Jamestown Settlement takes a new path

By Bill Tolbert

For almost 50 years, visitors to the outdoor area at Jamestown Settlement have found little between the re-created fort and the three replica ships.

Now, a new "Riverfront Discovery Area" portrays the role of the James River and other waterways in 17th-century travel, commerce and cultural exchange among the English, Indians and Africans.

An 11-foot-wide pathway winds its way through the 2-acre area. Discovery stations provide information about water transportation and economic activities, such as navigation, boat-building, fishing, commodities and trade.

The museum surveyed visitors to learn the types of activities that interested them. Joe Gutierrez, senior director for museum operations and education, said that activities related to the cultures along the James topped the list.

The new area "foreshadows" the story the museum will tell in new galleries under construction for the 400th anniversary.

There's a new swivel-gun demonstration several times a day.
Hands-on learning includes scraping out logs to make dugout canoes.
Photos courtesy Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation
"Jamestown and the early 17th century were shaped by three particular cultures in a dominant sense. This area shows that interaction," Gutierrez said. The tying together of indoor galleries and outside activity areas has a long history at the museum.

"The inside galleries provide the intellectual framework," he said. "The outdoor areas provide a hands-on opportunity to experience history. This area adds a new dimension to the visitor experience."

Three existing outdoor areas -- the Indian village, fort and ships -- are more culturally specific, he noted. "This provided a new dimension to how people interacted, an area lacking in our outdoor experience."
The riverfront discovery area and new buildings are part of a series of building projects and program changes planned for completion in time for 2007, the 400th anniversary of the landing of colonists at Jamestown.
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Interpreters staff the area on a seasonal basis to work with visitors on hands-on learning, such as scraping out logs to make dugout canoes or trading Powhatan Indian items for European goods.

There's also a new swivel-gun demonstration several times a day in a field near the fort and Powhatan Indian village.

Swivel guns are small artillery pieces that were commonly used on ships and in light fortifications during the 17th century.

The demonstrations are visitor-participatory, giving guests a chance to take part in a "dry fire" drill. The demonstration ends with museum interpretive staff actually firing the weapon.

Regularly scheduled one-hour guided tours of the Indian village, ships, riverfront and fort areas run each day. In addition, other demonstrations and presentations are given on leadership, mapmaking, sail and cargo handling, and games.

Through Sept. 21, visitors can attend half-hour interactive programs indoors at noon and 1 p.m. Museum teachers will focus on three topics:
  • "Cultures in Contact" on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays will compare and contrast the Powhatan Indian, English and African cultures that converged in Virginia in the 17th century.
  • "Women in Early 17th-Century Virginia" on Mondays and Wednesdays will profile some of the women who lived in a predominantly male colony.
  • "Clothing in 17th-Century Virginia" on Fridays reveals the function of various garments, and looks at how the style of clothing reflected the occupation and social status of the wearer.
Jamestown Settlement has closed its indoor exhibition galleries to make way for the construction of a new permanent exhibition building. A new transitional gallery will open early next year to provide exhibition space before the main gallery opens in 2007.