One of the things Miss Mercy and the Mad Farmer did at Colonial Williamsburg that was extremely fun was learning how to throw hand axes. It’s a small extra charge, $10 per person, but it’s well worth it. It was one of the first things we did on the last day we were at the museum and we were the only two people signed up for that time slot, which meant we got personalized instruction from the two people working the activity and we got to throw quite a bit. It was humorous, fun and by the end of it the Mad Farmer is planning on installing an axe target at the Homestead. At the end of the time there was a contest for the best throws to the target. I’ll give you a hint, Miss Mercy did not lose that contest.
There were actually a lot of really interesting things to see at Colonial Williamsburg. There are many craftspeople who are actually working and apprenticing in 18th Century Trades. We were able to visit, observe and talk with a lot of different people doing a lot of very fascinating things. We spent a long time at the Gunsmith shop, talking with the Smith and his apprentice. The Gunsmith makes both “guns” and “rifles” the difference being that “rifles” are “rifled”. I know, “duh”, but it was pointed out to us that in the 18th Century there weren’t shotguns, and rifles and smooth bores and etc. There were mostly just “guns”. We also found out that Gunsmiths are one of the more versatile trades. They actually do wood working (gunstocks), metal working (barrels and trigger assemblies), carving and horn work (making powder horns), Blacksmithing (forging the barrels and other parts and their own tools) and leatherwork (slings and other items). We also found out that all of the guns made at Colonial Williamsburg are commissioned before they are made and the have a long waiting list of people who want custom made guns.
There are many, many other trades you can experience that are just as fascinating. Wheelwright (makes everything to do with wagons and wheels), Coopers (makes barrels, buckets and wooden drinking utensils), Silversmiths, Tinsmiths (very cool), Joinery (door frames, windows, etc.), Carpenters (saw the trees, make the boards and build structures and items), Cabinet makers (fine carpentry), Printers, Bindery (books), Apothecary (herbs, medicines and what passes for doctoring – specialty leeches anyone?), Shoe makers, Candy makers, Dress makers, Potters, Gardeners, Brick makers, Tanners, and on and on. It really is best to plan on spending more than one day at Colonial Williamsburg. There is a lot of history on display, a lot of things you can learn and it’s all very entertaining.
The last place we happened upon, almost as we were leaving was the Gardens. We had thought that the common growing area was the gardens but that was not the case. We’re not sure how we missed that, because one of the reasons we put Colonial Williamsburg on our visit list was because we had seen a documentary on vegetable gardening and one of the things that was highlighted was the tomato table trellises that are used at Colonial Williamsburg.
The Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy probably spent almost 90 minutes just exploring the garden and chatting with the Gardener about fruit tree trellising, their Paw Paw trees, Bell Jars and all the other fascinating things that were going on there. At the end we ended up buying the book “Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way” by Wesley Greene. It’s a very informative book and well worth a read. We were sorry to leave the Garden and would definitely like to go back.
One thing we were surprised to learn is that Colonial Williamsburg is a non-profit that does not accept any Government funds. The original restoration project was sponsored by the John D. Rockefeller and he ended up spending something like $65 million dollars on the project before it was all said and done. His wife was one of the early collectors of “folk art” so there is also an extensive museum on site that features many of the items she collected. The current operating costs are covered by visitor fees and donations. We were glad we went and there is very good chance that we will return at some point in the future.
Next up: Cape Charles and the Really, Really, Very Bridge Day