Jamestown was the first permanent English colony in America, founded in 1607, more than a decade prior to the Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth. Three small ships carrying 104 men made landfall at Jamestown (which is actually an island) on May 13, 1607. They moored the ships to trees, came ashore the following day, and never left. The newly formed town served as the capital of Virginia during the 17th century.
Jamestown National Historic Site
The original Jamestown National Historic Site (1368 Colonial Pkwy., 757/856-1200, , daily 8:30am-4:30pm, $14) is run by the National Park Service and APVA Preservation Virginia. Purchase your admission ticket at the visitor center (your ticket also grants access to the Yorktown National Battlefield), which shows an informative 18-minute video that is a good start to orienting yourself with the site. From there, continue to “Old Towne,” the original settlement site and explore it on foot. Highlights include the original Memorial Church tower (the oldest structure still standing in the park, dating back to 1639), a burial ground (many of the first colonists died here), a reconstructed sample of a “mud-and-stud” cottage, and the foundations of several buildings. Another “don’t miss” is the APVA Jamestown Rediscovery excavation, where remains of the original James Fort built in 1607 are being uncovered at an archaeological dig site open to visitors. History programs and children’s events are held in the summer months.
Continue on to “New Towne,” where you can explore the part of Jamestown that was developed after 1620. The foundations of many homes were excavated in the 1930s and 1950s and replicas can be seen throughout the site. Next, take a drive along the “Loop Drive,” a five-mile wilderness road. Be sure to stop to read the interpretive signs and paintings along the route to learn how inhabitants used the island’s natural resources, or visit the Glasshouse to see artisans creating glass products as glassblowers did back in the early 1600s.
The Jamestown Settlement (2110 Jamestown Rd., 757/253-4838, daily 9am-5pm, $16) is one of the most popular museums in Coastal Virginia. It is a living museum that recreates and honors the first permanent English-speaking settlement in the country and takes visitors back to the 1600s. Costumed guides share wonderful facts about a Powhatan Village, and replicas of the three ships that sailed from England under the command of Captain Christopher Newport and eventually landed at Jamestown. The ships are a highlight of the museum, and the costumed crew does an excellent job of answering questions and showing off every nook and cranny of the ships.
The James Fort is another main attraction at the museum. There, visitors can see authentic meals being prepared, witness arms demonstrations, and even try on armor. Ninety-minute tours of the outdoor interpretive areas are available daily at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. Thanksgiving is a great time to visit as special events are held in the museum. Combined entry tickets to Colonial Williamsburg and the Yorktown Victory Center can be purchased, and bus service between the sites is offered during the summer season.
Jamestown is nine miles southwest of Colonial Williamsburg along the Colonial Parkway. From mid-March through October, the Historic Triangle Shuttle (daily 9am-3:30pm every hour and a half) provides transportation service between the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center and Jamestown via the Colonial Parkway. There is no charge if you have purchased a ticket to either historic area. Boarding passes can be obtained from the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center (101 Visitor Center Dr., Williamsburg, 757/220-7645, daily 8:45am-5pm).