VIRGINIA, the Old Dominion

What to see

Richmond the Plantations - City Tour
Jamestown First Settlement - Carter's Grove
Williamsburg Colonial Williamsburg
Fredericksburg City tour
Mount Vernon George Washington home
the Pentagon the Pentagon
Arlington National Cemetery
Norfolk Hampton Roads
Blue Ridge Parkway the Blue Ridge Parkway
Other pages other states | articles

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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: South Atlantic - Part 2

In the travel series View America, South Atlantic - part 2 covers Georgia, Virginia, and West Virginia. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 100 full-sized photos.

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VIRGINIA is also called the Old Dominion, but its full name is the Commonwealth of Virginia, and it is one of the thirteen original colonies. In 1788 Virginia joined the US as the 10th state. The capital and largest city is Richmond, which was also the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Named after the Virgin Queen Elizabeth I, Virginia was the first English colony in America.

Virginia has a surface of 110,000 km2, and it is forested for 63%. Virginia has a population of approximately seven million inhabitants, with a density of 70 per km2. Half of them are concentrated in and around Washington, D.C., and in Richmond.

During the English civil war in 1642, Virginia remained loyal to the king, and refused to follow Oliver Cromwell. Many monarchists immigrated into Virginia, until in 1652 the English fleet forced them to submit to Cromwell. By 1660, Charles II was back on the throne, and he called the faithful colony the Old Dominion. The colony's original charter covered a truly vast territory, which gave birth to several other states, such as Kentucky and West Virginia in 1863. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were founders of the United States, and they were also the first five presidents !

Until the civil war, the main crop was tobacco, but the land was cultivated so intensively, that after 350 years it was completely exhausted. Today, the federal government and the army are significant employers. Virginia's main attractions are Williamsburg, Mount Vernon (George Washington's home), Jamestown, and Arlington National Cemetery.

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the Plantations

Highway 5 to the plantations is a Scenic Byway. It runs through a beautifully wooded landscape, green and well maintained, with a quiet rural character. Shirley Plantation is Virginia's oldest plantation, dating from 1613. The plantation looks like a large farm, except of course for the mansion. The interior of this mansion, however, has been restored afterwards, with "new antique" furniture... The Berkeley Plantation was built in 1726. It is a large estate, but without any remarkable attributes. The documentation mentions that it was extremely hospitable, and that during the course of its existence, more than ten presidents were its guests !

The Evelynton Plantation dates back to 1847. The estate is very well located in a beautiful rural setting, and it just exudes serenity. Nice ! The Sherwood Forest Plantation was built around 1730, and it was the home of President John Tyler.

Richmond : Shirley plantation 1 Richmond : Berkeley plantation 2
Richmond : Evelynton plantation 3 Richmond : Sherwood Forest plantation 4

City Tour

Richmond is Virginia's capital. The best way to visit and explore this beautiful city, is with a guided walking tour. It will take you through the center of the city, and in two hours you'll see all kinds of historical buildings and monuments, and obtain all the relevant information to boot.

Right in the middle of the center lays Broad Street, an extremely wide boulevard. The reason for its name and width is that originally, a train rode through the center ! Later, the train was replaced by a tram. The Old City Hall is a beautiful building, completely built in an ancient Ghotic style. When the city built a new City Hall, the old building was converted into an office building.

The walking tour will also document several residences, where famous personalities lived, or where they were born, such as for example, Edgar Allan Poe. The State Capitol served as the blueprint for the Capitol in Washington, and it is a copy of a French public building from the 1800's. Next to it, are the governor's residence and a splendid memorial, with statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The latter started as an architect, later became ambassador to France, and then president !

Richmond 1 Richmond 2
Richmond 5 Richmond 6


First Settlement

Jamestown is the place where in 1607, the British Virginia Company of London attempted to start a first settlement, in its effort to colonize America. The Visitor Center is also a very interesting museum, that provides extensive information about England, anno 1600, and about the local Indian tribe, the Powhatan. The beautiful esplanade is certainly worth a walk, and you'll see the flags of all fifty States, and a brief historical explanation of each state. Jamestown also houses a reconstruction of an Indian village, a marina with replica's of two of the first three ships, and finally a reconstruction of the original fort.

It should be noted that these three ships were only Rent-A-Ships (...), and certainly not the stately galleons that one tends to imagine. The smallest "boat" was barely fifty-six feet long (seventeen meters), and it stashed fifty-two colonists in the hold, packed like herrings in a barrel ! The largest ship was a bit larger with one hundred and fifteen feet (thirty-five meters) in length, but then again, it squeezed together one hundred colonists, during the six months that it took to cross the ocean...

Jamestown 1 Jamestown 2
Jamestown 3 Jamestown 4

Carter's Grove

By 1700, there were several wealthy plantation owners, who earned a great deal of money with tobacco. The richest of the lot was Robert King Carter, who managed to assemble some one hundred thousand acres (40,000 hectares), spread out over forty-four plantations. He also owned more than one thousand slaves !

Unfortunately, his own estate wasn't preserved, but what has been preserved is Carter's Grove, the estate he gave to his daughter. However, after two hundred and fifty years and several owners, the building had deteriorated quite a bit. In 1928, the estate was bought by a wealthy couple, the McCrea's, who were into tobacco and railroads. These completely restored the entire estate, to impress their distinguished guests. In 1964, the estate was purchased by Winthrop Rockefeller, whose family also owned Colonial Williamsburg. In 2007, Carter's Grove was sold again to become a private residence and a horse farm.

