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Photo by Tina Eshleman
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Photo by Tina Eshleman
After reading the excellent historical novel Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone last summer, my 12-year-old daughter and I were anxious to see the place where the events starting in May 1607 actually took place. So when schools closed on Election Day, we decided to take a day trip to Jamestown, the site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
We head east on Interstate 64 and get on the Colonial National Historic Parkway at Williamsburg. It's a beautiful drive along the James River, and there are numerous places to pull over and enjoy the view, as well as historical markers to read. When we arrive at Historic Jamestowne ( historicjamestowne.org ), park ranger Bill Warder congratulates our tour group on finding what he calls "probably the best-kept secret in Virginia." He says the nearby Jamestown Settlement, operated by the state, is more popular with tourists, featuring galleries, a re-created settlers fort and Indian village, costumed interpreters and reproductions of the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery.
Warder walks us through the grounds where Capt. John Smith arrived with 103 other English men and boys, and tells how in 1994, archaeologist Bill Kelso and his team discovered the location of the original Jamestown fort, which previously had been thought lost to erosion. As we walk around the island, we pass a dig site where archaeologists are excavating what was the chancel of the 1608 Jamestown church. Four graves have been found, and the remains will be analyzed by researchers at the Smithsonian Institution in hopes of being able to identify who was buried there.
Artifacts from earlier digs are displayed in the Archaerium on the property, where visitors can see household items, weapons, coins and even skeletons.
The skull of a 14-year-old girl, dubbed "Jane," shows evidence of the cannibalism that took place during what's known as the "starving time" in the winter of 1609 to 1610. After new settlers arrived, more than 200 died that winter from illness, a shortage of food and Indians attacks. On a happier note, Warder tells us that the 400th anniversary of the 1614 wedding of Pocahontas and John Rolfe will be celebrated with a reenactment on April 5.
By now it's mid-afternoon and our stomachs are growling, so we're pleased to find Carrot Tree Kitchens at the Dale House Café on site, with hot apple cider, ham biscuits and Brunswick stew, as well as baked goodies like the raspberry Linzer bar we order.
After lunch, we hop back on the Colonial Parkway and drive 23 scenic miles to Yorktown for a glimpse of the last major battleground of the Revolutionary War. (The $14 admission fee at Historic Jamestowne is good for a week and also gets you into the Yorktown Visitor Center. There's no fee for children 15 and younger.) This is a nostalgia trip in part, because in the late 1980s, I worked at the weekly York Town Crier in an old house on Ballard Street that's since been knocked down for new development.
Speaking of which, the waterfront area along the York River has been revamped with a landscaped brick walkway, sandy beach and new shops and restaurants. It's a nice place to stroll in the evening, with lights from the Coleman Bridge reflecting off the river. And it's good to see that the Yorktown Pub ( yorktownpub.com ) — where the guy who is now my husband asked me to dinner for the first time — is still there
Anyone who visited Yorktown during the second half of the 20th century knows about Nick's Seafood Pavilion, the landmark restaurant operated by Greek immigrants and philanthropists Nick and Mary Mathews, with its statues, fountains and Greek Palace Guard waitress uniforms. The restaurant's owners have passed away, and the building was demolished after being damaged during Hurricane Isabel. But Jimmy Krikales, who started as a waiter at Nick's in 1962, worked his way up to manager and then became its chef in 1980, is still cooking the restaurant's signature dishes at the River Room in the Duke of York Hotel (508 Water St.,  898-5270). Among those is the Grecian shrimp and scallops (with linguine, pesto, tomatoes, mushrooms, scallions, feta cheese and fresh basil), which in itself is worth the drive.