History buff or not, a visit to the new 80,000-square-foot American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Va., will inspire anyone who wants to know how the United States got its start. Previously named the Yorktown Victory Center that primarily laid out the story from the Patriots’ point of view, the site and its all-new museum with 22,000 square feet of permanent exhibition galleries, takes a more inclusive look at the courageous men and women from all sides.
Hear documented narratives from primary characters like Generals George Washington and Charles Cornwallis to auxiliary figures like farmers, writers, servants, Native Americans and others who dared to challenge the British or defend the Crown.
Yorktown was the site of the revolution’s climactic battle in early fall 1781. The allied American and French armies had the British army trapped along the shores of the York River here. The French navy blockaded water routes leaving General Cornwallis only one option: surrender.A
As impressive as the storytelling is, how the impressive new museum accomplishes it draws rave reviews. Inside, technology delightfully complements displays and exhibit — including close to 500 artifacts — that take visitors through themed rooms. An interactive touchscreen brings some of the era’s characters to life in their own words and offers links to find out more about them and related artifacts.
The introductory, 20-minute film “Liberty Fever,” shown throughout the day, is the place to start as it shares stories of real people involved and sets the background for what the museum houses. The long hall outside the theater presents a timeline of events preceding the Revolutionary War and ending with what is rightly the beginning of America.
Captivating photo displays are a fresh, low-tech approach, using actual people who not only lived during the Siege of Yorktown but who also had had their photographs taken as daguerreotypes. So visitors not only see the person, but can read their quotes and recollections, such as a woman recalling what it was like to talk to General Washington.
Interspersed are several mini-theaters showing short videos, but the piece de resistance is the experiential “Siege of Yorktown” film, a multi-sensory presentation projected onto a 180-degree big screen. Special effects like benches that vibrate when cannonballs explode, fog that comes from the floor or the smell of coffee permeating the room give a genuine sense of “being there.” Visitors often view more than once.
New outside the museum is a Continental Army encampment area where historical interpreters depict daily life. In the adjacent artillery amphitheater, visitors can learn how Revolutionary War soldiers shot muskets and other armaments. A recreated, 18th-century farm complete with gardens is based on research of an actual family.
Just minutes from the museum are the actual Yorktown battlefield, Jamestown (with Historic Jamestowne plus Jamestown Settlement living-history museum) and Williamsburg, the colonial capital — collectively called the Historic Triangle.
The American Revolution Museum’s official grand opening is March 23-April 4, 2017. The 13-day span allows devoting a day to each of the original 13 colonies. North Carolina’s day is April 3; South Carolina’s is March 30.For more: Visit historyisfun.org or call 888.593.4682 tollfree.
(This story appeared in Mar/April 2017 AAA Go Magazine in the Carolinas. All rights reserved.)