The Art Museums
Williamsburg Travel Blog› entry 1 of 3 › view all entries
The current entrance to the museums is through the Public Hospital. This brick building served as a mental institution for over 100 years. An exhibit on the main level looks at how the treatment of the mentally ill evolved over those decades, how at first the patients were treated little better than prisoners, then as they were given more freedoms and privileges, and then how the treatment became more confining again although not to the original levels.
To enter the art museums, we went down a long flight of stairs and through a short hallway past a gift shop. We came out in a skylight atrium with the folk art on the right and the decorative arts on the left.
We began our tour with the folk art, the first exhibit being one on chinaware: display cases filled with plates and cups in quite a range of patterns and colors. A TV showed how some of the pieces were made. Our walk through the rest of this museum was in a bit of a reverse order from most visitors, I think, because we veered towards the musical instruments (both of us the products of years of band).
My friend Kate nannies for a family whose grandma lives in that area and had offered a place to stay for free; knowing my penchant for history, she asked if I wanted to go. Of course, I said yes but our schedules didn't match up until this Labor Day weekend. She drove down to MD from PA on Friday night; Saturday morning armed with printed directions, a bag of pretzels and one of Twizzlers, and a full tank of gas.
Three hours and several snacks later, we arrived at the Williamsburg Visitor Center where we purchased tickets and then hopped on the shuttle to the historic town. After getting off the bus at the Capitol, we joined the crowd waiting for the beginning of the first re-enactment of the day.
Dressed in a deep red overcoat, Lord Dunmore walked out onto a balcony of the brick Capitol to address the crowd. He spoke of the Boston Tea Party, the decision by Parliament to close the Harbor, and the proposal by the patriots for a day of fasting. He urged listeners not to participate in the fast, a request met with mixed opinions.
Kate and I then wandered down the street where we visited the apothecary shop, wandered in a backyard or two, watched a basket maker, and listened to an exchange between a mother determined to stand by her Loyalist husband and a daughter torn between her father and brother's views.
After watching the exchange, Kate and I backtracked to the Shield's Tavern. It had just opened so we were some of the first diners to enter the basement. The cool air was welcome, our waitress friendly, the food ok. My sandwich was filling although a bit salty; the potato wedges were really good. We also enjoyed a short visit from a re-enactor who stopped at each table to ask where we were from and how we were enjoying our visit.
Following our tavern lunch, we walked over to the Capitol building and entered for a tour. This brick structure is basically two separate buildings with a bridge joining them. Each building has a lower room with a rounded end; three large windows in that wall let along with more rectangular windows on the side walls let in light.
Kate called the grandma when we finished our tour to verify how late we could arrive at her house that evening. Then we walked over to the Gaol which was the jail. We entered the small front room and peeked into the private bedroom of the jailer. Our guide speedtalked through his speech before sending us out to the back and four cells (some of which still had the original back walls). Kate and I compared the size of the cells to our dorm rooms in college.
We continued our visit at the Magazine with its walls covered in guns. We stopped by the Guardhouse and got a chance to throw very light hatchets at a faux enemy. The idea was to knock the hat off; I wasn't even close :)
With the courthouse closed for maintenance, we scotted up the road to the Randolph House where only a few minutes ago emergency vehicles with flashing lights had created an unusual scene (someone had passed out; the day was hot).
Kate stopped to buy a water and then we headed into the Governor's Palace. We started in a room in one of the side buildings and then cut into the front yard and up the main steps. The entrance hall induced a sense of awe with its walls covered in guns and swords--exactly the effect wanted by the governor.
We exited into the back gardens of the house. We wandered through a small maze and past some flower beds before finding the kitchen. Here I was suprised to discover that the foods on display were real, actually prepared on sight (the flies buzzing around made more much sense at that point). We finished our walk with a short trip down into the cellars where the temperature drop was quite welcome.
With the 5:00 closing time quickly approaching, we squeezed in one more tour, the Wythe House. This one opened with a short speech in the garden; the rest of the time was ours to wander the property. We walked past growing peppers and watermelons and paused to watch the basketmakers. Inside the house we peeked into the various rooms which included another green dining room and an office with jars containing animal specimans.
We finished our visit to the historic area by just walking down the street and enjoying the atmosphere. However, our time in Williamsburg was not yet complete since our tickets included the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museums just around the corner.