Did you know America’s true Independence Day is October 19th? Yes, I know we celebrate July 4th as our nation’s birthday but a case can be made for the triumph at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19th, 1781 being the true beginning of the United States of America. Before Yorktown we were a bunch of Colonial rabble-rousers. After Yorktown? Americans who (with an assist from the French) conquered the mighty British army.
Semantics aside, Yorktown, Virginia plays an enormous role in American history but in Virginia tourism often gets pushed aside in favor of more glamorous Williamsburg. I confess to thinking of Yorktown as another battlefield- and you can’t throw a rock in Virginia without it landing in a battlefield.
Fortunately, Yorktown has the place it deserves with the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown has replaced the old Yorktown Victory Center. It’s a smart move as the story of the Revolution is more than one battle and involves more than the soldiers. The formerly dowdy Victory Center is brand spankin’ new- both in its facility and its outlook. It may rank as my single favorite museum experience for kids 6+. Ever.
That’s not praise I hand out willy-nilly. I grade museums with tweens on a very steep curve because let’s face it: they are a tough crowd to please. I tend to weigh the educational benefit against the amount of eye-rolling to expect.
Not a single eye roll was to be found at Yorktown. The tone was set with the introductory movie that showed the museum’s artifacts in action- it did a terrific job weaving in the individual stories of many living in 1781- a Colonial wife, a Native American, a foot soldier- in addition to some of the more famous faces you would expect.
The museum curators must be parents
They know what kids like- stuff they can touch. Every three feet we encountered a puzzle, trivia question (with a slide-out answer) sensory comparison, sample artifact or demonstration activity such as a printing stamp. There’s even a 2 person video game that allowed us to re-enact three battles and compare our results with the historical results. That one got the adults’ attention, too.
About 1/2 way back in the museum is the film “Siege of Yorktown”. It’s easy to miss- we almost did. Don’t. I won’t ruin it for you but will say it’s a state of the art 4D experience (calling it a movie doesn’t do it justice) on par with a Disney production. Sit in the front row if you can. (But stay away if your kids are under 5 or have issues with loud noises- even my 9 year olds plugged their ears. They LOVED it, but it is loud.)
Budget more time than you think
I budgeted about an hour for the inside exhibits and films and an hour for the outside living history exhibits. Wrong. We spent more than three hours exploring the exhibits before lunch. After lunch we spent two hours outside, then another hour inside re-doing our favorite activities before walking the mile-long path along the river into Yorktown proper.
Next time we go (and there will be a next time, soon) I’ll plan more time in Yorktown- the town. I’d recommend hitting the museum at opening. If the weather is nice walk down to town for a seafood lunch before checking out the battlefield. It’s a total of 1.5 miles each way and really scenic. You can then finish up the museum before heading out.
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown was a reminder to me of the uniqueness of America. I hope you take a moment today to remember- especially this year- what a special place we call home.
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