Karen and I absolutely loved living together in Massachusetts. It is a place of beauty from the Blue Mountains to Cape Ann to Cape Cod. It is a place that has mastered the culinary arts with those resources locally available to it. And it is a place of extraordinary history from the very beginning, in deference to Jamestown, of the colonization of North America by European immigrants.
When Karen moved to Massachusetts, I hardly knew where to start. There is so much to see, so much to experience, and so much to taste there. So we started at the beginning, Plimouth Plantation. I was brought up in Plymouth County, so what better place for us to start our exploration together. As disappointing as the actual Plimouth Rock is for most people, the experience of the recreation of the first settlement by the Pilgrims is more than you would expect. Add to that the Mayflower III (third rebuild of the original) and you can easily begin to step back in time and feel the hardships of our earliest pioneers. At Plimouth the re-creators use 1620 English and remain in character despite the modern tourists. It is a unique experience, although sometimes frustrating to try to understand how everyday tasks were done.
For many years I had lived and worked in Boston. Landmarks like the Old North Church, USS Constitution, the Custom House (site of the Boston Massacre, 1770), the Boston Commons and Boston Gardens, and dozens of other wonderful places were commonplace to me. It was fascinating to watch Karen experience these places for the first time and I loved watching her at each new place we visited. We dined in luxury at the Parker House, shopped and ate at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and ate at every fried clam, fried scallop, and lobster roll joint we could find. It was a magical time of discovery for us. One of our favorite places to visit became Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, MA.
Where Plimouth Plantation was set in 1620 and the re-creators stayed in character, Sturbridge Village portrays the story of everyday life in a small rural New England town during the years 1790 to 1840. The re-creators gladly stepped out of character to ‘translate’ the various shops, farms, and activities. If there was ever a place to take you away from the hustle of everyday life, it is Sturbridge Village. We became members of the Village and frequented there often. In addition, the Publick House Inn became our favorite celebration point for our Anniversary and the passing of the ‘fire of the Yule log from this year to the next’. We have stayed at the Inn many times and enjoyed the rooms filled with antiques and the marvelous food. They even have a full Thanksgiving dinner on the menu every day! When the children were born we included them in our ‘Yule log’ celebrations and exposed them to Sturbridge as often as possible.
But the transfer to Virginia meant leaving that whole life behind. And while we would try to visit the old life every summer, we clearly needed to find pursuits of interest in Virginia. Not surprisingly we discovered Colonial Williamsburg. Where Sturbridge Village was a rural small town, 1790 to 1840, Colonial Williamsburg is a largely authentic and restored large city that was the capital of Colonial Virginia. For most of the 18th century, Williamsburg was the center of government, education, and culture in the Colony of Virginia. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Monroe, James Madison, George Wythe, Peyton Randolph, and others molded democracy in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States here. This was a very cool place.
Where Plimouth Plantation was ‘don’t touch just listen’, and Sturbridge Village was interactive as a living museum, Colonial Williamsburg is a ‘participative’ living museum. On any given day it was likely to meet George Washington or Thomas Jefferson (or one of many others) walking toward you on the sidewalk. He might ask you how ‘you faired today’ and you could engage the conversation in any direction you chose. There were re-enacted trials of criminals where you would be a member of the jury. There you could learn colonial manners, dance, military drill, fife and drum, learn to make a ladies bonnet at the millenary, or debate in the Courthouse building. Patrick, on one special occasion at the age of 10, engaged in a debate of colonial legal principles with a rather astonished (and pleasantly surprised) colonial re-enactor. It would foretell a boy who would go on to major in Philosophy in college.
Each season had something special to offer there. The summer offered outdoor demonstrations and participation in most events. The pinnacle of those events was the 4th of July celebration of course. The other season we enjoyed the most was the Christmas season. Every house and building is decorated, as it would have been in 1770 and despite the cold, it was always exciting to see and participate in the special events of this time of year.
Another special part of the experience was the Inns. There is the Woodlands Hotel and Suites that is a traditional hotel that is attached to the visitor center. Then there is the Williamsburg Lodge that features beautiful accommodations in a modern setting. And lastly the Williamsburg Inn, decorated in authentic antiques and carpets. When we arrived in our modern automobile I felt somehow out-of-place, almost wishing I had a horse-drawn carriage instead. All three Inns provide easy access to every part of Williamsburg. The College of William and Mary is located at the west end of town and the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club is located on the south side.
The best part of Williamsburg, and the part that always kept us coming back year after year, was the Taverns. Campbell’s, Shields, and Kings Arms Taverns have some of the best old world food you can imagine. You are brought into areas of wide pine flooring, rustic tables and chairs, and delicious smells from the kitchen not far away. The fireplaces are usually lit and during dinner you might be entertained by a traditional minstrel or two. There are times when you could imagine the founding fathers debating the principles of a new nation at the next table. But if you were in the mood for some fun, the place to go is Chowning’s Tavern. After dinner the Tavern is set up for a number of the traditional games of the time. Some involved dice, some involved skill, but all are great fun for the whole family. We have spent many an hour at Chowning’s playing those wonderful games.
But the kids grew up and moved on to other things. The business of life takes us in so many different directions and Plimouth, Sturbridge, and Williamsburg were just three examples of the fun and learning we had as a family together.
© J T Weaver