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Historic Jamestowne National Park: First Permanent English Settlement

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Since getting our America the Beautiful National Park Annual Pass, we’ve been on the lookout for new parks to explore. As we were already in Virginia, we thought it would be a good time to check out Historic Jamestowne National Park, England’s first permanent settlement in North America.

Located between the James and York Rivers in Coastal Virginia, Jamestown is part of an important historical area nicknamed the Historic Triangle. Williamsburg and Yorktown make up the other two points of the triangle. Both, also worth visiting while in the area.

As an active dig site, Historic Jamestowne is constantly changing and the knowledge we have of the past, constantly growing. In this article we dive into this historically significant National Park which showcases some of the earliest documented European presence in North America.

Historic Jamestowne Pinterest Image

We are not sponsored by Historic Jamestowne; we enjoyed our experience and thought you would too.

Footbridge over marshlands, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

To reach the old settlement, a lengthy footbridge takes visitors over the marshlands. Looking down into the water we saw a muskrat, at least a dozen turtles, plus frogs and fish. Not to mention all the sweet bluebirds singing to us from the trees.

Muskrat in the reeds Island Road, Jamestown, Virginia

Visit the James Fort Active Dig Site

Metal cast James fort map, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

James Fort is the reason everyone comes to Historic Jamestowne. Marked by a wooden log fence, visitors can see where the original fort boundary stood.

As the James River slowly erodes the coastline, you’ll notice how the triangle fort drops into the river. Historians and environmental scientists worry that one day Historic Jamestowne will completely submerge underwater.

Wooden fencing marking original James Fort going into the James River, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

Throughout the fort, dig sites, foundations, outlines, plaques, and crosses mark locations of rediscovered buildings and gravesites.

As Historic Jamestowne is an active archeological dig site, the site is constantly changing.

Explore the Memorial Church's Past

Preserved in the brick 1907 Memorial Church are Historic Jamestownes’ most notable findings.

Glass floor paneling reveals the remains of former churches which once stood on this historic site. This includes a church from 1617, where a representative government began convening the first General Assembly.

Stone church excavation site, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

Known as the Knight’s Tomb, at the front of the church lies the gravestone of Sir George Yeardley, presiding governor of the 1619 General Assembly. The tomb is thought to be the oldest ledger stone in English North America.

Inside 1617 Memorial Church, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

Join a Tour of Historic Jamestowne

Original church foundations and graves, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

Included with admission, it’s worth jumping on a tour or two of Historic Jamestowne.

We joined both a National Park Service Introduction to Jamestown tour and a Jamestown Rediscovery archeology tour.

All tours start at the Tercentennial Monument. The Visitor Information Center and the Historic Jamestowne online calendar have a list of tours available.

Tercentennial Monument, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

The best part of our visit was Public Historian Mark Summers’ in-depth tour on Women in Jamestown. A captivating speaker, Mark had the entire audience mesmerized by his wealth of knowledge on Jamestown.

If we had just one recommendation for your visit, it is to join one of Mark’s various Jamestown historical talks. Check the calendar. We’d be willing to bet any one of his talks is worthy of planning your day around.

Grab Lunch on the Shores of James River

You don’t need to leave the park to get lunch. Set in an idyllic location, on the shores of the James River, the Dale House Cafe serves sandwiches and salads, plus a mix of desserts. If it’s a nice day, grab one of the tables outside.

Alternatively, you can bring your own lunch. Picnic tables are just behind the Dale House.

Connect to History at the Archaearium Museum

Voorhees Archaeology Museum, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

The Archaearium Museum houses key artifacts found while excavating Historic Jamestowne. Like pieces of a puzzle, these artifacts bring together a clear picture of life in the first settlement.

For us, the stone tablet scratch pad was the most memorable. If you look closely, you can see drawings of royal lions, a soldier, a woman in high-status clothing, and various plants.

Other notable finds, include a reliquary box full of bone fragments, an undamaged vase, and a knight’s helmet.

There’s also a whole section of the museum dedicated to the stories of human remains. From these remains they know cannibalism was a consequence of the colony suffering a long period of starvation.

Stone tablet notepad, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

Learn the Real Story of National Icons

Most Americans know the names Pocahontas and John Smith, but few know much more about these historical figures beyond the Disney movie, and most of that is inaccurate. For instance, did you know they were never married, nor even in a relationship? Though, Pocahontas did marry another colonist, John Rolfe.

Beside their personal relationships, Pocahontas and John Smith played a major role in the Jamestown colony’s survival.

Pocahontas statue, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia
Captain John Smith Statue, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

Walk New Towne

Today, New Towne doesn’t look like much, but it was once a bustling port town as Jamestown expanded east beyond the fort.

Only a few buildings remain, but signs and brick foundations mark where the town once stood. It’s a lovely area to take a walk and absorb the history.

Ruins of the Ambler House, New Towne, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia
New Towne park and walking area, Historical Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

Drive Island Road

A beautifully sedate loop drive through the island’s wilderness. Pull off to read the historical markers as you go. Then take a quick 1/4-mile walk to Black Point Trail in search of Bald Eagles.

Keep a look out for turtles on the road. We had to stop to make sure a few fellas crossed safely.

Turtle Crossing Sign, Island Road, Jamestown, Virginia

Buy a Handmade Piece at the Glasshouse

As you’re leaving Historic Jamestowne, don’t miss the 1608 Glasshouse for a glass blowing demonstration and one-of-a-kind pieces.

We bought one of the beautiful large glass water pitchers. We felt the prices were very reasonable, and better value than many of the stores in Williamsburg. Plus, a portion of all Glasshouse sales support the glassblowing demonstrations and the National Park Service.

Glass Blowing Workshop Historic Jamestowne National Park, Jamestown, Virginia

Start Your Tour of the Colonial Parkway National Park

Admission to Historic Jamestowne also includes the Colonial Parkway. The parkway runs from Historic Jamestowne, through Williamsburg, to Yorktown Battlefield, also included in admission fees.

It’s a pretty drive with lots of pull offs for historical signage and river access.

Yellow wildflowers line the roadway of Colonial Parkway National Park, Virginia

Where to Stay When Visiting Jamestown

Most Jamestown visitors stay in nearby Williamsburg. The city’s central location makes it easy to visit Jamestown, but also Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg.

  • Patriots Inn – We stayed here and felt it was good value. The location was superb, and the large one bedroom included a full kitchen. Oddly, we even had two full bathrooms.
  • A Williamsburg White House Inn – Perfect for anyone looking for a Bed and Breakfast experience with tons of character. The rooms in this century-old estate are clean, large, and tastefully decorated.
  • Marriott’s Manor Club at Ford’s Colony – A little further out of town, this luxury manor has everything you need to make it a special trip. They have three pools, a hot tub, and a 54-hole golf course. Plus, all the Villas have full kitchens.

Books on Jamestown

  • Jamestown, the Truth Revealed: Written by Dr. William Kelso, the director of archaeology for Jamestown Rediscovery, this book is the authority on everything we know about life in the former British colony of Jamestown. It’s a must read for anyone interested in arguably the most important time in American history.
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