By Guest Blogger Tracy Huneycutt
Our nine-year-old son has developed a strong interest in American History over the last several years. Therefore, we decided to tour Gettysburg, PA and Colonial Williamsburg, VA over our Spring Break this year.
Experiencing American History in Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg took place halfway through the Civil War. The South had many gains over the North up to that point, but the Battle of Gettysburg changed the course of the remaining two years of the war in the North’s favor. My husband and I were eager to learn more information about Gettysburg’s history alongside our son.
It took a full day’s travel to arrive in Pennsylvania from North Carolina (about a 7-hour drive without stops.) The town of Gettysburg itself is very small and is surrounded by farmland and former battlefields, which have been preserved for the sake of history. From what we gathered, the citizens prefer the small size and take pride in the history of the town. Our hotel was the Federal Pointe Inn, which is walking distance to many downtown statues, landmarks, and shops.
We ordered advanced tickets for the battlefield bus tour, as well as the museum admission. We did this through the Gettysburg National Military Park’s website. When we arrived at the Military Park, we picked up our tickets at will call and were directed outside to wait on our scheduled bus tour. Our bus included a driver as well as a seasoned tour guide. The bus tour took a total of two hours. It included several stops along the way, where visitors could get out and see certain historic sites up close. We learned a great deal of information and facts about the battle that we had not known prior to the tour. The tour also provided ample photo opportunities.
After the bus tour, we returned to the Military Park. We used our additional tickets to gain entrance to the scheduled film, cyclorama, and museum. The film is about twenty minutes long and gives a brief history of the background of the Civil War. After the film, all in attendance were escorted upstairs. Here, we were able to view a circular canvas painting of the Battle of Gettysburg. The cyclorama is about a ten-minute presentation that highlights points in the battle. We then strolled at our leisure through the museum. It is full of historic uniforms, medical instruments, furniture, documents, and other artifacts. There is a large bookstore and gift shop that we visited upon leaving the Military Park. There is also a drink and snack shop onsite for those who may need it.
The following day, we strolled through parts of downtown Gettysburg. We drove to certain locations we had passed during the bus tour that we wanted to see up close, like the historic cemeteries. Afterwards, we spent the remainder of the day traveling to Williamsburg (about a 4-hour drive.)
Experiencing American History in Colonial Williamsburg
We had pre-purchased our single-day tickets on Colonial Williamsburg’s website. We arrived 15 minutes prior to the Visitor Center’s opening (there was already a line.) Once inside, a helpful employee gave us a map (you can also download an interactive map to your phone.) The employee explained that we could either take shuttle transportation to begin our tour, or we could walk the quarter of a mile out of the back of the Visitor Center to begin. We opted to walk and started our day by touring the Governor’s Palace.
Tickets are required to enter certain buildings for tours as well as the gardens and workshops in Colonial Williamsburg. You are welcome to shop and walk along the streets without ticketed admission. Carriage rides are available at an additional cost but sell out quickly. (We did not choose this option, but you would want to get there early to make a reservation if interested.)
The Colonial district is structured and set up as much as possible to preserve how the area looked in the late 1700s. Employees are dressed in colonial costumes and provide great information and background about each location we visited. We returned home the following day, but honestly could have stayed in Williamsburg longer. We would have loved to tour more of the settlements in the surrounding region.
A Greater Appreciation
Williamsburg is a much larger city than Gettysburg, that blends both historical sites with contemporary amenities. We walked off some of the cobblestone roads into modern areas throughout our day. Gettysburg provides great information about the history of the Civil War, whereas Williamsburg provides more insight into the ways in which our forefathers lived when they were still under British rule in the New World.
While traveling with smaller children would be feasible in both locations, we are thankful we waited until our son was a little older to tour both cities, as we feel like he will appreciate the history more and will remember more of the trip. Covid protocols will certainly change with each season, so checking guidelines on visitor websites prior to one’s trip is recommended.
As a family, we all gained more knowledge of the history of both locations during our travels, and now have a greater appreciation for what the founders of our country did to persevere and create the way of life we know now. It was a memorable trip that none of us will soon forget.