Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens

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Victor Block

Live interpreters and artisans bring the 18th century to life at Colonial Williamsburg, portraying everything from court defendants to blacksmiths to cooks. Williamsburg served as the capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780, and many buildings have been restored to their former glory.
Photo courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg

It is the 1770s in England’s Virginia Colony as the pounding of a sheriff’s wooden staff on the floor calls the court to order. Attorney James Hubbard prepares to defend his client. Centering his neat wig and smoothing the frilly lace sleeves of his shirt, Hubbard bows to the bench and begins to plead his case.

Not far away sits a quaint village reminiscent of Renaissance Italy. It is adorned by statuary and fountains against a backdrop of lush gardens. Replicas of ancient ruins and the mouth-watering aroma of pizza add to the illusion of having been transported to Europe.

These imaginary trips — one back in time, the other to another continent — are among the reasons those with an interest in history and travel are attracted to Williamsburg, Va.

In Colonial Williamsburg, the well-preserved original setting enables a realistic immersion in early American history. Busch Gardens, a short drive away, entertains guests in “hamlets” that depict aspects of life in six European countries, combining Old World charm with the 21st century thrills of an adventure park.

Bringing history to life

The courtroom scene involving James Hubbard is repeated today exactly where it took place when Virginia was a colony. The real James Hubbard actually lived and practiced law in Williamsburg, and the actor-impersonator who depicts him today bases his interpretation on documented facts.

Hubbard plays but a small part in a fascinating tableau of reenactments, as well as tours led by factually-based characters and a wide variety of other interpretive programs that combine to make Colonial Williamsburg unique.

For nearly a century, from 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg, which was named for King William III of England, served as the capital of the Virginia Colony. That sprawling settlement encompassed the territory of eight present-day states, stretching west to the Mississippi River and north as far as the Great Lakes.

In its heyday, the town of about 2,000 residents was the cultural, social and political center of the 13 colonies. Before Thomas Jefferson relocated the Virginia capital to Richmond in 1781, he and other patriots, including George Washington and Patrick Henry, frequented its shops, taverns and other establishments.

While Williamsburg’s fortunes declined after the Revolution, the town and the important role it played in the New World were not forgotten. In 1926, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. launched an effort to restore the setting to its former splendor. Surviving Colonial structures were meticulously renovated to their 18th century appearance, and missing buildings were reconstructed on their original sites.

Today, more than 500 history-touched buildings — imposing public structures and modest dwellings, bustling taverns and crowded shops — line tree-shaded streets that echo the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages.

Costumed cooks and carpenters

But it is primarily the people who bring Williamsburg to life. Character interpreters dressed in Colonial style clothing depict real-life former residents of the town, conversing with visitors in period grammar as they go about their daily tasks.

Cooks in the George Wythe House follow “receipts” (recipes) from 18th-century cookbooks to prepare authentic dishes on the hearth. Half of Colonial Williamsburg’s population was black, and many interpreters demonstrate aspects of their lives as well.

Costumed artisans use 18th century tools to fashion items that closely resemble those made by their Colonial predecessors, including reproduction toys, pottery and pewterware. The bookbinder carefully hand-stitches cover boards for a new volume.

A silversmith creates wares that would have appealed to the colony’s wealthier members. A shoemaker fashions men’s boots “with good thread well-twisted.” Among other historic tradespeople are a basket weaver, cabinet maker and milliner. The results of all these craftsmen’s efforts are available for purchase in stores along Duke of Gloucester Street.

Leaving no stone unturned, figuratively as well as literally, historians, archaeologists and others transform research and construction projects into learning experiences for the public.

For example, trials take place in the courthouse which has been reconstructed as closely as possible to its original form. Architectural historians scoured plans, court records and other documents for clues to its former appearance. Then costumed carpenters used tools and techniques of Colonial times to restore the building, as visitors looked on.

You may also find yourself attending a theatrical comedy or a traveling magic show reminiscent of entertainment in the 18th century.

Europe from a roller coaster

Irish dancers are among the many performing groups at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, whose “hamlets” depict aspects of life in six European countries.
Photo courtesy of Busch Gardens

While Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum that introduces visitors to England’s Virginia Colony, an area of nearby Busch Gardens transports guests to a replica of the Mother Country itself.

Banbury Cross is one area in that combination theme and adventure park. It recalls and replicates an English market town, and incorporates familiar touches like red telephone booths and a reproduction of the famous clock tower.

For daredevils of all ages who enjoy action-packed excitement, the park promises, and delivers, plenty of thrills. Rides range from tame to terrifying, including an extensive collection of roller coasters. Among the choices are the Tempesto, which transports passengers through a complete inversion, Apollo’s Chariot, with a top speed of 73 miles per hour, and the 13-story tall Loch Ness Monster, with its double-looping ride.

Back at ground level, the scene is much more tranquil. The setting includes 10 “hamlets” that present inviting mini-environments themed to villages in England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany and Italy.

Each of these areas reflects the architecture, culture and even foods of the country it represents. The most prominent attraction in “England” is a double-size reproduction of the Globe Theater — which was originally built in 1599 and became world famous as the stage where the plays of William Shakespeare were performed.

A popular feature in “Scotland” is the Highland Stables, where guests may interact with border collies, sturdy Clydesdale horses and black-faced sheep.

A three-story tall representation of a 17th-century glockenspiel is a highlight of the “German” village, and its marching knights, soldiers and dancing criers spring to life every 15 minutes. The hamlet’s brown-timbered buildings echo typical medieval architecture, and provide a backdrop for members of a brass band clad in traditional lederhosen who fill the streets with music.

Gardens galore

Along with their many other attractions, both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens have great appeal to garden lovers.

Plantings in Colonial Williamsburg range from the formal splendor surrounding the Governor’s Palace, to utilitarian kitchen plots that once provided a bounty of fruits, vegetables and herbs. As with all other aspects of the outdoor living history museum, meticulous research resulted in the re-creation of historically accurate layouts, flowers and trees.

Visitors to Busch Gardens soon understand the reason for the second word in its name. Its lush, rolling forested landscape has been named the “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park” by the National Amusement Park Historical Association every year since 1990. In keeping with attention to authenticity, many of the plants that adorn the setting are native to Western Europe.

 Such small details add to the appeal of both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens, and help to provide experiences that combine historically based charm with present-day entertainment.

Throw in the multi-generational family fun available at neighboring Great Wolf Lodge (see “Join the kids in this waterpark adventure” on page 20), and it’s easy to understand the combined attraction of the three for people of all ages.

If you go

Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg have a choice of accommodations at hotels, more intimate inns and guest houses.

The most meaningful immersion in history is available for those who overnight in refurbished and reconstructed original buildings that in Colonial days served as taverns, kitchens and slave quarters, among other practical uses. Economy accommodations for standard rooms begin as low as $40 a night and escalate to a maximum of $849 for a luxury suite.

The selection of places to eat is equally varied. At the colorfully named Huzzah! BBQ Grille, light fare includes chicken or pork quesadillas ($8.95) and Caesar or house salad ($7.95).

More formal settings and servings are available at four historic taverns. Chowning’s is a reconstructed alehouse named for its original proprietor, Joseph Chowning, who opened for business in the mid-18th century. A large bowl of bean soup ($9) is hearty enough to serve as a meal, as are Welsh rarebit ($9), whose name originated in 18th century Great Britain, and a Virginia pork barbeque sandwich ($11).

For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-844-574-2733 or visit For information about Busch Gardens, call 1-800-343-7946 or see