Thirteen historic sites to see in Virginia

Richmond airport
Richmond

I took a short trip to Richmond and Williamsburg, Virginia in May. I have wanted to explore the area for some time because of its wealth of history. I was able to visit two presidential homes and two presidents’ gravesites. Virginia is the home of the American Revolution and many of the Founding Fathers. Historic sites abound, and you can learn a lot.

Richmond

Hollywood Cemetery

The cemetery overlooks the James River and is the burial site of Presidents James Monroe, John Tyler, and Jefferson Davis.

Virginia War Memorial

The Shrine at VA War Memorial
The Shrine at VA War Memorial

There are well-curated exhibits on Virginians’ participation in wars throughout history. The Docents are knowledgeable and helpful. There is a piece of the Pentagon from the 9/11 attacks. The Shine is a beautiful memorial to the twelve thousand souls who lost their lives in service to their country. The memorial is free to visit, and there is free parking.

American Civil War Museum Tredegar

American Civil War Museum
American Civil War Museum

This is a massive museum on the riverfront dedicated to the history of the Civil War. It was built on the site of the Tredegar Iron Works, which produced half of the cannons used by the Confederacy. The museum features a short introduction film and many exhibits. Two-hour parking is included in the admission price.

White House of the Confederacy

White House of the Confedercy
White House of the Confederacy

The residence where Jefferson Davis lived while he was President of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Tours include two floors of the residence, and photography is permitted. Parking is free at the VCU Medical Center with validation.

Virginia capitol
Virginia Capitol

Virginia State Capitol

The seat of Virginia politics. It was first used for the general assembly in 1792. Many sculptures adorn the Capitol courtyard, including George Washington and Civil Rights.

Williamsburg

About an hour south of Richmond are Williamsburg and Historic Jamestown. Jamestown was America’s birthplace when British settlers landed there in 1607. You can visit two Jamestowns, the National Park Site and Jamestown Settlement. For the real story, I suggest you begin with Historic Jamestown, the NPS site.

Capitol at Williamsburg
Capitol at Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg is a massive area where you can learn about colonial life in Virginia. It has original colonial buildings and plenty of educational spots about 18th-century life in the colony. Transportation is free to and from the Visitors Center, so a ticket into the park is not necessary, although there are some places you cannot see. I rode the bus around the complex and then stopped at a few places with good access to various things. It is a great place for children to learn about a different way of life and how the United States became what it is.

Berkeley Plantation

Berkley Planatation
Berkley Plantation

Berkeley is the birth home of the 9th President, William Henry Harrison. His grandson Benjamin Harrison served as the 23rd President. Berkely is a beautiful place to visit. It was built by Benjamin Harrison III in 1691. There is a long line of Harrison’s at Berkley, and Benjamin Harrison V was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The tour is excellent, and the docents are informative and friendly. The furnishings are from the period; some belonged to the Harrison family.

Sherwood Forrest Plantation

Sherwood Forrest Plantation
Sherwood Forrest Plantation

The Home of John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States. The tour of the grounds is self-guided. Tyler purchased the home in 1841 during his time in the White House. He lived there from 1842-1862. It is the longest frame house in the U.S. at 300 feet. Tyler served as William Henry Harrison’s Vice President. Harrison was born at Berkley plantation, about ten miles north of the Sherwood property. Tyler’s descendants maintain it.

Food for Thought

I had two meals there because 1) the food was excellent and 2) the service was great. That’s all there is to it. The Pot Roast and the Fish and Chips were both delicious. I recommend the creamed spinach. The restaurant is a place that locals frequent. If you visit Williamsburg, eat here. You will be happy you did.

Newport News, Virginia

A short drive from Williamsburg is Newport News. The Navy plays a big part in Newport News. There is also a wealth of outdoor venues to enjoy.

Mariners’ Museum

Mariners' Museum
Mariners’ Museum

This massive museum is all about the sea. It has an in-depth exhibit on recovering the Civil War Ironclad USS Monitor and a replica of the ship outside the museum. You can also view the turret that was recovered from the Monitor. Admission is a dollar, so this is within everyone’s budget.

Virginia War Museum

General Mark Clark Coat in WWII
General Mark Clark’s Coat in WWII

The building’s size is deceptive. It is a curated history of Virginia’s participation in the American Revolution through the Global War on Terror. The museum holds sixty thousand artifacts, many of which are on display. One moving exhibit is a piece of a fence from the Dachau concentration camp: it’s a sobering look at World War II.

Fort Monroe

This fort has survived since 1609, but it was during the Civil War that it would become “Freedom’s Fortress.” Jefferson Davis was held after his capture when he fled the Union troops in Richmond in May of 1865. President Lincoln also stayed at the fort in 1862 while planning the attack on Norfolk. The Fort sits on an island surrounded by a moat and is only accessible by car through one of three gates.

Casement Museum

Gate to Jefferson Davis' cell at Fort Monroe
Gate to Jefferson Davis’ cell at Fort Monroe

The museum provides a look at the fort’s 400-year history. One exhibit portrays the cell that held Jefferson Davis.

Presidential Heads

This unique presidential oddity is located just north of Williamsburg. What began as a patriotic park has now been relegated to a concrete recycling plant. 42 massive presidential head sculptures, created by sculptor David Adickes, remain. The heads are only accessible eight times a year. It is worth a visit, if only for the novelty value. See a quick video here.

Final thoughts

I stayed at the Hampton Inn Richmond Airport and Hilton Garden Inn in Williamsburg. Both provided terrific accommodation. The links provide room tours.

Virginia provides visitors with an in-depth look at American history. From the American Revolution to today’s Navy, you will not have difficulty finding something to learn about history in Virginia.

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