Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, Kingsmill Resort is a large development with 425 hotel rooms, two championship golf courses, and a lazy river swimming pool. It seems a world away from what was here some 200 years ago: the earliest beginnings of America.
In 1607, the first English settlers stepped on American soil—right on the very shore where Kingsmill Resort is today. Even though those immigrants moved further west and developed the first permanent English settlement in Jamestown, this spot played a significant role in the growth of the Virginia colony during the 1700s.
The area was the hub of commerce, which played an important part in settling Virginia, since the colonists were trying to make money. This is where exports would go out and imports would come in, and so did people—they were streaming in.
The port was close to Williamsburg, the colony’s capital, so it became a busy harbor. On the hotel’s property you can see remnants of the infrastructure that led to the area’s prosperity. There’s the foundation of a warehouse once used to store the cargo until it was loaded on wagons to take to Williamsburg to sell.
There are also markings where an “ordinary”, or hotel, stood. “People had a place to stay because it’s a long trip from here to Williamsburg. Nine miles was a long trip at that time, so they would stay in a restaurant/hotel type place called an ‘ordinary,’” said Dr. Kelso.
But all the commercial activity came to a halt years later with the Revolutionary War. This landing was eventually shelled and captured by the British in 1781, but not without a fight. On the property you can see remnants of earth-worked mounds erected by the Colonial Army to protect their guns. The mounds also helped Colonial soldiers position canons to fire on incoming British ships.
Dr. Kelso explains: “So it’s a very strategic location here because anyone who tried to get on this land has to get through the soldiers here—yes try to get to Williamsburg up the road.”
Today, golf balls have replaced canon balls on what is now a championship golf course’s 17th hole. The historic sites are well respected and well marked at the resort, and sometimes the old blends with the new.
Here at the resort’s Pettus House, a two-story estate that can be reserved for weddings or events, the front yard is a museum of sorts. Lumber, stones, and signs mark the rooms of where an influential tobacco plantation once stood in the 1700s.
The tobacco grown where Kingsmill now stands (and in the rest of colonial Virginia) was the most successful export to England, and contributed greatly to Virginia’s wealth through the 1800s.
The items found while excavating the plantation paint a clearer picture of rural Virginia life. Dr. William Kelso has discovered a variety of artifacts, including initialed wine bottles and coats of arms that once belonged to families. These items can give you a sense of how Americans were inventing themselves in this area.
That invention still continues today. From family vacations to VIP events, current visitors to the resort are inventing their own modern history. Even President Obama stayed at the Pettus House right after the first presidential election debate with Mitt Romney in 2012.
“I don’t think he felt he did as well as he could have and his supporters didn’t feel that either. So they wanted to take him out of the White House and put him someplace, have him focus on it, relax, focus on the debate, and so this is where they came,” explained Dr. Kelso. “This became the little White House—he stayed here with Mrs. Obama—we set up a mock debate on the floor of the ballroom, he practiced there and then came back here every night and relaxed. I’d like to say he had a Kingsmill bounce because he did much better in the second debate.”
While presidents and other guests may choose Kingsmill Resort as a place to get away from it all, Dr. Kelso hopes travelers take time to learn about all the important developments in American history that have transpired here.
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By Tracy Gallagher for PeterGreenberg.com