Jamestown Settlement has undergone a transformation in preparation for the 400th anniversary of America's first permanent English colony and its own 50th birthday in 2007. The museum, which opened in 1957 as a setting for the Jamestown Festival commemorating the colony's 350th anniversary, incorporates recent historical findings in planning for the next half-century of chronicling the nation's Virginia origins.
Jamestown Settlement is poised for the future with new exhibition galleries that tell the story of the cultures that converged at Jamestown in the 17th century, an expanded outdoor living-history program, and a special exhibition showcasing the world in 1607, the year Jamestown was founded.
The board of trustees of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, the Virginia agency that operates Jamestown Settlement, adopted a comprehensive facilities master plan in 1997 for developing physical facilities to support growth in visitation, programming and staffing through the year 2007 and beyond. The $80-million plan also includes a central support complex located midway between Jamestown Settlement and the Yorktown Victory Center, a museum of the American Revolution administered by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, and exhibit enhancements at the Yorktown Victory Center. The new facilities will serve the public for decades into the new century.
The first element of the plan to be completed, a 36,000-square-foot education wing, opened at Jamestown Settlement in March 2000. The building houses the museum gift shop, classrooms, an open atrium for public events, offices and support areas. An adjacent 32,000-square-foot visitor services wing opened to the public in Spring 2002 and includes a spacious lobby and ticketing area with direct access to the gift shop, an orientation video and the 190-seat Jamestown Settlement Café.
Work has been completed on a 75,000-square-foot structure encompassing a theater, special exhibition gallery and permanent exhibition galleries. The theater and special exhibition wing of the complex opened in spring 2004 with a transitional Jamestown Settlement exhibition. A special exhibition on display from April 2007 to April 2008, "The World of 1607," portrayed 17th-century Virginia as part of an intellectual, social and economic new world that brought together peoples and ideas from around the globe.
The new permanent exhibition galleries opened in October 2006, doubling the amount of exhibit space previously available at Jamestown Settlement. Drawing on recent archaeological and documentary research, new exhibits tell the story of 17th-century Virginia and its Powhatan Indian, European and western central African cultural origins, accommodate growth in the museum collection, and incorporate multimedia technology.
Significant enhancements reflecting recent archaeological and documentary findings are planned for Jamestown Settlement's re-created 17th-century Powhatan Indian village, English ships and colonial fort. In addition, a new riverfront discovery area completed in Summer 2003 focuses on the vital role of the James River and other waterways in 17th-century commerce and travel. Discovery stations that provide information about European, Virginia Indian and African economic activities associated with water, including navigation, boatbuilding, fishing, commodities and trade, are located along a pathway that winds through the area.
A Paspahegh Indian village uncovered by the James River Institute for Archaeology a few miles from Jamestown in the 1990s serves as the model for Jamestown Settlement's Powhatan Indian village. The Paspahegh site, dating to the early 17th century, revealed a cluster of three large buildings and scattered smaller houses. This pattern has been adapted for the Powhatan village, which is bordered by a new discovery trail using plantings and signage to interpret the relationship of Powhatans to the larger environment.
To expand visitor access to the interpretive area featuring re-creations of the three ships that reached Virginia in 1607, a shelter was constructed at the pier. Completed in May 2001, the shelter is used for orientations and maritime demonstrations.
New replicas of the Godspeed and the Discovery have been constructed. Architectural designs for the new ships are modeled on an interpretation of the probable sizes of the original ships, based on the documented cargo capacities and current maritime research. The Godspeed replica sailed to several East Coast ports in May-July of 2006 to draw attention to the Jamestown quadricentennial. There are no plans to replace the largest and newest re-creation, Susan Constant, commissioned in 1991.
The fort, which interprets the 1610-14 time period, is undergoing significant changes, based on documentary evidence and recent discoveries at several early 17th-century sites, to more accurately and completely depict the predominantly military and commercial nature of Jamestown during its first decade. Buildings patterned after structures found archaeologically at early 17th-century sites near Jamestown have recently been built to depict a storage facility for food provisions, the colonial governor's house and the office of the cape merchant, who was in charge of managing "all such goods, wares, and commodities brought into or taken out of the several magazines or storehouses." The re-created Anglican church has been rebuilt and situated with the altar on the east end, conforming with church practice.
Also completed at Jamestown Settlement in 2007 are a visitor refreshment area near the ships and seating areas for group orientations and interpretive demonstrations. The visitor parking lot has been reconfigured and expanded and the area around the museum entrance developed to enhance the arrival experience.
Approximately 82 percent of funding for master plan projects came from the Commonwealth of Virginia general fund and bonds. Other sources of funding are Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation admissions revenue and gifts and grants from individuals and organizations to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation that supports programs of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.
Located just southwest of Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement is adjacent to Historic Jamestowne, the original site of Jamestown, which is jointly administered by Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities and Colonial National Historical Park.