Axe Throwing and 18th Century Gardens

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.

Tomato Table Trellis

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

Colonial Williamsburg Day 2

So the Farmer and Miss Mercy got up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (just kidding, we slept in a little bit, we were on vacation) and then used our new electric kettle and our new stainless steel French Press to make our favorite coffee (Seattle’s Best #5 in case you are wondering) before we ventured forth to sample the “Continental Breakfast”. The coffee was fantastic and a welcome start to the morning (we’ll probably never travel without taking our own coffee again thanks Jack Spirko)! Then your traveling Duo went and had “breakfast”.

First, I always wonder what “Continent” the Continental breakfast is from. Based on the strange things that hotels provide now I’m pretty sure it’s not North America. Sadly, I think that Miss Mercy and the Farmer are going to have to start figuring out how to make breakfast on the road ourselves. Hotel fare that is “free with your room” is worth about what you pay for it. Anyway, we muddled through eating “breakfast” while having a discussion about if any of the food was actually food. The outcome of the food conversation was inconclusive so we left for Colonial Williamsburg.

Since we had purchased our tickets the day before we were able to bypass the very long lines waiting to purchase tickets and go right through the visitors center and make our way into the Colonial Williamsburg Living Museum. There are two ways into the history museum, one is to go to the bus stop at the back of the visitor center and take the bus to one of the various stops around the town. The second way is to take the Time Walk Back.

Going backwards from 21st Century to the 18th

The Time Walk has you cross a bridge as you enter the Museum site. Embedded in the bridge are bronze plaques that describe events in reverse order that takes you from the 21st Century back to the 18th Century. The events are things like “TV hasn’t been invented”, “You can only travel 70 miles per day maximum” and finally “You are a subject of His Majesty the King”. A sobering thought to a Midwestern Mad Farmer, but highly effective in changing mindset as you enter the area. In case you are wondering, if you are exiting the site from the other direction the plaques guide you back to the 21st Century.

As you follow the path the first thing you come upon is a recreation of a typical plantation of the times. The entire Museum experience is different than you might think, at least different than the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy thought it might be. The web site describes Colonial Williamsburg as a “Living History Museum” basically stating that the community has been re-created and functions like it did back in the 18th Century. It’s true that people do dress in period costumes and that there are a lot of craftspeople that practice doing things in the technology of the time. But at a lot of the tours it’s people dressed costume saying “Welcome to the Palace”, “Welcome to the Palace”, “Please stand over there”, “Welcome to the Palace”, “I’ll be killing myself from boredom right after the tour”, “Welcome to the Palace”. Okay, not everything is as dramatic as that but we’re kind of used to Cos-Players and Frontier Folk at Silver Dollar City, who live to be in the worlds they are portraying.

Do not take that to mean that we didn’t enjoy ourselves, we did, just somethings didn’t quite make it backwards to the time. We had an excellent brown ale at Chowning’s Pub, but the “Turkey Trencher” we ordered was basically a turkey sandwich on flat bread. Pretty sure that Trenchers were slabs of bread the food was served on and used to sop up gravy and such at the end of the meal, so it was good, but not exactly authentic. They had an outdoor grill area where you could get burgers and hot dogs off a gas grill. Not exactly 18th Century. But the experience was very enlightening and we did learn a lot and there are a lot of things to see.

Next up: Axe Throwing and 18th Century Gardens

Colonial Williamsburg Day 1

We got into Williamsburg a little earlier than expected and decided to go straight to Colonial Williamsburg and check it out, so we would know where to go the next day. There were clear signs from the highway to the Visitors Center and we had the address programmed into Waze as a backup. I typically use Google Maps but we are trying out Waze on this trip. Like Maps and Garmin, none of the travel apps are perfect and Waze has some interesting features and some not-so-interesting quirks. The most annoying of which is repeatedly telling you that you will be turning in 1000 feet, 950 feet, etc. until the last 100 feet when it seems that it forgot to mention that you just passed your turn. I will say that trait, along with confusing a goat path with a highway did not endear itself to Miss Mercy (more on that later).

