Taking kids to the Yorktown Victory Center and Battlefield
Just like Jamestown, a visit to Yorktown is comprised of two parts:
Yorktown Victory Center: A center dedicated to recreating the revolutionary community during the period of colonial unrest through the formation of a new nation.
Yorktown Battlefield: The site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War between General Washington and Lord Cornwallis.
First, we’ll discuss the Yorktown Victory Center. It is comprised of 3 parts. The museum, the army encampment and a 1780’s farm are all to help recreate what times were like during the revolution.
When we visited the Yorktown Victory Center, it was under major renovation. It looks like amazing things are coming when they finish it in 2016. The biggest of which will be renaming it! It will be called the American Revolutionary Museum at Yorktown (ARMY). Although most of the same elements were there during our visit, things are going to move around or made bigger and better.
We started outside at the Army encampment. The boys were fascinated by walking around a representation of what it might have really looked like during the revolution. They all crammed in a tent that was meant to sleep 6 soldiers. There are several different tents you could investigate, including the medical tent. I’ll spare you the photos, but it is quite realistic. The interpreters are there to answer questions about the time period in whatever area they happen to be stationed in.
We spent a lot of time in the kitchen area for the army encampment. We were told about the army rations that were quite small, and how they cooked what little they received. There were barrels of salt, showing how meat was preserved if they were lucky enough to get any. Each tent group had it’s own hole to cook on along the trench shown in the photo. They passed around the brick like substance that was cooked on the fire so we could smell and touch it.
One of my boys’ favorite part was recreating a musket load with fake parchment paper, a clay ball, and sand. I’m glad it wasn’t real gun powder, or we’d have a lot of explaining to do at the airport.
They do shoot off an old military weapon, like a cannon or a mortar, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. They ask for 5 or 6 volunteers from the audience, and all 3 of my boys were picked. That’s the benefit of visiting in the winter, people!! Anyway, they each had a role in firing it, whether it was loading the gun powder, tamping the shot, or lighting the fuse. However, when it was supposed to fire, they all yelled BOOM! They don’t fire it with everyone standing so close, thank goodness. After all the volunteers were standing back behind a barrier, 3 of interpreters did all the steps again, and fired it for real. It was REALLY loud!! I was hoping there wasn’t a neighborhood close by.
We ventured into the museum just long enough to try on hand stitched coats that represented different countries or regiments during the Revolutionary War. We also got a look at an early broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence printed in Boston soon after it was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1776. Soon enough, we concentrated our efforts back outside.
The last place to stop on our visit was the recreation of a typical farm during the 1780s. They have a food garden (that was practically empty in winter), a small home with a kitchen and sleeping loft, as well as a barn where everything was made for daily use. You can see how they made soap, fabric, candles, etc. Some things you can even participate in. Just see what’s going on, and take part if you can.
Our last stop was the Yorktown Battlefield. In my opinion, the best way to experience the battlefield is with the $5 audio tour that you can buy in the National Park Service Gift Shop. It’s a CD that we played in the rental car. The directions are very well marked with great signs as you drive to different lookouts, readouts and fields. What makes the CD so great, is that there are military sound effects that help the kids imagination.
The readouts with the big spikes were one of my boys favorite stops. The audio tour description of how the Americans got past those big spikes, made the boys want to run out and try it too. You can do the short or long version of the tour, so the time spent will depend on if you get out of the car at every stop to walk around, etc. We did the short version, but got out to look around quite a bit, and it took about 90 minutes.
Obviously, we flew out to this part of the country to take in as many Historic Triangle things as we could. I do think some of the things at the Yorktown Victory Center are repetitive with what you can see at Colonial Williamsburg. The 1780s farm at Yorktown is a lot like the Great Hope Plantation at Colonial Williamsburg. I have to say, the army encampment at Williamsburg is not open during the winter months, so I was glad the boys got to experience all of that at the Yorktown Victory Center. We felt like the military component was much stronger at Yorktown at this time of year. So if your boys are really into that sort of thing, Yorktown might just be the ticket.
The battlefield audio tour experience cannot be duplicated elsewhere, and gave everyone a sense of awe as we ended our day at dusk. We shared a few silent moments looking out over the site of the final stand of the Revolutionary war. A small group of deer seemed to know they would be protected grazing in this truly American sacred space.