 104 men and boys grow into a nation of 13 colonies of 3 million people, of many races and many beliefs. Jamestown and Yorktown mark the beginning and end of English Colonial America.
Given the geographical size of England's colonial ambitions in America, the fact that those two key events occurred only a few miles apart in Tidewater Virginia is truly remarkable. That quirk of history does make it convenient for present-day Americans who'd like to learn about the story first-hand. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your visit.
You can visit the sites in the park in any order you choose, but if you'd like to follow the story in chronological order, begin at Jamestown.
• You'll find the park facilities at Jamestown described these days as "Historic Jamestowne," partly in an effort to reduce confusion between the NPS site and the state-operated Jamestown Settlement, which is located just outside the national park. If you're looking for the reconstructed "three ships" used by the English in 1607, they're located at Jamestown Settlement.
• Don’t miss a stop at the Jamestown Glasshouse, located on the right almost as soon you enter the Jamestowne area. One of the first commercial enterprises attempted in the new English colony was glassblowing, and costumed craftsmen produce common glass objects very much as they must have done almost 400 years ago. You can purchase examples of their work—unique and quality souvenirs of your visit. The Glasshouse is operated by the park's cooperating association, and sales help support park programs.
• Ranger-guided tours and living history programs are conducted at Jamestowne, and you can stroll the site of the former town on your own.
• A new visitor center was completed at Jamestowne for the sites' 400th anniversary in 2007. A short walk from the visitor center, on property belonging to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, is a separate archeological excavation of the original fort and exhibits of items found during that ongoing dig. Youngsters will likely want to stop to see the statue of Pocahontas, which is also located on the APVA property.
• The second key location in the park, Yorktown, is a 23-mile scenic drive from Jamestown via the Colonial Parkway. This trip is especially pretty in the spring and fall, and includes some beautiful views of the York and James Rivers.
• The privately-operated Colonial Williamsburg is located about halfway between Jamestown and Yorktown, and if you'd prefer not to drive, the Historic Triangle Shuttle is an option. It connects Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown, and service is available daily from March 16 through November 1, 2009.
• If you're driving between Jamestown and Yorktown, be aware you'll need to follow a short, marked detour between Williamsburg and Jamestown, due to repairs underway to a bridge that was damaged last summer by a boating accident.
• Yorktown includes two primary attractions, the historic village and the battlefield. The usual advice for any park visit applies: begin at the park visitor center, where the short orientation film and museum will refresh your memory about the basic facts of the battle where we secured our independence from Great Britain. You'll then be ready for a ranger program, or a self-guiding driving tour of Yorktown Battlefield.
• The seven-mile Battlefield Tour Road takes about one hour and will give you a first-hand look at the place where troops under Washington and his French allies besieged the British. To see original and reconstructed earthworks and siege lines used by troops of both sides, visit the Moore House, the location where the terms of the British surrender were negotiated, and Surrender Field, where the British troops laid down their arms. That surrender of 8,300 troops effectively ended the American Revolution.
Check at the visitor center for hours the Moore House is open for tours. Don't fail to park your car and take a short stroll at several locations on this drive, including the stop for Redoubts 9 and 10 and Surrender Field.
• If time allows, you can drive the nine-mile Encampment Tour Road, which takes about one-half hour and winds past the locations of the allied encampments during the siege, including Washington's Headquarters. This section of the tour begins at Surrender Field and is a pleasant drive through the forest, but has less to offer history-buffs than the Battlefield Loop.
• Take a walking tour of the village of Yorktown, established in 1691 to regulate trade and collect taxes on both imports and exports for Great Britain. Check at the visitor center for hours you can visit the Nelson House on Main Street. It was the home of Thomas Nelson, Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and commander of the Virginia Militia during the Siege of Yorktown.
• If you visit between March 16 and November 1, you can use the free Yorktown Trolley to get around the village area, but not the battlefield tour road.
• A prime time to visit Yorktown is coming up on October 19. The date of the British surrender is marked by an annual celebration which includes a parade and tactical demonstrations by the Commander-in-Chief's Guard. Other special activities will occur this year during the Yorktown Victory Weekend, October 17-19. Click here for details about the event.
The upcoming autumn season is an especially pleasant time to visit this area. The park website has additional information to help plan your visit.
Detailed information is available at the Colonial National Historical Parkwebsite.
For relevant maps, visit this site.
The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) is notable for its key role in the discovery, preservation, and interpretation of historically significant sites and artifacts at Jamestown Island, other York Peninsula communities, and throughout Virginia for more than a century. The Park Service continues to cooperate with the APVA in many productive ways, most conspicuously in the joint administration of Historic Jamestowne and the discovery, preservation, and interpretation of Jamestown archeological remains.
The Friends of Green Spring is an NGO that works in behalf of the Green Spring unit of Colonial National Historical Park. In 2003, for example, the Friends of Green Spring initiated a campaign to raise $60,000 for operations and $30,000 for a Park Service matching grant to conduct archeological work.
Over the years, the Park Service has made a number of cooperative arrangements with the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, which operates the Jamestown Settlement as well as the Yorktown Victory Center. For example, the two entities sell combination tickets that cover admission for both the park and the foundation sites.