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Natives of the Commonwealth of Virginia are enormously proud of their local history and have put a great deal of effort into preserving their historical landmarks, homes, and public buildings. The bountiful land of Virginia is where the first permanent English colonists put down roots, founding the town of Jamestown in 1607. They originally stepped ashore on a sandy beach at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, a large estuary that became their gateway to the scenic hinterland.
Following the rivers inland, the early pioneers found rolling hills and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains towering over valleys in the western part of the state. Today, 400 years later, a great deal of Virginia's wilderness areas remain in their untouched pristine condition, making it the perfect destination for lovers of the outdoors, as well as for those intent on discovering some living history.
Virginia has not just preserved its historic relics, it uses them as settings for living historical displays. Historic parks and some whole towns like Williamsburg act as time machines to transport visitors to a bygone age, where bewigged gentlemen stroll the streets and craftsmen ply their trades along cobblestone streets.
The state has also preserved numerous battlefields and monuments associated with the Civil War, with its capital, Richmond, being the seat of the Confederacy. Many of Virginia's sons have played a vital role in politics during the centuries: the state has produced eight United States Presidents, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, whose homes are open to the public.
Even Virginia's popular seaside resort city of Virginia Beach is steeped in history, so visitors who come to enjoy the state's many miles of Atlantic Coast sandy beaches cannot help but absorb some of the region's historic importance along with their suntans.
Virginia's worth as an enjoyable destination can be proven by the fact that tourism is a main source of state revenue.
Virginia is steeped in history and visitors to the Old Dominion are spoilt for choice when it comes to taking a look into the past. The state is justifiably proud of its place in American history, having produced eight American presidents. Tourists can explore the homes of two of these presidents at Mount Vernon and Monticello, both top attractions.
The city draws in many tourists each year, offering world-class museums as well as natural wonders like the Luray Caverns, the Natural Bridge and Shenandoah National Park. Once home to the first English settlers on the continent, Virginia also contains fascinating colonial history, including a number of Civil War battlefields. These are most popularly explored within the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Many districts of the colonial capital of Williamsburg have been restored to their 18th century splendour.
For something a bit less quaint and historical, the state capital, Richmond, provides wonderful shopping opportunities as well as some great restaurants specialising in local produce and some award-winning wines.
Those with a penchant for the outdoors will also find plenty of diversions in Virginia: there are lots of hiking opportunities as well as a beautiful shoreline to occupy visitors during the summer months.
Richmond's Capitol Square is an oasis of old trees and green lawns in the heart of the downtown area, perched on a hilltop. The magnificent centrepiece is the neo-classical State Capitol building, designed by Thomas Jefferson, which has been in continuous use since 1788. In the Capitol's Rotunda stands Virginia's most treasured artwork, the life-sized statue of George Washington sculpted by Jean Antoine Houdon, for whom Washington posed.
Another highlight of the square is the Governor's Mansion, home of Virginia governors since 1813. The mansion, which has been restored, still contains its original woodwork, plaster cornices, and ornamental ceilings and is open for tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays (first floor only). Other historic buildings in the square include the old Bell Tower, dating from 1824, which houses a visitor centre providing tourist information about Virginia; and the Neo-classical Old Finance Building.
There are a few notable statues within the square, including General Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson, Governor William 'Extra Billy' Smith, and poet Edgar Allen Poe. On nice days, visitors can stroll around the Colgate Darden Memorial Garden, a pretty pedestrian walkway along the north-eastern side of the square.
Civil War buffs flock to the Museum of the Confederacy, which houses the most comprehensive collection of Confederate artefacts, personal memorabilia, and art to be found anywhere in the United States. The exhibits include 550 battle flags, 215 uniforms, including those of well-known officers, and 1,000 military buttons. Art works on display include E.B.D. Julio's heroic painting, 'The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson'.