Carter's Grove 1 Carter's Grove 2


Colonial Williamsburg

The Colonial Williamsburg Park consists of an historic area and several museums, established on a surface of some 173 acres (69 hectares). The land was purchased by John D. Rockefeller Jr., and he had modern buildings demolished and old buildings restored.

The Historic Area includes eighty-eight original and fully restored buildings, and some four hundred new buildings were made, as exact replicas of the original buildings. Many attendants walk around in authentic costumes, and they are more than happy to spout all kinds of historical information. It is fascinating to see how these people really identify with their role ! As a matter of fact, some eighty families actually live continuously in the park. Colonial Williamsburg is certainly worth visiting, it is both instructive and interesting !

Colonial Williamsburg 1 Colonial Williamsburg 2
Colonial Williamsburg 5 Colonial Williamsburg 6

Fredericksburg : city tour

The Visitor Center in Fredericksburg presents a short movie, with an overview of its history. They also provide extensive information about local attractions, all of which are located within walking distance. The walk through downtown Fredericksburg is quite enjoyable, with its European character and low rise buildings. There are many old and restored buildings, and a wealth of small shops.

The Kenmore building is the former home of George Washington's sister, and recently underwent restoration. Other ancient buildings have also been restored, with splendid exteriors, but unfortunately most if not all of the original furniture has been lost.

Fredericksburg : city tour 1 Fredericksburg : city tour 2

Mount Vernon : George Washington home

Mount Vernon is the home and plantation of George Washington, picturesquely located on the bank of the Potomac. George Washington was general and commander in chief of the colonial troops during the revolt against the British. He was also a statesman, freemason, and the first president of the US, and has been elevated to the status of a true idol.

Mount Vernon became a very busy place after the Revolution. George Washington gradually expanded his plantation into an estate of eight thousand acres (3,200 hectares), with three hundred and sixteen slaves, a modern farm, a private shipyard, and extensive gardens. He was a thoughtful and exacting person, rather accurate and precise, and he disposed of an extensive education. He was personally involved in every detail of the building and the management of his plantation.

His estate is simply beautiful, with a magnificent view over the Potomac. The buildings are by no means flashy, and rather simply and precisely constructed. It is easy to recognize his strong hand in every detail. The Washington family was very hospitable, and almost every day they entertained guests. For example, in 1798, more than six hundred and thirty-three guests were listed...

Mount Vernon : George Washington 1
Mount Vernon : George Washington 2
Mount Vernon : Potomac river 1 Mount Vernon : Potomac river 2

the Pentagon

Curiously enough, the exterior of the Pentagon does not appear as impressive as one would expect. It is a simply gigantic brown building, which is so extremely large (150 acres or 600,000 sq m) that it looks like a square, when one stands in front of it. Instead of course, it has been built in the form of a pentagon, and the building has become almost legendary.

the PentagonIt is one of the largest office buildings in the world, with an astonishing 17 miles (28 km) of interior corridors! It contains 6.5 million square feet of office floor, and houses some 31,000 employees, military or civilian.
It was built in 1943, on the bank of the Potomac, opposite Washington, D.C.

Since the attack on 9 November 2001 it is prohibited to take photos of the building, or even to stand still in front of it. The local traffic is horribly busy, and available parking spaces are extremely scarce. Everywhere the streets are one-way only, and the unwary tourist usually tours the Interstate a couple of times, before he can even reach the building...

The Pentagon's Visitor Center is located one exit away (exit 8C). If you expect a brochure, any information, or even a mere postcard from the Pentagon, you'll be disappointed, for nothing is available. It would seem that all military sensitive information was removed to avoid any possibility of another terrorist attack.

Arlington : national cemetery

The Arlington National Cemetery is the most famous of more than one hundred military cemeteries. It is located on a well-maintained surface of some two hundred and forty-five hectares, and it is the resting place of two hundred and twenty-two thousand soldiers ! This military cemetery was established during the civil war, on the lands of Arlington House, which previously belonged to the family of general Robert E. Lee.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is dedicated to all Americans who were killed without having been identified. A very remarkable ceremony is the Changing of the Guard. It is considered a high honor to be part of the ceremonial guard at the tomb. Less than twenty percent of all applicants are accepted for training, and only a small proportion of these candidates actually succeed in becoming guards. The guards wear no rank insignia on their uniforms, so that they do not outrank the Unknowns !

Arlington cemetery 1 Arlington : the Guard 2

Norfolk : Hampton Roads

Hampton Roads is famous for the Sea Battle of Norfolk, during the civil war. It was actually the very first time that two armored warships went to battle ! The (northern) Union ships blockaded the ports of Norfolk and Richmond. The (southern) Confederacy armored ship, the Virginia, was a converted warship (formerly the Merrimack), that had previously been burnt. The Union ironclad was the Monitor. The two ships waged battle for more than three hours, without inflicting any significant damage to the other.

Norfolk : Hampton Roads 1 Norfolk : Hampton Roads 2

the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a highway, that runs over four hundred and sixty-nine miles (755 kilometers) along the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a part of the Appalachian Mountains. This parkway is the continuation of the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, and it continues into Virginia's Shenandoah park. The drive yields many beautiful and memorable panorama's.

the Blue Ridge Parkway 1 the Blue Ridge Parkway 2

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