The Colonial Williamsburg parking lot is easy to get around in and parking was free, perhaps because arrived after 3 pm. Once inside we talked to the lady and gentlemen at the information booth. The first thing the lady attendant said to the Mad Farmer was “How can we not help you”? The Farmer, smart-ass that he can be replied “Don’t want to ruin your record, so we’ll be leaving” and turned around and headed back to the front door. Info Lady started laughing herself silly, Info Dude actually laughed out loud and then the Duo from Kansas was able to ask the questions they came to ask. We were informed that if we purchased tickets after 3 pm that they would be good for either the following day (if a single day pass) or good for that evening and the next three days (if purchasing a multi-day pass). Sounded good to us so we purchased our multi-day pass, looked around the visitors center for a bit and then went to find lodging.

Coming into the park (is it a park? it’s at least a historical site) we had seen signs for “Anvil Camping”. Because Miss Mercy and the Farmer love to camp, and because we haven’t been camping in a while, our gear was in the back of the Truckster. Our thought being if we ran into camping space near something we wanted to see we would save a few bucks and enjoy nature at the same time. A camp ground right near Historical Williamsburg sounded like a match made in heaven so we went to check it out. I admit to wondering what our faithful readers consider to be “camping”? We would love to actually hear from you about this, so please feel free to let us know what you consider “camping” in the comments.

The Mad Farmer thinks of camping as being somewhere secluded, or at least semi-secluded, under some trees, quiet, and, in a perfect scenario, with a brook nearby. A privy or National Forest Service bathroom of some kind is a plus when Miss Mercy or other females are around and the Mad Farmer won’t turn a toilet down out of spite. So, thinking idealistic thoughts, we went to view the Anvil Campgrounds. First, the sign was a bit misleading. The campground is actually several miles away from the historic site. Second, when we turned into the place it looked like an RV park. I don’t mean a wide, sprawling place with plenty of space like some KOA camping parks, I mean it looked like a gravel parking lot for RV’s with about nine trees scattered about, and not a really big parking lot either. You could fit the entire park into the West lot of Sam’s Club back in Kansas. Because we were trying to be adventuresome the Mad Farmer went in and asked about “tent camping”. He was told “of course, we have five sites!” After confirming that some of the sites were actually available I took the brochure and rate sheet I was handed and went out to the vehicle to inform Miss Mercy of our fantastic luck.

According to the rate sheet, in season camping (which starts in April) would cost us $39.95 per night for a camp site. We slowly followed the map (and a happy, but elderly couple, out for an evening stroll with their walkers – there but for the Grace….) and found the five camping slots. The camp sites were approximately ten feet wide and about fifteen-twenty feet deep. Roughly twice the size of a standard parking spot. They were all at one end of the park, sandwiched in between RV slots on both sides with clearances of about two feet. Flashbacks to Christmas Vacation immediately came to mind – you know the scene, where Eddie is emptying the RV septic system into the storm drain and waves? Yeah, you know it. It may have been a fine campground, the fellow campers may have all been upstanding and virtuous citizens (contrary to first impressions) but the concern must have shown on the Farmers face because Miss Mercy suggested we go get gas and take a moment to consider our options.

Miss Mercy and the Farmer gassed up the vehicle then moved off to a shady spot in the parking lot to discuss options. It was decided that for the price, the distance away from the historical site, the number of highways to cross and the overall thought that “camping” in that place was not really camping to us we decided to acquire lodgings at the local La Quinta. We called La Quinta. They had open rooms at a very reasonable rate. We got the address, prepared to go find the place and Miss Mercy tapped the Mad Farmer and bade him to look over his shoulder. The hotel was directly behind the gas station, less than 150 feet from us. Literally the fastest I have ever arrived at a location after making a reservation.

Once in the air conditioning, having a well deserved adult beverage we had a peaceful night and prepared for our visit to Colonial Williamsburg the next day.

Next UP: Colonial Williamsburg Day 2