A Visitor/Vacation Guide for Families, Couples & Friends
If you are into pop culture, a Millennial (or from any generation) or looking for a place to outlive and outlast anything the modern world can throw at you – even the zombie apocalypse – let us introduce you to Colonial Williamsburg, a sustainable – and self-sustaining – sanctuary that forged a community centuries before those terms were coined.
Colonial Williamsburg is home to hardcore makers and DIYers – do-it-yourselfers – of every imaginable skill. There’s no Target or Home Depot or Amazon Prime delivering ready-to-use stuff here. This is where the phrase “Made in America” basically started more than 300 years ago and continues.
Everything – the nails, bricks and wood used in construction to an array of weapons (cannons, guns, and barricades) to wheels for carriages to beer (beer!) – is made in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. Gardeners grow vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Weavers, dressmakers, shoemakers, wigmakers and tailors ensure you'll have something to wear. The Rare Breeds Program, one of the first in the country, raises heirloom milking cows, longwool sheep, draft horses and chickens. An apothecary stocks medicines.
In many cases, the tradesmen and tradeswomen who work in the Historic Area are among the few left in the world who practice their skills the 18th-century way.
Two years ago, the Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights of London, a company recognized in 1670, sent apprentices to Colonial Williamsburg to learn traditional skills from people there. "They didn't have anybody in England who still did the work the way we do," says Ken Schwarz, a master blacksmith and the head of historic trades at Colonial Williamsburg.
Other sites rely on the Historic Trades staff to supply mortar that's made on the site with burned oyster shells, water and a little bit of clay and brick dust. "Nobody we know of now makes their own bricks and their own mortar," Schwarz says.
If you're looking for a place that not only makes everything but has the means to withstand a siege, Colonial Williamsburg is it. The Historic Area stockpiles materials. The iron used in the forges is no longer manufactured so it’s salvaged – from a century-old grain elevator in Wisconsin and a bridge in northern New York – and stored on site. The same goes for the hand-sawn wood that spends years drying the old fashioned way until it’s ready for use.
Best of all, the artisans at Colonial Williamsburg know how to take something and reverse-engineer it. Schwarz says written records about how things were made in the 18th century are rare. It was an oral tradition.
"It takes a little while to begin to understand the techniques and to look at old work and see how thing are pieced together," Schwarz says. "You also begin to think in a different way. In the 21st century, most of the expense input is labor. In the 18th century, your most expensive input was material so that completely changes the way you approach manufacturing."
Projects are more likely to start with a scrap. Richard Sullivan, Colonial Williamsburg master gunsmith, scrap brass from the print shop to re-melt and cast into gun mounts. That sort of conserving and reusing resources, of course, bodes well for your survival.
Imagine a trade and you will find it at Colonial Williamsburg. Leather work, book binding, blacksmithing, brick making, cabinet making, carpentry, historic cooking, gunsmithing, gardening, printing, dressmaking, shoe making, silversmithing, tinsmithing, weaving, wheel making, and wig making.
Whatever your interest, we can connect you with the person who interests you. But we suggest you don't delay. You never know when the barbarians – or the zombies – may descend. But the odds-on favorite of where people will survive is where they have always survived, thanks to DIY: Colonial Williamsburg.
For more information visit www.colonialwilliamsburg.com.