Beside the museum is the White House of the Confederacy, the 1818 mansion in which Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his family lived during the Civil War. It is still furnished with original items. Visitors have to join a tour to see the White House. These depart regularly throughout the day.
Between 1861 and 1865, Union armies repeatedly set out to capture Richmond, strategic capital of the Confederacy, and end the Civil War. Three of those campaigns came within a few miles of the city. The park commemorates 11 different sites associated with those campaigns, including the battlefields at Gaines' Mill, Malvern Hill, and Cold Harbor. In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln made a historic visit to the battlefields of Richmond days before his assassination, urging an end to the war.
Established in 1936, the park protects 763 acres of historic ground. There is a visitor centre in the Tredegar Irons Works on Richmond Riverfront Canal Walk at the corner of Tredegar and 5th Streets. Here, visitors can watch a film depicting the battles around the city and get information about self-guided tours of the battlefields. There are roughly seven miles (11.2km) of well-maintained walking trails around the battlefields.
Richmond boasts an exceptional Fine Arts Museum, which presents a panorama of world art from ancient to modern, including the largest public Fabergé imperial Easter egg collection outside of Russia, consisting of roughly 150 jewel-encrusted creations made for Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II. The Museum is also home to a collection of English silver, one of the world's leading collections of the art of India, Nepal, and Tibet, and six Gobelin Don Quixote tapestries.
St John's Church has stood on Richmond Hill above the James River since 1741, and is known for having been the venue for the second Virginia Convention in 1775, attended by George Washington and other historic personalities. The church is also where legendary Pocahontas was baptised and married to John Rolfe. The wooden building is still home to its original pulpit and some exquisite stained-glass windows. Between May and September, living history performances are given every Sunday recreating the historic Second Virginia Convention. Informative tours explore the historic significance of the church building and grounds.
The hands-on Virginia Science Museum allows visitors to touch, feel, observe and explore the impact of science on their lives, covering everything from astronomy to computers, and crystals to flight engineering. Permanent exhibitions include Foucault's Pendulum, Gravity Alley, Electriworks, Watt Wall, and the fun Imagination Playground. Live demonstrations are given daily on each level: Level One has programmes aimed at younger children, while the Levels Two and Three demonstrations include animal dissections. Other special events are held regularly, with schedules available on the website. The Science Museum is housed in a soaring historic building, the former Broad Street Station designed in 1919 by John Russell Pope. The fascinating and fun museum is complemented by a 275-seat Ethyl Universe Planetarium and Space Theatre that screens Omnimax films on the domed screen, as well as providing multimedia planetarium shows.
Originally founded in 1933, the Chrysler Museum of Art is located on the waters of The Hague, in the Ghent district of Norfolk, and is home to the art collection of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. Over time it has increased its collection significantly and is one of Norfolk's most esteemed attractions. The museum is family-friendly, and kids especially will love the Daniel Rozin interactive installation.
Nauticus is a must-see for families on holiday in Norfolk. This maritime-themed science centre and museum now stands where Norfolk's banana pier once stood and features exhibits, interactive theatres, and shark touch tanks, as well as a weather station. Open since 1994, the museum is a popular educational attraction in Norfolk for anyone interested in learning about America's maritime history.
The AEGIS Command Center allows visitors to experience naval battles first-hand, and Secrets of the Deep lets you to practise gathering samples from the ocean floor with a nine-foot robotic arm. Nauticus is also home to the USS Wisconsin battleship and the Schooner Virginia, an additional interest for mariners and vacationers alike.
The Virginia climate is a coastal one, mild and humid, with the four seasons experienced slightly differently in the different regions. The Tidewater regions, where Virginia's major rivers drain into the Chesapeake, are low-lying and experience more moderate temperatures, with warm to hot summers and mild winters. As one moves westward and altitudes increase, temperatures tend to drop and particularly in the more mountainous regions and the northeastern areas winters tend to be far colder, with heavy snowfall in the Appalachians. Summers, however, tend to also be mild and pleasant, and the average summer temperature statewide is close to 80°F (about 26-27°C). Winter temperatures in January, usually the coldest month, are usually about 30°F (-1°C). Severe weather, including tornadoes, tropical cyclones, hurricanes, and winter storms, impacts the state on a regular basis. There are an average of seven tornadoes per year in western Virginia, most occurring between May and August. Hurricanes striking coastal Virginia tend to be on the decline as they come north from the Gulf of Mexico, and flooding from torrential rains is the biggest concern.
