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Jamestown Island rolling on $45 million in expansion
Years ago, when everyone else started gearing up for 2007, it looked as if Jamestown Island was standing still.
Construction started first on several projects at neighboring Jamestown Settlement. But, work on the island is going steady now.
The island has a new name, Historic Jamestowne, and is in the midst of millions' worth of construction projects for the 400th. Here's a rundown on $45 million worth of construction, part of $60 million total on the island.
Parking -- The new Neck of Land parking area holds 150 cars and has a short walking trail.
A loop shuttle, which provides bus transportation between the two Jamestowns, will make stops there as well. Those who shuttle to Jamestown from the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center will get off at Neck of Land, then hop on the loop shuttle for eithe Jamestown.
There are no plans to limit vehicle access to Historic Jamestowne on typical days, though that could happen during major events such as Anniversary Weekend in May 2007 when representatives of the White House and British royal family are expected, Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst explained this week during a tour of Historic Jamestowne facilities.
The Neck of Land work is part of $8 million in transportation spending by Congress at Jamestown that also includes the shuttle and parking lot improvements.
Visitor Center -- On the island, modular units comprise a small visitor center. A $7 million, 18,000-square-foot Visitor Center should be finished by November.
Construction faced its own timing challenge, based on a clutch of bald eagles nesting nearby. Mating season for the eagles runs five months, so crews had a limited amount of time to bring heavy equipment onto the island without disturbing the birds.
The exterior of the building is basically complete. Work continues on the parking lot and some of the cement work.
Inside there will be an exhibit area and small, circular theater. The Park Service is billing the movie as an "immersion" experience, joining the adjacent exhibit in telling the 92-year history of Jamestown as the first capital of Virginia. The focus will be on the "coming together of three cultures," Litterst said, referring to the English, the Indians and the Africans.
Classrooms will be offered to the various school groups that visit Historic Jamestowne.
Out the back door is a covered porch for groups to get a briefing before moving on.
Then it's across a new walking bridge that crosses the swamp about 100 yards from the current walking bridge.
Visitors using the bridge will have their attention focused on the church tower and fort. Designers are counting on piquing their curiosity during the walk across the bridge. The natural inclination to walk to the right at the end of the bridge leads to sites on the island that tend to follow the chronology of the development of Jamestown.
Research -- Work is winding up on the $4.2 million Historic Jamestowne Research Center, a two-story facility with two wings that will provide storage space under one roof for the collections of both the Park Service and APVA. The building will be closed to the public.
The Park Service gets its section of the building in a couple of weeks and will begin to move in 1.1 million artifacts. They were moved out of the old Visitor Center when it famously flooded during Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
Archaearium -- Perhaps the signature building on the island will be the archaearium, a $5 million building that will incorporate virtual reality technology for visitors.
The building is being built on pillars to give the image that it's floating over the landscape. It's built over the foundations of the last statehouse on the island. There will be two "holes" in the floor where visitors can look through glass and see the actual foundation work.
"We'll use this building to tell the story of Jamestown through archaeology," explained Ann Berry, project coordinator. "It will give the visitor a sense of place, and use the context in which the artifacts were found."
A large mural will show the English settlers meeting Virginia Indians upon their arrival in 1607. Cut-outs of specific artifacts will be placed on the mural.
The first section of the archaearium is devoted to the voyage by the settlers and the Virginia Company that sponsored the venture. A map on the floor will trace the voyage.
The next section will feature the James Fort. A highlight of the archaeology that found the original structure has been how the original post holes show up as dark spots in the earth. On the wall will be a graphic of the palisades of the fort.
A case of armor will show a representative sample of the more than 800,000 artifacts turned up so far in the Jamestown Rediscovery dig.
The section will also focus on the people of Jamestown, Berry noted. Researchers have excavated 75 individuals from graves and sent them to the Smithsonian Institution for study.
"We'll talk about the people who were here based on the people who are still here," Berry said.
A small museum store is planned just before visitors leave the room to exit the building.
The APVA is scheduled to take over the archaearium in March. The project is on schedule to open in time for the May commemoration of the 399th anniversary of the landing at Jamestown.
Dale House -- Located on the shore of the James River, the home is also in line for a makeover. The building, used recently to show off some of the artifacts found in the fort dig, closed in November.
Crews will gut the interior and it will reopen as a visitor services building with restroom and food services. Berry said the food service operation will be put out for bid. It will feature both indoor and outdoor seating.
While it is scheduled to open by summer, the APVA would like to have it operational by May, when visitors come for the anniversary event in May.
"We are moving out here," Berry said happily. "It's exciting to have a place to finally be able to show what we've been digging up out here."
For visitors following this path around the island, the fort site comes next. Digging there is expected to continue for several years.
Then comes the church tower, before visitors get to what is known as "New Town," the part of Jamestown where settlers expanded outside the fort.
Virtual viewers are planned there as well, near the monument that provides a focal point to the island. That monument sits on open land now, space that formerly held the old visitor center that was destroyed by Isabel flooding.
This time, the viewers will give visitors a glimpse as vignettes of life in that part of Jamestown. Character actors were filming the vignettes this week in sound studios at Colonial Williamsburg.
The Park Service will put about 60 new signs around the area in an effort to make signage on the island more consistent. For years there have been inconsistent signs that were erected in different decades.