Yorktown Battlefield – Yorktown, Virginia

                                           John Trumbull's 1820 oil painting of Cornwallis'  Surrender at Yorktown                                                                                                      but actually Cornwallis wasn't there.

                                           John Trumbull's 1820 oil painting of Cornwallis'  Surrender at Yorktown                                                                                                      but actually Cornwallis wasn't there.

About 20 miles from the Historic Jamestown site lies the Yorktown Battlefield, another National Park (NPS) site and part of the Colonial National Historical Park which also includes Colonial Williamsburg. We've visited Williamsburg in the past, and decided Yorktown would be an appropriate (and less expensive) way to spend the rest of our day in this historically rich part of Virginia.

Though I enjoy and appreciate history and historical sites, I'm not as enthusiastic about historic battles as David is. The Yorktown site was not as interesting to me as Jamestown and I think, perhaps Yorktown is the poor child of this three-site national park. Granted there was construction under way, but everything about the site was second class. The museum area was quite small comparative to Jamestown, although I did appreciate posing with George Washington and finding out that he was 6'2”. I love trivia!

An orientation film was presented in the lobby area just outside the gift shop . There were not enough chairs. Several non-viewing visitors were milling about talking and calling after their kids, thus obliterating the audio portion of the film. There was a large crowd waiting for the single tour guide and we opted out, perhaps missing some key information that would have made the visit more interesting, but touring with a crowd was not high on our list.

Ahead of the crowd, we walked the pleasant path to the Yorktown Victory Monument, an impressive obelisk commemorating Washington's victory over Cornwallis in 1781, the turning point of the American Revolutionary War for the colonists.

We continued on into the tiny historic village of Yorktown and wandered along the “main” street. The modern town itself is located off main street and along the banks of the York River about a half mile away. It's still winter and none of the historic houses nor the Swan Tavern was open for indoor viewing, but we did identify several of the 18th century buildings as we passed by. The Dudley Digges house, circa 1760, is a classic example of the Virginia Tidewater style architecture prevalent during the time.

The Grace Episcopal Church established in 1697 was closed to visitors, but the graveyard was open and particularly interesting with all its 17th century gravestones.

We retreated along the path we'd come with thoughts of driving the auto tour route to view the battlefield areas. We were deterred by the cold weather and the fact that the tour primarily consisted of viewing earthworks, some canons and flags strategically placed indicating where the French, American and British forces were located during the battle. This was much easier to appreciate by looking at a map … which we did. I find it hard to imagine what it was like being here and enduring the hardships of battle.

yorktown_nps map.jpg

We headed into Yorktown proper, a cute little colonial river town established in 1691. Despite the cold, there were quite a few tourists wandering about. Ben & Jerry's was doing a brisk business. We strolled for awhile on the riverwalk and checked out the little municipal marina which we discovered could easily accommodate Nine of Cups. Maybe on our next trip up the Chesapeake?

The town landmark was originally a windmill. The first mill was built by William Buckner about 1711 and was used to grind grain for local residents. Over the years, it deteriorated and was in ruins. It wasn't until 2011 that a replica was built in its place, restoring the landmark of bygone days.

All in all, a fun day despite my lack of appreciation for the battlefield. In all fairness to the park, we think visiting during the warmer months would have been more comfortable for walking and offered more to see and do like the Fife & Drum performances, artillery firing, re-enactments and access to historic buildings.

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Oh, yeah and Happy St. Patrick's Day!