Following the Blue Ridge Mountains for 100 miles (161km) through west Virginia, the Shenandoah National Park is a nature reserve where tens of thousands of animals, including deer and black bears, roam among about 100 species of trees on the forested slopes.
More than 500 miles (800km) of hiking trails snake through the area from the azalea-trimmed Skyline Drive, the 105-mile (169km) long road that runs through the park from the Piedmont Plateau, providing wonderful vistas of the Shenandoah Valley from its overlooks. Services and visitor centres are available on the drive, but are closed during winter.
Wildflower weekend is celebrated in May, and ranger-led tours and programmes are offered between April and October. There are also special activities for kids as part of a 'junior rangers' programme; a schedule is available from the park's website.
The sedate town of Lexington, 138 miles (222km) west of Richmond in the Shenandoah Valley, contains one of the most picturesque downtown areas in America, its fine old buildings having been preserved and restored so it appears that the clock stopped here in the 1800s.
Tourists visit the town simply for its ambience, and perhaps to pay tribute to Civil War General Robert E. Lee, who after the war served as president of the Washington and Lee University and was eventually buried in Lexington along with his famous horse, Traveller.
Apart from the University, which has one of the oldest and most attractive campuses in the country, Lexington is also home to the Virginia Military Institute, one of whose graduates was General George C. Marshall, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Institute now has a museum dedicated to his memory.
There are many fun outdoor activities and attractions to enjoy in Lexington. To enjoy the local scenery, visitors can drive along several scenic routes, including Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Rockbridge Rides. Geocaching, hiking, canoeing, horseback riding, and golf are all popular activities. Local orchards, wineries, breweries, and coffee roasteries also offer tastings in the scenic greater Lexington region.
One of Virginia's most popular tourist attractions and the highlight of any historical Virginia tour, is the colonial estate of George Washington, Mount Vernon. The plantation has been restored to look just as it did during Washington's era, having been purchased by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association in 1858 and kept as a historic monument ever since. Consisting of 500 acres (202 ha) situated on the Potomac River, the gardens, mansion, and other buildings are open to the public, where costumed employees demonstrate life in the 18th century. Visitors can even tour Washington's Tomb, which holds ceremonial wreath-layings at 10am and 2pm.
In 2007, Mount Vernon was given permission to reopen Washington's distillery, which now produces its own whiskey, available only at the Mount Vernon Gift Shop. The estate offers tours of the mansion and grounds, sightseeing cruises on the Potomac River, and special tours showing scenes from the movie National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. Mount Vernon is a popular excursion from Washington DC, and draws more than one million visitors each year.
Monticello was the estate of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence. The distinctive neoclassical building of the main house was designed by Jefferson himself, and he continued to improve and add to it throughout his life, over a period of 40 years. Jefferson died with massive debts, forcing his children to sell of most of the furnishings, and then the plantation itself. The house itself, made up of 43 rooms, is furnished with a blend of the original furniture and period pieces.
Jefferson's time at Monticello is surrounded by controversy regarding his treatment of his slaves, and particular relationship with one named Sally Hemings. Monticello has several multimedia exhibitions that deal frankly with the president's slave ownership, and archaeologists are constantly researching the subject.
The outbuildings and gardens are all open to the public, and offer some stunning sights with beautifully-cultivated flower gardens filled with cabbage roses, foxglove, lilacs, and more. The gardens are also home to the Center for Historic Plants, a project started by Jefferson himself.
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